The social function of NIMBYism

From a very interesting piece by Professor of Law from the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

[Link to original article here]

Not that I’m accusing all anti-stadium folk of the classic affliction of NIMBYism (not in my back yard), there is a growing movement towards that within certain sections of the community. So what is NIMBYism and how is it relevant to the Dunedin Stadium debate. First off I must mention that the nature of this blog will be changing over the course of the summer, to encompass a wider discussion about the very nature of design and development in Dunedin (hence this article to kick things off in a new direction I suppose).

The term NIMBY can have different meanings depending the cause de jour, the people involved and of course location. A classic NIMBY is someone who doesn’t want a development (specific) in their neighbourhood or region (New Zealand itself could be accused of this with our proud Anti-Nuclear stance), yet there are so many permutations of this, other terms have surfaced.

As Prof Kiefer states these include:

“LULUs, Locally Undesirable Land Uses”… “NOTEs (Not Over There Either), NIABYs (Not In Anyone’s Backyard), BANANAs (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone), and even NOPEs (Not On Planet Earth!). It is also possible to find references to CAVE people (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) and NIMTOOs (Not In My Term Of Office).”

This eclectic collection of groups have historical roots tied in with social movements and periods of post war history in which the seemingly powerless citizen has had to rise up against the powerful political and business monsters. Although Prof Kiefer writes with regard to American examples, very similar parallels can be drawn here.

But back to the analysis of the phrase or meaning of the phrase with regard to the stadium in Dunedin. Who are those that oppose this stadium? Well they are too varied to be bunched together in catch-phrases like ‘home spun jersey brigade’, or the so called ‘working class’ or even ‘intellectual snobs’. They on the whole have seemingly very valid concerns or arguments against the development. They do also however have irrational concerns and fears, which I have described as the ‘man in the pub’ syndrome (or a variation of the Chinese Whispers – inaccurate spreading of rumors). Take for instance some of the concerns with regard to global warming as raised by some at the planning hearings recently. Yes if the extreme scenario of global warming and sea level rise as predicted by models was to eventuate in 2090, then there would be concerns. But considering this is the extreme of one model’s projections, we could also validly argue the norm as likely to happen, in which Mean Sea Level rise due to global warming would have negligible affects in the area.

NIMBYism with regard to our stadium development has grown on several fronts, one of which has been the aforementioned irrational fears. Another is the percieved powerlessness of those opposing development. This leads to people gathering or even forming a formal opposition group to slay the development beast. This also leads to the silly game of numbers (we have more on our side than you do), or the even sillier might is right argument. If the ‘perceived might is right’ argument was to be considered, then back in the 1980s the ‘might’ opposing the Homosexual Law Reform Bill would have won, and continued state persecution of a whole section of our community would have prevailed. Sometimes elected officials need to make decisions for us, even if those decisions seem to be against the will of the people or even bad for the people (of course only history can really decide the fate of these decisions).

With respect to this, I notice the preliminary results of the survey suggest there is a large number of the public opposing the stadium development. However the problem with such a survey is that they never (well hardly never) show the reasons why people might oppose the development (they just get lumped in together), and they are also very much a snap-shot of a time and a place. Considering the current economic pessimism and irrational fears that have sprung from this, coupled with the sustained and irrational vocal opposition, I’m actually a little surprised that the survey wasn’t a little higher. But all this survey does is show us at this time and place, x amount of people oppose the stadium for whatever reason. I do have concerns though if people are basing opposition to the stadium on the lies and misinformation campaign that has been waged against the stadium. That is not an informed decision, and if people are presented with the real facts or arguments, then they may have formed different conclusions. For instance those attending the inaugural STS meeting heard from ‘University Lecturer’ that x,y and z was wrong with this development. However 5 minutes on the web back home confirmed to me that assumption x,y and z was in fact so far from the truth that it served as little purpose to real debate about the stadium. Yet those attending the meeting whom hold such people in (quite possibly rightly) such an authoritative place (“he’s from the Uni, he must know what he’s talking about”) are easily swayed by those arguments, be they true or false (well false in this case).

Which takes me back to one of the main currents of this blog. What exactly are the reasons people are opposing the stadium? I’ve welcomed some of the more rational debate around this development, but I am also more than happy to label what I consider to be a lie or disinformation, of which there have been a great number (and some being expressed in the local and national media). It makes me furious when I hear false claims being repeated in the local and national media, so many people hear and read what’s in the news as the truth, yet this isn’t often the case.

