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Not In My Backyard - Using Compromise to Overcome NIMBYism

Natalie, a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, is a freelance writer who is always searching for what lies within the potential.

Not in My Backyard!

Not in My Backyard!

What is NIMBY and Why do I Need to Understand It?

As communities have become more crowded and transportation more congested, it has become increasingly difficult to locate major infrastructure and community services away from residential areas. As a result, groups have formed to fight the placement of undesirable facilities and developments in neighborhoods. Called NIMBY, or Not In My Backyard these groups can be appropriate responses to inappropriate development or development undertaken without adequate input from community involvement.

The NIMBY phenomenon occurs because people don’t want to lose the quality of life to which they are accustomed and they don’t trust major conglomerates and developers who they view as after only the all mighty Buck to keep their best interests in mind when considering where to site major projects that are less than desirable additions to a neighborhood. However, NIMBY is not a natural phenomenon and it needs to be better understood and addressed.

NIMBYism is a familiar phenomenon in urban planning and zoning across the country. Whether it’s a plan to build a homeless shelter, strip mall, halfway house or other civic project, NIMBYies are the first to support the need for such projects, just so long as they are located far away from where they live. The NIMBY mindset goes something like this: “You are welcome to build that structure wherever you’d like, just so long as it’s nowhere near where I am located.”

There is an increasing focus nationwide on community projects. These include providing more affordable housing in cities with large homeless populations, building mass transit stations to accommodate the growing number of public transportation users and establishing assisted living facilities to allow seniors the greatest amount of independence possible. With these changes the NIMBY movement has become extremely vocal.

NIMBY protests are not always improper. Despite loudly complaining when our electricity goes out few people want to live next to a power plant. It is expected that there will be protests when there is a plan to place heavy manufacturing facilities in family focused residential communities. It doesn’t take much to understand the mindset in NIMBY’s who automatically oppose what they believe could negatively affect their health or environmental surroundings. It’s a simple cognitive response based in our instinct to not live besides a steel mill or waste management facility no matter how valuable such developments may be to society.

There are other types of NIMBYism that has nothing to do with health and the environment but has more to do with an automatic opposition to any type of major life change. Understanding the psychology behind the NIMBY mindset could help developers and community leaders better tackle concerns raised by local citizens. Such an understanding might also help citizens better comprehend their own responses and perspectives regarding proposed developments in their neighborhoods.

Poll: Are You a NIMBY?

NIMBY and Opposition to Change Based on Meaning

It is known that individuals have a significant sense of place attachment to their homes and neighborhoods. Our residences are our home base, the core place we go when we need to regroup. As we make them into what we want them to be over time our sense of identity becomes tied up in what we perceive of as our own unique personal space.

Uncontrollable changes to or forced destruction of our home environment. especially when done to develop something we feel is insignificant, can lead to severe depression and even psychological trauma. It doesn’t take serious alterations, destruction or displacement to create this loss of meaning in our lives. Even milder changes to our home surroundings can lead to strong emotional reactions.

British sociologist, Peter Marris in his book “Loss and Change” explains this as follows:

People cannot reconcile themselves to the loss of familiar attachments in terms of some impersonal utilitarian calculation of the common good. They have to find their own meaning in these changes before they can live with them.

In other words, the overall benefits of a mixed-use development aren’t likely to mean anything to specific individuals in a neighborhood. Projects involving affordable housing or building a new grocery store may be great for the good of the community. However, it is not likely to result in much good will with potential neighbors of the development.

These potential neighbors will likely need to understand how the project will benefit them on an individual basis. This could be in term of increasing the local tax base resulting in lower taxes of improving different services that will apply to their neighboring development as well. Neighbors will also likely want to know that a proposed project would negatively impact them or any impact that results will be offset by positive effects.

Others have attempted to further comprehend the psychological processes that contribute to NIMBYism. These efforts examine how perceptions of disruption to place attachment account for cognitive and behavioral responses to new developments near residential area. Findings have shown that place and project meanings often are formed as a dichotomy, such as natural vs. industrial, with one side viewed as positive and the other side viewed as negative, in this case natural and industrial respectively.

Findings in this area have also suggested the importance of visual images that result from shortcuts in thinking that are long established for each individual. For example, natural might be visualized as a place of scenic beauty such as coastal features or forests while industrial might be visualized as land without wildlife due to damage from pollution, toxic chemical spills and run off and other destructive effects. This second visualization may be associated, for example, with loss of tourism which is the primary local industry the community depends on for their livelihoods. This means that the effect of the visual picture is strengthened by an associated benefit or loss.

