The City Space

Cultivating Urban Understanding

Not in My Backyard

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Things might be a little slow around here for a few weeks because I split open my hand after I tripped during a run and now it’s all stitched up and in a cast. Luckily it wasn’t my writing hand, but it still makes typing a challenging endeavor. Today’s will be a short post.

I won’t name names, but there’s a plan to put in a new apartment complex near my office and some people in the neighborhood are livid. The grounds upon which the apartments will stand are currently an empty lot and the owners badly need the money in order to keep the doors of their other community operations open, but the complainers mention things like “sight-lines” to a historic building next door and vague notions of “preserving space” in their arguments against the development.

It’s as if they want the whole city to stand still and stay exactly the way it’s always been (yet magically find the money to keep those other community resources functioning). For what reason? I understand these arguments in circumstances where direct harm will come to a family or a community through the creation of a new development, but arguing against shadows on the sidewalk is just ridiculous.

This resistance to change falls loosely under the category of “NIMBYism.” N.I.M.B.Y. stands for “Not In My BackYard” [feel free to skip this paragraph if you’re already familiar with the concept] and NIMBYism is the attitude of citizens who raise objections to any sort of update or change in their neighborhood. They complain about the affordable housing that is proposed on their street. They attend community meetings in order to shoot down the new bar or restaurant that wants to move in. Their attitude is: “Sure, it might benefit another area of town, but not mine. Keep mine the way it is.”

I don’t think that labels are a solution in themselves (and they’re often actually a problem), but in this case, knowing how to call it when you see it can encourage critical questioning and awareness. What’s really at stake here? Why are some people so insistent on freezing a neighborhood or a city or a building in time? What are they afraid of?

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