Originally Posted by Okayyou
I think it's important to try and understand why NIMBYism exists, at least in its current form. Why do people object to projects being built in their neighborhood? Most people place the cause of the obstructionism on neighborhood residents being selfish, holding an 'I got mine, now keep things the same for eternity' attitude. While I think much of this attitude is rooted in irrationality, I think there is a rational element that produces that attitude. So much worthless crap has been built in the last five decades, 9th and Colorado being a perfect example, that people tend to associate any new development as destructive to the fabric of their neighborhood. I think the average NIMBY-ite doesn't analyze whether the new project will positively or negatively affect their neighborhood, but rather assumes since most projects in the past have been deleterious any new projects will be too.
Demanding better projects would help show that new projects can improve a neighborhood. I think if we had a better track record in the recent past there would be less NIMBY-ism, at least in its current form of 'oppose all new things!'
I think this is pretty accurate. At the same time the percentage of the population that actually participates in any kind of civic engagement is so low that they are rarely representative of the "community" as a whole, and I wonder to what extent NIMBY types are new transplants to the neighborhood or people who recently tuned in, and to what extent they are people who see themselves as long-engaged advocates from the community.
I think the most significant NIMBY activity is when the development is perceived to change the "type" of neighborhood it is - ie in the Highlands, taller developments appear to transition the neighborhood from being a highly-contained neighborhood to being more integrated with Downtown and the urban core. I think there's a perceived loss of control in having the lines of your community blur with a broader community in which you don't have as much influence - especially if you think of yourself as having existing influence in your neighborhood through past volunteering and activism. So often I think the NIMBY activity is not so much about what is being built as it is the folks who have been vocal in the community for years feeling like they're losing power.
I think of urbanism as a very progressive concept, so it's weird to see people using progressive ideas about local control to promote such an anti-progressive position of blocking a positive urban development, and by fighting in a community that should by all measures be dense and urban keep it lower density. That's where I agree with OkayYou, it's about the track record, and basic lack of awareness about the differences between good and bad development, the lack of understanding that taller buildings can actually protect the street level from ugly developments.
But on the other hand I do think ordinary people are gradually becoming more aware and more supportive of the most up-to-date thinking on good planning. I don't work in development or planning, yet I'm here. I have a few friends who are interested, I know a handful of state legislators understand and want to promote urbanism - none of them are professionally related to it, but they are starting to tune in. That will also increase as urbanists are more able to link up with other coalitions that could benefit from urbanism - like environmentalists and communities of color and small businesses - which hasn't happened a lot so far at least in Denver but I'm seeing it begin to happen.