The Secret of NIMBY | By Andrew Douglas

For those of you who are astute enough to notice, there has been a large growth in a particular kind of person in the Edmonton area. They’re not a “visible” minority, nor one which is defined based on sexual orientation. They are the people who subscribe to NIMBY-ism and they walk among us. Now, while NIMBY might sound like the Australian version of “Finding Nemo” that used Wallabies instead of fish, it is in fact short for “Not In My Back Yard.” This attitude is used to describe citizens who are opposed to things like construction projects or events, neighbors, etc. in their specific communities. Essentially, NIMBY-ism is an attitude that is detrimental to society and doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

Increasingly people in the Edmonton area have been up in arms about fairly petty things that serve a purpose in society, but that people aren’t willing to have in their own neighborhoods. From complaints about the loudness of the LRT bells, to whether former Oiler Fernando Pisani can have a backyard ice rink (his neighbors also thought it might be too loud), NIMBY-ism seems to be a growing trend. Perhaps the most fervent examples of NIMBY-ism come from the local level. In my own neighborhood there was a huge backlash against the construction of a cell phone tower (partly due to the fact that it might ruin “the view”). Moreover, my local community newsletter had an extensive review of on-street bicycle lanes that was really a masterpiece of poor logic that estimated the cost of putting bicycle lanes on Edmonton streets to be at least 10 million dollars a year. Whoever wrote this Mona Lisa of “straw man” arguments apparently failed to notice that the City of Edmonton doesn’t spend 10 million dollars a year on practically anything except for maybe the entire EPS budget.  NIMBY-ism has also manifested itself in the new LRT line and the opposition to its proposed route.

However, I am not suggesting that behind this opposition there are not legitimate concerns. For example, the Edmonton Chinese community has a right to express concern over the LRT constructions’ impact on the historic gateway that is representative of their cultural heritage. Likewise the people in my neighborhood who were concerned about the cell phone tower have a right to be concerned about living so close to a large source of radiation. I am also not suggesting that we should all make sacrifices in a social contract sort of way where we all have to suck it up and deal with our problems for the good of society, or that people like Fernando Pisani deserve special treatment. I am arguing that if you adhere to NIMBY-ism you are not allowed to complain about the quality of services we have in this city. You cannot file a complaint with the city about how loud the LRT is, and then spew about how ineffective public transportation is at getting you anywhere quickly and efficiently. You can’t gripe about a new cell phone tower and then bitch to your friends about how we don’t have 4G service everywhere. You can’t say that on-street bicycle lanes will be too expensive to produce then moan and groan about how stupid all the cyclists are and how they should just get off the road. Most of all you can’t move to an exclusive and wealthy neighborhood just to make a fuss about how the celebrity next to you might get a little loud sometimes.

The fact is that the NIMBY attitude results from a severe narcissism that is so indicative of our current society. Everyone wants the benefits of certain services, or infrastructure projects, but nobody wants to give anything up in exchange.  However, as a bad Marie Antoinette impersonator once told me, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” NIMBY-ism also appears to be a class-based phenomenon. There are many people who are living in this city who would love to have loud neighbors as their biggest concern. Something tells me that the city gets very few complaints about the noisy LRT bells from people in inner city neighborhoods who work two jobs just to afford to live in abject poverty. Not to mention the fact that there are people who rely on these infrastructure projects to get where they’re going on a daily basis. In comparison to the noise associated with gunshots, sirens, or a drug deal going down, complaining about how the multimillionaire down the street is having a little too much fun with his buddies seems pretty petty. The same goes for people who live out in the suburbs and come into the city to enjoy the entertainment and then leave. Newsflash, you can’t come into the city and enjoy the Fringe, or the Street performers festival, or Heritage days, and then go home to your cul-de-sac in the burbs because actually living in the city would be far too unsavory for you. The sketchy-ness of these communities is what makes them interesting. Street Performers, Bohemian playwrights, and immigrant communities thrive in the conditions which make suburban soccer moms uncomfortable. This is sickeningly close to the tourism concept of “slumming” where wealthy people head to impoverished areas to enjoy the Dickensian squalor. The point is, if you want to live somewhere you should be willing to make a little sacrifice in order to reap the benefits of something you will enjoy. While the thing you oppose doesn’t have to go in your back yard, it does have to go in someone’s. And if you want to complain about the noise, or the impact on your view, or the cyclist, well you might as well just move to St. Albert.

Andrew is a fourth year Political Science student who likes fighting the power, raging against the machine, a killer workout,  and a cool frosty mug. Andrew is currently reading Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, by Patton Oswalt.

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  • pcoates7

    I am late to reading this article. I don’t know when or how Edmonton grew a bunch of these whiners but I strongly believe that they are the ball and chain dragging down the growth of our city. There has to be a point where the city can call out nimby’s and throw their concerns out. We can’t always be delaying decisions because of nimby attitudes.