Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) Definition

What Does "NIMBY" Mean?

NIMBY stands for "not in my backyard." It is an expression of opposition to a change considered undesirable to a region, town, or neighborhood.

What Are Common Reasons for NIMBY Sentiment?

not in my backyard sign

NIMBY often stems from the disagreement of residents with the proposed development (either by a government or private body) in their community. It results from the perception that the development is detrimental to the community, particularly its quality of life and property value.

In some cases, social justice proponents[1] are the force behind NIMBYism. It can occur when they believe that a proposed change lacks a social conscience, sense of responsibility, or concerns for the issues that cause injustices and harm society as a whole.

There are several common reasons why groups or individuals in a neighborhood might oppose a development project:

  • Increased Crime. Economic growth can spur migration, but there is a belief that high immigration leads to more crime[2]. Research has yet to solidly back this conventional wisdom, but this belief is one reason why locals may react against the arrival of newcomers.
  • Pollution. While the fear of new pollution will often concern the environmental decline resulting from a new development’s harmful activity, it may also refer to outdoor noise or lights that may bother residents.
  • Heavy Traffic. In highly car-dependent areas[3], suburban sprawl can predictably result in road congestion, which could be an added nuisance in the daily lives of commuters.
  • Support for Local Businesses. National chains can negatively affect the bottom line of smaller, local, mom-and-pop stores. Although the local consumers will ultimately win when there are more choices available[4], those heavily biased toward local businesses will react against the entry of big brands in their markets.
  • Loss of a Community’s Character. The appeal of some communities comes from their small-town feel. Anybody who fears a town might lose what makes it unique because of development will feel compelled to refuse change.

The term NIMBY originated in the mid-1970s when the opposition to nuclear power generation was at its peak[5]. The then-residents of Midland Michigan, Seabrook, New Hampshire, and adjacent jurisdictions expressed disapproval of the plans from major electric utility companies to build nuclear-based power plants in their areas by saying “not in my backyard.”

Development Projects That Encounter NIMBY

It is impossible to come up with an exhaustive list of all changes that might attract objections from one or multiple groups of local residents. However, there are several types of developments that have historically encountered local pushback.

Mining Operations

wisconsin frac sand mining operations

Mining is a significant economic driver[6]. Many of the materials needed for building components for electronic devices, motor vehicles, and other essential products in the 21st century are mined. Although no one can reasonably dispute this, nobody wants to bear the brunt of potential mining-induced toxic waste either[7].

Renewable Energy Generators

The adoption of renewable energy is the key to stopping climate change[8]. However, communities are less likely to welcome businesses that generate clean energy when they threaten the livelihood of residents[9].

Housing Complexes

As mentioned, the likelihood of more vehicular traffic and more crime[10] can render local people resistant to the arrival of migrants.

Services for Marginalized Individuals and Stigmatized Groups

Not everyone is comfortable living near shelters for the financially disadvantaged or the homeless[11]. To many people, convicted criminals or recovering substance abusers are not ideal neighbors. Naturally, worried residents oppose halfway houses[12].

Conservative communities may also find controversial social services like opioid treatment and needle exchange programs undesirable. While research shows that divisive social services work as intended, the fact that they are still not universally adopted is proof that some states[13] are still not ready to host facilities that deliver them.

Businesses Selling “Immoral” Products

Some communities consider legal goods like alcohol immoral[14]. Residents in these communities will do everything to keep merchants of such products from setting up shop.

Ways Project Proponents Handle NIMBY Sentiments

NIMBY thinking is difficult to change, but not impossible. Although no single strategy works 100% of the time, certain ways are more likely to work in some situations.
Here are four common ways a proponent of change can boost their chances of succeeding:

1. Proactiveness

Any form of resistance will have a better chance of subsiding quickly (or at least, it will not intensify in the long run) when nipped in the bud. It is important to invest time and energy early on to gauge and address any potential NIMBY backlash to a new project.

2. Education

If the objections are based on misunderstandings instead of facts, funding a relevant, in-depth study by an impartial party can be a worthwhile investment. These studies can provide more insight into the disputed matter and may ease baseless fears.

