Saturday, December 5, 2009

What if NIMBY isn't NIMBY at all?

"Not in my backyard!" or NIMBY has become a pejorative label for opposition to any project.  It is often characterized as an impediment to the public good because neighbors of a proposed housing development, power, sewage plant or factory oppose the location of the project near them, though they acknowledge the need for the project itself.

At the level of individual sustainable living opposition to unusual building designs, high density housing, artificial wetlands, composting, rainwater catchment tanks, front-yard gardening, humanure composting, solar panels, roof top water heaters and home wind turbines among others could be characterized as NIMBY.

Maggie Koerth-Baker suggest in her article Rethinking NIMBY: Why Wind Power Could Lead To New Ways of Defining (and Dealing With) Public Naysaying on that opposition labeled as NIMBY is often "... national activism drawn to a specific place.."

She points to incidents specifically related to large wind turbines in which accepting that opposition may be more honest and nationally applicable than simply local opposition has led to more productive ways of dealing with shortcomings of the technology.  Otherwise, "If you write off the NIMBYists, you have to shout them down."

Koerth-Baker points to UC-SB professor Eric Smith's research that indicates that opposition is often based upon knowledge that is gained by people who will be living near a particular project. This insight into opponents may lead to changes in design that properly address concerns.

In my experience typical opposition to wind power projects have led to improvements in turbine design and location.   Turbines have been redesigned to reduce irritating noise. They have been made more attractive. They have been located away from major bird migration routes. 

To live sustainably we need to learn to live with all our neighbors if NIMBY isn't simply NIMBY perhaps we can more easily manage to do that.

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