Krawczak: Let’s eradicate NIMBY Syndrome

There is an unfortunate syndrome some people get. It’s called NIMBY. The frequency of NIMBY cases in this area seems to be on the decline but there are still a few strong cases out there I’d like to eradicate.

Characteristics of NIMBY include incredibly supportive communication regarding ideas and projects. But the support is for the concept only, as long as the project doesn’t take place near the person showing signs of NIMBY Syndrome. There are plenty of examples of what an interaction with someone with NIMBY Syndrome might look like, but following is just one example.

In response to the suggestion of consolidating services (this is not an argument for or against consolidation of services, it is simply a great example of NIMBY Syndrome), a person with NIMBY might say, “Consolidation of services? What an excellent idea. It would be a much more efficient use of resources. But not for MY services. Not in this community. But it would work perfectly in another community.” A person without NIMBY might say, “Consolidation of services? That’s a great idea for more efficiency. It may or may not work but we should at least explore it.”

But NIMBY Syndrome doesn’t affect just a single topic. Consolidation of services is just one example. I’ve seen it act as a brick wall to other topics as well. In fact, at a recent meeting we came up with at least a dozen examples we have witnessed in our region in which NIMBY Syndrome has been responsible for blocking some significant opportunities in the Northeast Michigan region. Opportunities that would have brought jobs. This NIMBY Syndrome is no joke.

A article story in The Alpena News reminded me of the potential impact of the NIMBY Syndrome. The article was titled, “Sanctuary’s Difficult Beginning Proves to be Success Now.” In the article, sanctuary Superintendent Jeff Gray said that there was so much controversy at first that the government said there had to be a five year evaluation to see if it was working or not. The sanctuary almost didn’t happen because of the widespread NIMBY Syndrome. But Gray said that at five years, the support was overwhelming. The support is still overwhelming today.

Think back to the time when the sanctuary was first conceptualized. Did you know the conversation often went something like, “Oh, a preserve to protect shipwrecks is a great idea. But don’t put it in our community,” or, “That would work great in another community. But it won’t work here,” or, “I love the idea of a protected shipwreck designation. But not in my backyard.”

If you haven’t figured it out yet, NIMBY is not a real syndrome. It represents the, “Not in my backyard” population. The NIMBY population often stands in the way of progress. The good news is that progress happens anyway. It is just slower to occur and more challenging to find success among a vocal NIMBY population.

What I find interesting though, is that so many times when a project is successful even with a NIMBY population pushing against it, the support swells until even the original NIMBY population cannot imagine what life was like before the successful project.

I don’t have NIMBY Syndrome. Maybe you don’t either. Very few people actually do. When I thought about that, I wondered why it was still so powerful against progress. Then I realized it is because we allow it to have power. So let’s stop.

You might know someone who has NIMBY Syndrome. When it starts to show, remind them of a project that was fiercely argued against but happened anyway and is now successful. Tell them you want to help eradicate that negative behavior because it is not helping the community grow. Share with them that your response to someone with a great new idea is, “Let’s try it here! Our backyard is ready for development and you’re invited!”

Jackie Krawczak is the executive director of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. Her column runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Jackie on Twitter @jkrawczak.