I have my biases, I’m a sport mad, concert going, entertainment junkie, hung up on public architecture and civic projects. Also despite what many may think, I am also very left wing, most classically categorised as a Libertarian Socialist (I think?). I’m a designer and long time citizen of this town. All of these things have a bearing on my perceptions of this development. I’m not without criticism of the development. The original intention of this blog in the hope that the design of the stadium wasn’t set, and that we could have a discussion about the form of the building. To this day I still don’t think it’s a piece of public architecture that we could be overly proud of in itself. But then again who is proud of that mish mash of buildings collectively known as Carisbrook, they are a fan and proud of the identity of Carisbrook (and rightly so), but of the architecture itself, or the stadium as a working functioning stadium?

Back to the perceived lack of power with regard to this development. Well powerlessness is in this case driven off the back of some pretty irrational fears, ranging from opportunity costs, global warming, threat of terrorism (what about the existing Sub Station within the Carisbrook grounds at the moment?), the fact that it’s not multi-purpose and the list goes on. Some people see this as a fait accompli, the powers that be had decided upon this from the start and no manner of citizen input would stop it. Well considering we have already had one local election in which this matter was played out in the media extensively (and without much of the disinformation and loose rhetoric), there was a relatively strong council put in to forward this development. Those who say this isn’t true, need to go back and read the ODT leading up to the last council election, the paper was full of stadium debate, and most candidates put their hand up for or against the development.

Prof Kiefer states “In the meanwhile, any effective solution to NIMBYism must address its root causes: perceived powerlessness and actual impact risk.” Which again brings me back to one of the driving forces of this blog, to better inform and dispel the myths and disinformation. And as Prof Keifer points out “NIMBYism serves many social functions. In an improvised and very democratic way, it forces mitigation measures to be considered” We have seen this, with the both the Dunedin City Council and the Otago Regional Council shifting the bar with regard to the requirements needed to be fulfilled before full council support for this stadium development can be approved. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and can be put down to the opposition. In that regard, they are getting a more rigourously planned project.

Whatever the reason for your support and/or opposition to the planed new stadium, all I ask of you, please make it an informed decision, don’t take everything at face value, and don’t be afraid to question, both those you oppose and those you support. No one can be 100% correct and certain of any or all of the outcomes of this process, but if informed debate is encouraged, we will be able to make better assumptions and form more informed opinions.

Just don’t be a CAVE with the lights turned off.

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3 Comments

Filed under Architecture, Design, Economics, Geography, Hot air, Inspiration, Media, Site, Stadiums

3 responses to “The social function of NIMBYism

  1. Peter Entwisle

    I detect a shift towards slightly better ground Paul. You are beginning to appreciate that councils do better when they are held up to higher stadards of criticisim.

    Also you are a little nearer to the truth of what happened at the last local body election. Yes, please go back to the ODT. You will see that two councillors, strongly opposed to the stadium – Lee Vandervis and Maurice Prendergast – were vnot re-elected. Also, some new candidates strongly opposed to the stadium weren’t elected either. On the other hand, of those elected two were firmly opposed, Fliss Butcher and Teresa Stevenson, three new candidates elected were openly sceptical, Dave Cull, Kate Wilson and Chris Staynes. Among the others most, like Peter Chin refused to say if they were for or against. Some may have indicated a preference for it but none said they were standing to progress it. That is clearly not a mandate for the stadium but there are still people, unlike you, Richard Farry last week at the planning hearings, maintaining the election dumped antis and installed pros. Not so.

    The same with the survey last year. The best of them showed most wanted a stadium but most didn’t want to pay for it themselves through the city and regional councils.

    There is more information around now – thanks to Stop the Stadium – and now more people thinks it’s not a good thing to spend poblic money on.

    The misinformation has been rolled back as the clouds clear more people realise this project doesn’t add up.

  2. Peter,

    very sad for the STS to hear the hullabaloo that is going on in the committee. I’ve always had fantastic discussions with you and Elizabeth with regard to this development, so I hope you continue to make comments. I fully appreciate you and Elizabeth’s comments, they are keeping me honest as you suggest.

    I’ve always thought at the very least the actions of the STS on the council in making tighter restrictions or tighter deadlines for the CST are a good thing. How could it be bad if the process is more rigourous and worked through.

    All the best with the STS, I hope that reasoned voices prevail over this issue. I agree when you and Elizabeth presented at the hearings, the misinformation was put to one side, everyone sighed with relief when talk of terrorism and global warming were rejected for reasoned debate.

    Cheers Peter

  3. Peter Entwisle

    Thank you Paul.

    With you I think everyone will benefit from reasoned arguments and an honest search for the truth. Despite the present high levels of emotion I think more reliable information is now in the hands of more people about this project than at any earlier time in the debate. It has come from both sides.

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