Change can be a challenge for many people. When change is proposed in a neighbourhood or community, residents can be skeptical of, or even hostile towards, a new development. This phenomenon is often referred to as NIMBY, which is short for “not in my backyard”. The NIMBY phenomenon can be common for non-market housing developments due to some societal beliefs that non-market housing will have a negative effect on the character, socioeconomic status or quality of life in a neighbourhood. Common arguments are that there will be increases in crime, litter, thefts and violence, and that surrounding property values will decrease. Studies have shown that this is not the case, but for municipalities, NIMBYism can present significant barriers to the advancement of non-market housing in a community.
Positive versus negative public participation
Public participation can be positive or negative depending on the context. Positive public participation indicates a presence of community and that people are concerned about issues that extend beyond their own property. Examples may involve objections on land use, availability of amenities, access to schools or transit, vehicle traffic flow, or building design regulations so that the physical appearance is compatible with surrounding architecture.
Negative public participation, or NIMBYism, is when citizens put their own fears or expectations ahead of community requirements for alternative, innovative, social or special needs housing. Fear of strangers, crime, ethnic or racial prejudice or discrimination based on social or economic status may cause people to object to housing developments. NIMBYism can also be driven by personality conflicts, concerns over the quality of other municipal services or over previous disputes with elected officials or municipal administration that are unrelated to the proposed housing development. Municipalities should recognize that it is easier to change public attitudes towards housing than it is to change ingrained societal attitudes towards other people. Municipalities that are experiencing NIMBYism due to racism or discrimination are encouraged to access AUMA’s resources on how to create a more welcoming and inclusive community.
Resources to Address NIMBY
- Housing in My Backyard: A Municipal Guide for Responding to NIMBY was developed by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and other stakeholders to assist municipal administrators and elected officials to gain community acceptance for sound housing developments.
- AUMA’s Citizen Engagement Toolkit offers guidance to increase public participation into local decisions.
- AUMA’s Affordable Housing Toolkit (2003) offers guidance on how to prepare for NIMBY, how to educate leaders, how to gain project acceptance, and proposed steps for implementation.
- The resource-based Homeless Hub offers a variety of readings on NIMBY.
- International Association of Public Participation seeks to promote and improve the practice of public participation and provides technical assistance to practitioners and those involved in the field. The IAPP offers tools that may support municipalities in their efforts to engage communities for new housing developments.