Stopping NIMBYism in its Tracks
BY JAMES KENT
Five guidelines for preventing project opposition from spinning out of control
The Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) syndrome is often believed to be the creation of
a community that is resisting or reacting to a new project. However, NIMBY issues
do not begin as uncontrollable events that are guaranteed to stop projects. Rather,
they emerge as the result of how a project is first introduced to those who will be
impacted by it.
How a project is implemented into the
community determines whether support
will develop, maintain and grow—or if
opposition will take over. In announcing
a new project, companies typically start
with a press release or a formal community
meeting. Using either one of these
options as the very first communication is
guaranteed to open the door to a NIMBY
reaction. People will feel threatened if
they haven’t been given an opportunity
to participate in and control their own
environment. Without a voice in the matter
or a mechanism for handling the change,
their only avenue for relief is resistance.
To avoid creating a disruptive reaction
up front in the lifecycle of a project, a
different form of community interaction is
needed. An approach that has demonstrated
great success is based on using informal
networks and face-to-face communication
when a project is first being proposed. By
speaking casually with the locals, developers
can acquaint citizens with the project in
a manner that allows them to informally
discuss any issues or concerns. By doing so,
people impacted by the project will be able
to understand its benefits and impacts, long
before a formal meeting is held or a press
release written. Seeking out local gathering
places such as farmers markets, beauty
salons, coffee shops and restaurants is an
ideal way to start the process.
Reducing Social Risk
The following five guidelines can help you
gain an understanding of local cultural
issues, while reducing the social risk
and preventing a NIMBY reaction from
occuring or spreading.
You are an outsider as well as a future
part of the community. Learn about
the community before engaging in
formal meetings or activities. Study
how a community operates before
intruding. Are informal networks
recognized as trusted communicators
or natural helpers? Are there known
opportunists? The more you know
about the people, the better your
chances of getting your project
accepted into the culture.
People know more about their
environment than anyone else.
That means people have learned to
adapt to change in their own way.
By understanding how a community
perceives and manages change, your
project can be positioned accordingly.
Give impacted citizens a voice.
What is important to the community
and how does the project fit into the
local culture? If we assist people to
participate in managing potential
changes in their environment, the
project can be absorbed into the
fabric of the community and everyone