News - August 17, 2010

Long live the nimby!

Nimbies are indispensable in the democratic process. A government with guts will therefore support residential protests. Financially as well.

This is the contention of researchers from the Alterra Landscape Centre in their essay 'The importance of being nimby'.  The booklet is a plea to let local initiatives have a bigger role in spatial planning. Nimby ('not in my backyard') is the less flattering term for residential groups which oppose spatial developments in their neighbourhood  -  their own backyard.  Nimbies are therefore often described as egoistic and selfish.
But it's not that bad at all, according to Roel During, one of the four authors of the essay. 'When residents take initiatives, there is often a very interesting mix of self interest and common good. Our advice is therefore: the government should take them seriously.' Nobody owns the truth, say the authors from Wageningen University and Alterra.  Not even the so-called rational and objective government founded on the knowledge of scientists and experts. 'Local, everyday, not-scientific knowledge does more justice to the local conditions sometimes', the authors write.
Nimbies are not the outcome of wrong planning and decision-making, according to During. 'Nimbies are intrinsic to a thriving democracy. They should therefore be given room. In fact, we should discard the word nimby. This is also the aim of this essay: to bring up all these negative connotations.' The essay even goes a step further by postulating that a strong government should help its own critics. According to During, you have to cherish nimbies and even give them a hand. As such, he disagrees in principle with the recent decision of Minister Cramer stipulating that protest groups may not use subsidies to finance legal procedures against the government. He points to Canada, whose government does give financial support to such groups.
Set interests
During and his colleagues plead for a radically different approach towards spatial planning. 'Instead of government plans, residents' initiatives should form the point of departure. Planning should include some sort of pre-phase in which the government observes and takes stock of what flourishes and happens in a certain area.' Currently, projects are often started in individual-private alliances centred on investments, says During. 'The plans are only made public after the calculations and drawings are done. The public is then involved in discussions. But that's too late. You're dealing then with set interests.'
'The importance of being nimby' is part four of an Alterra series about residents and landscape.