3. Compromise

businessmen handshake bottom view

While education can be an effective solution, it’s worth noting that research-based arguments will only work on sensible critics. Emotional critics may still come up with a new complaint (or even actively look for one) to derail any progress made by project proponents.
If dispelling false accusations is pointless, development advocates must be prepared to make concessions to achieve their goal. Meeting opponents halfway can dampen anti-development sentiments and gain enough support from the opposing side.

4. Buffers

Sometimes, what is out of sight is out of mind[15]. Making an effort to make a proposed project less noticeable or completely hidden from view can help appease its haters.

What Is “Yes in My Back Yard” (YIMBY)?

yellow yes sign

YIMBY is the direct opposite of NIMBY.

This movement promotes affordable housing for the general public. YIMBY identifies zoning codes that limit residential dwellings to low-density units like single-family homes as restrictive.

Pro-housing activists believe that zoning reform is the solution to increasing housing inventory, a major factor affecting real estate prices[16]. They cite the “underbuilding gap,” which refers to the inability of housing supply in the country to keep up with demand (particularly after the Great Recession)[17]. Defenders of the YIMBY movement believe that significant changes in an area’s social and economic conditions merit local zoning regulation amendments[18].

Generational Gap

YIMBY sentiments are more apparent among city dwellers than their suburban counterparts. In urban settings, most renters lack the means to access homeownership. Even high-income earners in some markets even struggle to manage the cost of rent[19].

Interestingly (but not surprisingly), millennials form the dominant group among the YIMBY crowd. One reason is that the 2008 crisis[20] has shaped them, and they currently comprise the largest group of consumers in the United States[21].

Older generations tend to be more interested in keeping communities from becoming overpopulated, preserving high property values, and quietly perpetuating segregation[22]. However, millennials support YIMBYism to make housing markets more inclusive, which can help lift poor and minority families out of poverty.

Divide Between YIMBY Proponents

The YIMBY movement is all about change, but not all of its supporters agree on a unified approach. One camp is keen on gentrification[23], whereas the other opposes it.
Promoters of pro-gentrification argue that the latter lacks genuine intersectionality, or the interconnectedness of different identities like race, class, and gender, in their social activism.

Meanwhile, anti-gentrification advocates feel more attachment to local renters and are inclined to deny proposed luxury developments that will displace long-time, low-income residents. To some of these activists, the government should step in and subsidize more housing projects instead of relying solely on profit-driven investors.

Takeaways

NIMBY is a movement that reflects the unwillingness of local residents and stakeholders in a community against change. Sometimes, objections to proposed projects are justifiable, especially when developments might result in a decline in the quality of life of local residents. Typically, NIMBY sentiments arise from the prospect of increased crime, heavy traffic, and pollution.

Project proponents can use different strategies to appease their critics, such as identifying and addressing local resistance early on, debunking misconceptions, and offering a compromise. Traditionally, real estate developers face some pushback, but they now have allies in YIMBY advocates, who counter NIMBYism in the pursuit of affordable housing.