What Someone May Visualize When Thinking "Natural"

What Someone May Visualize When Thinking "Natural"

What Someone May Visualize When Thinking "Industrial"

What Someone May Visualize When Thinking "Industrial"

POLL on Locating a Prisoner Re-entry Residence Where You Live

Personality and NIMBYism

There is another causal influence on NAMBYism that is not associated with survival or protection of the environment. Instead, this last type of NAMBYism is rooted predominantly in personality. While some have stated that personality features have nothing to do with NAMBYism, research suggests otherwise.

A significant amount of NIMBYism has been shown to come from a dislike, or even fear, of change and a desire to preserve the status quo. This is a personality style which has been identified in the psychology literature. In general, people that are highly resistance to change, which is considered to be a stable personality feature, are unlikely to seek out novelty or changes in their lives. When forced to adapt to change, these individuals are likely to react with anxiety, anger and fear. Thus, any major changes to their environment, good or bad, brings stress into their world and they will try to prevent these changes to control the associated anxiety.

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Other factors that have been identified as contributing to a person’s ability to adapt to change include self-esteem, risk tolerance, and sense of and need for control over their life. This is harder to deal with than factors like lack of information or limited understanding. No matter what the proposal calls for, it will be perceived of as change and automatically opposed. Continuously reiterating the positive effects of the proposed project while displaying empathy over the negative factors perceived by the individual may be the only ways to combat this type of NIMBYism.

Other personality features have also been associated with NIMBYism. Often NIMBYism is associated with an individual's sense of self in terms of role definition. Examples of this include a neighborhood leader who feels they must display overt and highly noticeable opposition, a person who has a low sense of self and needs the spotlight for validation, or someone who wants a sense of control over other’s decisions.

When confronted with these types of individuals, attempts to ignore, silence or sideline such a person generally causes more problems than it solves as the person is likely to escalate their attempts to gain support to oppose the proposal. The only thing that can be done by project managers to limit resulting negative impact is to ensure they provide the information and the message as well as communication with those stakeholders who have influence over the ultimate decision.

Resistance to change, all change, has been associated with NIMBYism

Resistance to change, all change, has been associated with NIMBYism

Strategies for Addressing NIMBYism

It is generally agreed, when interacting with NIMBY groups the worst thing to do is ignore their concerns or vilify them. Maintaining open communication and communicating frequently are the most effective methods for soothing the concerns of a community that will be effected by a project. Most of us also do better when unavoidable change is rendered in small doses and in a way that it can be anticipated. Maintaining communication indirectly such as providing information about a proposed project in the newspaper, often increases NIMBY opposition from the outset. Many developers have learned this lesson the hard way by first attempting to avoide direct conflict which sparked NIMBY efforts that shut down their project permanently. Smarter developers recognize the importance of going door-to-door within a neighborhood in order to speak directly with the residents well ahead of any media coverage.

Other Strategies for Addressing NIMBYism

  • Hire a Public Relations Consultant
  • Hire a Community Liaison
  • Reach Out to Elected Officials Before Community Members
  • Build One-on-One Relationships Between Organization Leadership with Community Members
  • Identify and Build Relationships with Stakeholders
  • Use Familiar and Popular Stakeholders to Help With Outreach Efforts
  • Balance the Needs of the Client With Allowing Community Concern to be Publicly Aired
  • Make Efforts to Balance the Needs of Different Parties Observable to Establish a Sense Even Handedness
  • Make Appropriate Concessions Without Putting Client Needs in Jeopardy
  • Ensure Concessions Made Are Observable and Public to Trigger Similar Efforts by Community Members
  • Be a Good Neighbor in All Things
  • Anticipate and Address Community Concerns Related to Development
  • Responding Promptly to Concerns Voiced by Community Members
  • Honor the Architectural Heritage of the Area by Incorporating Some Recognizable Features
  • Build Trust by Inviting Community Members to Tour Similar Facilities Built by the Same Company
  • Continue to Build Trust By Inviting Community Members to Throughout the Development Process Making them Feel a Part of the Completed Project
  • Create a Community Advisory Board to Establish a Sense of Shared Ownership
  • Persevere in Relationship Building and Learning From Mistakes
  • Do Not Hide Mistakes – Ask Community Members for Help In Solving to Establish the Sense of Respect the Locals by Establishing Them as the Area Experts

While it is never easy to deal with NIMBYists, doing what is right and fair for both sides without jeopardizing your client's best interests is the best way to deal with those who oppose the development of a proposed project.


