03 October, 2008

The NIMBY Syndrome

I have been thinking over the last couple of weeks about the NIMBY syndrome. I suppose the thing that got me thinking about this was the image of a woman being arrested and then escorted off her own property. Her crime? Preventing surveyors from a water company entering her property to survey a controversial water pipeline the state government wants to run through her property.

NIMBY stands for Not In My Backyard. Here was a woman who was literally being arrested for saying ‘Not in my backyard’. Now I am not thinking specifically about the issue of that water pipeline, although that was the catalyst.

NIMBY can be a powerful influence in social justice.
The phrase ‘tree huggers’ comes from a group of women in India. They did not like the idea that logging companies were going to move in and cut down the trees in their neighbourhood. These poor women were going to be the most affected by the logging and so they decided to take action. They surrounded the trees earmarked for being felled, literally hugging them, to prevent the bulldozers from pushing them over.
I think too of other social reforms like Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jnr, Mother Theresa and many others who stood up and said that injustice would not happen in their back yards.

But there is another side to the coin.
The NIMBY syndrome can be one of the greatest barriers to real justice in our society.
One example immediately springs to mind.
Most people I know think that the state should provide public housing to those who are extremely disadvantaged in our country.
However most of the people I know would not like to live next door to a public housing estate.
I don’t want public housing and all the issues that come along with it in my back yard.
This form of NIMBY syndrome prevents positive change from happening. It occurs because we seek short term personal comfort over long term effective change.

I want to contend that this NIMBY syndrome is a disease of the middle and upper classes in our country. Those that have the power to choose what goes on in their backyard. It is a disease of the comfortable.

We all suffer from NIMBY syndrome. Either we stand up to injustice and say that this will not happen in my back yard. Or we are silent, or worse still we speak out against positive change and say “Not in my back yard”.

So how is your back yard looking? Are you in need of a handyman?

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