ICYMI: Turning NIBMYs into YIMBYs

We have talked a lot in recent years about the rising trend of NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) across New Brunswick. Combine our aging population with a rising cynicism of government and a social media environment where ideas (good and bad) spread like wildfire and you get the perfect environment for a paralyzing NIMBY attitude.

NIMBYism is fundamentally about resisting change. While protesting against development is an important part of democracy we need to envision a way to protest in favour of development. In short, we need a tool to foster the YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard).
The Economist magazine ran an interesting story last week about a new idea out of Finland designed to turn NIMBYs into YIMBYs. Brickstarter is a new platform for citizens to articulate, promote and garner consensus around ideas for development in local communities.
It is meant to reverse the polarity from NIMBY to YIMBY, from “complain to create, outlining a platform for suggestions, developed and driven by participation of citizens, local business, and government”. Brickstarter explores how to make it easier for communities to voice a productive and collective “yes” to their best ideas.

The Web-based tool includes a forum for citizens to articulate possibilities and start aggregating attention. It provides a public story-telling platform, fosters debate around proposals and includes a community fundraising tool for shared initiatives.

Those of you who have faced hard-edged NIMBYism will immediately be skeptical of Brickstarter. You will say this service will just become another forum for negativity as those fighting against new ideas will overwhelm those who are trying to gather support for anything new.
This is a distinct risk. As Captain Spock remarked in Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan “as a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy than to create”. When highly motivated people forcefully make their case against development, the rest of conservatively-minded New Brunswickers are susceptible to siding with the ‘do nothing’ option.

But I think we need to find new ways to discuss development – even thorny issues such as shale gas and mining – openly in the public square. There are many people in our communities who are open to a fair dialogue but have limited options for constructive engagement.
Brickstarter is not really positioned as a platform for citizen engagement on big industrial development opportunities. Its primary focus is fostering a bottom up approach to community development projects. But the principles are the same.

There must be a silent majority of New Brunswickers who intuitively understand the unstable path this province is on. They see their kids moving away. They see first-hand the aging of their communities. They read about the squeeze on government funding and see the results of this austerity as it impacts public service delivery. This isn’t a story that is confined to a small group of nervous nellies.
The economic development we need will give rise to NIMBYs. It is uncomfortable to see an increase in large trucks on our roads. New construction activity leads to noise and dust. Trees will have to be cut down. Holes will need to be drilled. Pipes will be laid.
Don’t forget, there are those against the development of office-based industries too. Efforts to grow the call centre industry in the 1990s led to people decrying the ‘sweatshops’ in ‘Alabama North’. You would be hard pressed to find any economic development opportunity that wouldn’t raise the ire of someone.

We will need a lot of YIMBYs. They will be critical to moving this province towards the path of economic sustainability. They will fight for the future of their communities and they will need a platform to engage.

I have to believe in the end that good ideas will trump bad ideas.

4 thoughts on “ICYMI: Turning NIBMYs into YIMBYs

  1. I’m often frustrated by the rising tide of NIMBYism in New Brunswick and the accompanying lack of solutions being offered by those who seem to oppose any type of development.

    I wonder, however, what role our successive governments have played in nurturing the NYMBYist attitudes over the past 2 decades. Since McKenna left office, it seems (I don’t have any hard data to back this up) that our leaders have increasingly become the types who govern according to polls.

    Often, when they put forth policy, it seems to be done in a tentative (even sheepish) manner. And, as soon as a relatively small, but vocal, group rises up to oppose, they water down the policy or back down completely.

    Is this just an impression I have? Do you think this has enabled/empowered a NIMBYist culture in NB?

  2. I read a good quote the other day about NIMBY-“those who have a problem with NIMBYists are usually those who have nothing going on in their backyard”. Fredericton is almost unrecognizeable when i go back there, the entire place is redeveloped. Apart from the UNB woodlot people, who had a VERY good point, there is virtually NO ‘NIMBY’ ists in fredericton. That’s true of virtually every city I’ve come across, and NB ones are no different. When you hear the word ‘NIMBY’ it USUALLY means there is a very highly contentious type of development which people who are unaffected by it have a different opinion than those who ARE affected.
    I suspect this may be referencing Kent County, but anyway, there is a valid point that people SHOULD be allowed to refuse development if they choose. I suspect if ‘development’ ever came to mean creating more national park space and protected areas, then LOTS of people would jump on board. But ‘development’ never seems to mean that.

  3. To Stephane: I think the opposite. Shawn Graham went down to defeat after only one term because he carried that ‘sell NB POwer’ anchor straight to the bottom with him. Alward looks like he may well do the same by refusing to have a referendum on fracking, or even introducing his ‘rules’ into law. This looks very much like two guys who do their utmost to IGNORE the polls. I’m yet to see from Alward any example of governing by polls. Even on the municipal file, if you look at what most commenters are saying, its that he SHOULD simply act dictatorially in this category and simply amalgamate municipalities. Given that NB is broke yet still finds the wherewithal to cancel the provincial property tax on second home and apartment owners, and grant property tax breaks to corporations who didn’t even ask for it, and then raise gas taxes, well, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb in saying that its NOT polls that they are governing by.

  4. The Brickstarter tool sounds really interesting… I attended an economic development policy discussion panel this week and the number of well-spoken audience members who each had great questions and comments for the panel really shows just how important it is to continue this exchange. An open online platform could be a simple and accessible way to encourage citizen engagement and to allow some of these great ideas to come to the forefront.

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