Creating a Shared Vision

As the saying goes, "Everyone wants to go to Heaven, but nobody want to die to get there." Everyone wants inexpensive, environmentally responsible energy, but nobody wants to see transmission towers, pumping stations, power plants, methane generation plants or wind farms in their neighborhood. Everyone want to decrease traffic and improve roads for ease of traffic but no one wants the construction to impact where they live. Everyone wants to help the homeless, but people are unwilling to have a new shelter as a next door neighbor.

In fact, in terms of improved infrastructure being met with NIMBY it is now more frequently being met with NOPE - Not on planet earth. NOPE represents a closed mind mentality on both sides of the equation. When people become unwilling to so much as listen to information about the proposed project, project personnel become unwilling to interact with stubborn residents.

The key to breaking this stalemate is to create a shared vision at the outset. No one wants things they valued when deciding to live somewhere threatened. At the same time, agencies dedicated to solving current social problems and infrastructure deficits don't want these efforts to fail due to what they perceive to be "unreasonable neighbors."

The most important component to establish for all parties involved is a shared vision. When all stakeholders feel heard, included in important decision making and view their concerns as having been addressed the need for NIMBYism recedes and a new outlook takes hold. Creating a shared vision necessitates compromise on both side and the ability for all those concerned to maintain an open mind. It also requires the commitment to continue coming to the negotiating table even when it seems that there is no way to see eye to eye. In a world with a constantly growing population and limited land mas, the incidence of new construction projects for unpopular facilities and infrastructure will only increase over time. A shared vision brought about through compromise will make continued progress toward providing for the needs of all inhabitants possible.

Not In My Back Yard OR Next It Might Be You!

27 Variations of NIMBY

NAMBI: Not Against My Business or Industry

NIMD: Not In My District

NIMEY: Not In My Election Year

NIMFOS: Not In My Field of Sight

NIMFYE: Not In My Front Yard Either

NIMTOO: Not In My Term Of Office

NITL: Not In This Lifetime

NOPE: Not On Planet Earth

NORF: No Observable Redeeming Features

NOT: None Of That

NOTE: Not Over There Either

GOOMBY: Get Out Of My Backyard

GUMBY: Gaze Upon my Backyard

KIIMBY: Keep It In My Backyard

NIABY: Not in Anyone’s Backyard

NIMN: Not in My Neighborhood

NUMBY: Not Under My Backyard

PIITBY: Put It In Their Backyard

QUIMBY: Quit Urbanizing In My Backyard

WIMBY: Welcome To My Backyard

YIMBY: Yes in My Backyard

BANANA: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything

BANYs: Builders Against NIMBYs

GOAH: GedOudAHeah

GOOMBA: Get Out of My Business Area

CAVE: Citizens Against Virtually Everything

DUDE: Developer Under Delusions of Entitlement


NIMBY opposition to proposed developments is not a new phenomenon or unique to the U.S. The Not-In-My-Back-Yard mindset is a natural part of the human personality that resists any recognizable change to our primary territory. The best way to alleviate NIMBY efforts is through communicating directly while being empathic about the personal stake neighbors have in the potential changes that are being proposed and to help each person “find their own meaning” in the project at hand.


© 2016 Natalie Frank


Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on December 02, 2016:

Thanks Liz, I appreciate your comment. I thought I knew what NIMBY was until I started researching this article. Then I started seeing it everywhere sometimes seemingly for the right reasons and sometimes not. But when I looked into some of the situations I realized the issue and people's positions were much more complex than I knew. Things are rarely simple in our world is suppose. Thanks again and hope you enjoy other article I have written.

Liz on December 01, 2016:

Really interesting. We have a NIMBY situation in my community with the buidling a much needed enlarged electric energym plant on the river. Everyone thoughto it was brilliant tI'll realizing it would effect 6 homes whose owners threw fits do it was moved slightly and new home owners got into the action. It has made most people very uncomfortable and created enemies where none existed before. I hate it. Thanks for the article. Even though I understand it much better now I still dont like it!

Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on September 20, 2016:

Good point. There's definately a generational component to it. Thanks for the comment. Glad you liked it. Hope to see your thoughts again after other articles.

John A Jaksich on September 19, 2016:

Nice coverage of a phenomena that seems quite cyclical. My interpretation of the phenomena seems to be more a mindset of backlash against sensibilities. Generational change occurs often and especially after economic upheaval.

It would seem as if you have covered what it takes to overcome being offended...loved it.

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