The dreaded “Not In My Backyard” reaction of homeowners who have the temerity to object to neighbourhood changes they never voted for (or were even asked about) is reaching plague proportions if you believe what some urban designers and planners are saying.
This scourge of the NIMBY is threatening the progressive development of cities, they’ll allege.
The NIMBY is now to blame for everything from housing affordability to urban congestion.
Because of those nasty, selfish NIMBYs.
Why can’t seniors find a suitable property to downsize into within their own neighbourhood?
NIMBYs again, curse them.
These comments from Brendon Coates at the Grattan Institute earlier this year are one example.
Speaking at a Henry George Memorial Lecture, the NIMBY was given the full Kangaroo Court treatment and found guilty without trial.
“NIMBYs make housing unaffordable: Grattan Institute”, roared the headlines.
According to Coates:
“The key problem is that many states and local governments restrict medium- and high-density developments to appease local residents concerned about road congestion, parking problems, and damage to neighbourhood character.”
First, their home truly is their castle.
Their home is the biggest single financial asset they are ever likely to own.
Unlike their superannuation fund, it is within their control to add value and enhance its appeal both as a place to live and for long-term financial security.
And unlike their superannuation fund, there are no third parties in fancy CBD Offices charging them exorbitant fees to manage their home.
A third of Australian households own their home outright, and a further third are paying it off with a mortgage.
The remaining third are renting, and nearly all of that rental stock is also privately held by individuals hoping to build on their financial security via an investment in housing.
As property owners, they are all rightly heavily invested in what happens in their street and in their neighbourhood.
For this reason, they are legitimately concerned about things like “road congestion, parking problems, and damage to neighbourhood character” – but according to Grattan, responding to these concerns is “appeasement” by state and local governments.
How disappointing it must be for these urban visionaries as they gaze out at the suburbs from their CBD glass towers, imagining all those ‘McMansions’ being bulldozed in favour of rows of townhouses and unit blocks, having to confront the objections of homeowners who defy the utopian urban density dream.
Incredibly, the suggestion seems to be that homeowners are not only being unfairly obstructionist in objecting to changes that might in their opinion diminish the value of their homes and assets, but that being a homeowner should somehow disqualify you from having a say.
According to Coates:
“The politics of land-use planning – what gets built and where – favour those who oppose change.
The people who might live in new housing – were it to be built – don’t get a say.”
Meaning that non-owners who have no personal investment in a neighbourhood are being unfairly disadvantaged because they are not getting a say about what happens to someone else’s biggest single financial asset and home?
“Father knows best” paternalism is a professional trait that happily tramples on homeowners' interests if they dare get in the way of some “expert” opinion about whether their choice of home and location is “appropriate” or not.
In 2019, the City of Brisbane prevented further development of townhouse-style “missing middle” housing products in low-density streets of detached homes.
The uproar and indignation of some professionals at the time was a disgrace.
“The community doesn’t understand the full story because they are not experts in the field of City design and planning”, said one town planner on the industry portal Linkedin.
“It’s concerning that we listen to the general public for planning in our city rather than the experts who understand the growth of a city,” said another.
Imagine listening to the general public in a democracy?
Why bother when you have unelected experts ready to tell you what’s in your best interests?
The so-called “townhouse ban” was in response to the feedback of more than 100,000 residents who responded to a widespread community survey “Plan Your Brisbane.”
Planning Chair at the time, Cr Matt Bourke, said:
“Their feedback was clear – no more cookie-cutter townhouses on properties that are intended for single homes.”
Neither side of politics will show much interest in pushing for policy changes that the people who elect them vigorously oppose.
This is called democracy.
When Labor Deputy Mayor David Hinchliffe gave the annual Keeble Planning Lecture in 2017, he observed that:
“If you push too hard for this [planning] ideal in the face of that [public] reality, it becomes a political issue in your community, you get defeated and the person who replaces you invariably has learned the lesson of your demise and will make it much harder for planners to wield that [policy] stick in their patch in the future.”
“In public life, if you don't learn that, you don't stay around long.”
Ironically, industry groups or larger developers who complain about the NIMBY phenomenon can at the same time be guilty of their own version of zoning protectionism.
One look at how viciously the anti-competitive “retail hierarchy” planning laws (which effectively prevent further competition within defined trade areas) are fought out in court shows that self-interest is a powerful motivator.
“We would object to a competitor moving a pot plant if we thought it in our interests,” a senior Westfield operative once said to me.
Doesn’t this make Westfield and other large corporates no different from the home-owning NIMBY?
They will be accused (and found guilty) of everything from causing climate change to social inequity.
The accusers will be the same usual cabal of unelected academics, urban “visionaries” and assorted media commentators whose own homes and lifestyles are no doubt safely protected from adverse policy changes while they lecture others on their selfish ways.
And the tensions will only increase as competition for space and housing increases.
How will NIMBYs respond?
That’s best left to Darryl Kerrigan – the lead protagonist in the Aussie film classic “The Castle”:
Darryl: Tell em to get stuffed!
(He also said: “What are you calling an eyesore? It’s called a home ya dickhead!)