Sources

  1. Soken-Huberty, E. (2020.) What Does Social Justice Mean? Human Rights Careers. Retrieved from https://www.humanrightscareers.com/issues/what-does-social-justice-mean/
  2. Misra, T. (2019.) For the Last Time, Here’s the Real Link Between Immigration and Crime. Bloomberg. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-06/what-s-the-real-link-between-crime-and-immigration
  3. McLachlan, N. (2021.) The Most and Least Car-Dependent States [Complete Study]. US Insurance Agents. Retrieved from https://www.usinsuranceagents.com/car-dependency-by-state/
  4. Prescott, H. (2014.) Local stores vs. chains: What’s a healthy mix? South Bend Tribune. Retrieved from https://www.southbendtribune.com/story/business/2014/10/26/local-stores-vs-chains-whats-a-healthy-mix/46320321/
  5. Dorfman, P. (2021.) Let’s Talk About ‘NIMBY’. The Dissident Democrat. Retrieved from https://stopbtownupzoning.org/2021/01/07/lets-talk-about-nimby/
  6. Mielli, F. (2016.) 5 Reasons Why the World Needs Mining …And Always Will. Schneider Electric. Retrieved from https://blog.se.com/mining-metals-minerals/2016/02/19/5-reasons-why-the-world-needs-mining-and-always-will/
  7. Braun, A. (2021.) Inside the latest Indigenous push to stop a massive copper mine. Crosscut. Retrieved from https://crosscut.com/environment/2021/08/inside-latest-indigenous-push-stop-massive-copper-mine
  8. Long, N. & Steinberger, K. (2016.) Renewable Energy Is Key to Fighting Climate Change. Natural Resources Defense Council. Retrieved from https://www.nrdc.org/experts/noah-long/renewable-energy-key-fighting-climate-change
  9. Faucon, B. (2021.) Clean Energy Faces the Same Problem as Fossil Fuels: Community Protests. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/clean-energy-fossil-fuels-protests-11626094401
  10. Scally, C. (2014.) Who, Why, and How Communities Oppose Affordable Housing. Shelterforce. Retrieved from https://shelterforce.org/2014/04/23/who_why_and_how_communities_oppose_affordable_housing/
  11. Dillon, L. & Oreskes, B. (2019.) Homeless shelter opponents are using this environmental law in bid to block new housing. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-ceqa-homeless-shelter-20190515-story.html
  12. Vivanco, L. (2017.) Some neighbors oppose sober-living home proposed in Uptown’s Buena Park. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/breaking/ct-sober-living-home-buena-park-met-20170712-story.html
  13. Lopez, G. (2018.) Needle exchanges have been proved to work against opioid addiction. They’re banned in 15 states. Vox. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/6/22/17493030/needle-exchanges-ban-state-map
  14. Furr-Holden, D. & Milam, A. (2019.) Liquor stores don’t belong in Baltimore neighborhoods. The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved from https://www.baltimoresun.com/opinion/op-ed/bs-ed-op-0624-liquor-stores-20190620-story.html
  15. CCIM Institute. (n.d.) “Not in My Backyard!” Retrieved from https://www.ccim.com/cire-magazine/articles/%E2%80%9Cnot-my-backyard%E2%80%9D/
  16. Wichter, Z. (2021.) Why are house prices going up, and how long will it last? Bankrate. Retrieved from https://www.bankrate.com/real-estate/why-are-house-prices-going-up/
  17. National Association of REALTORS® (2021.) Once-In-A-Generation Response Needed to Address Housing Supply Crisis. Retrieved from https://www.nar.realtor/newsroom/once-in-a-generation-response-needed-to-address-housing-supply-crisis
  18. Lewis, R. (2016.) Not in your back yard? Think twice before you demonize all change. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/realestate/not-in-your-back-yard-think-twice-before-you-demonize-all-change/2016/11/17/e6e3fa0e-a5d0-11e6-8042-f4d111c862d1_story.html
  19. Andrews, J., Bazeley, A., & Sisson, P. (2020.) The affordable housing crisis, explained. Curbed. Retrieved from https://archive.curbed.com/2019/5/15/18617763/affordable-housing-policy-rent-real-estate-apartment
  20. Hoffower, H. (2019.) The Great Recession created a domino effect of financial struggles for millennials — here are 5 ways it shaped the generation. Business Insider. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/how-the-great-recession-affected-millennials-2019-8
  21. Johnson, M. (n.d.) Consumption patterns are changing with younger generations. Pictet. Retrieved from https://www.group.pictet/wealth-management/consumption-patterns-are-changing-younger-generations
  22. Semuels, A. (2017.) From ‘Not in My Backyard’ to ‘Yes in My Backyard’. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/07/yimby-groups-pro-development/532437/
  23. McDonald, P. (2021.) What Is a YIMBY? (Hint: It’s Not Good). Housing Is a Human Right. Retrieved from https://www.housinghumanright.org/what-is-a-yimby-hint-its-not-good/
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