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NIMBY is an acronym meaning Not In My Back Yard.

NIMBY refers to people who resist having potentially dangerous or disruptive projects carried out in their own neighborhoods; they usually don’t object to those projects when they are carried out elsewhere. The term is often used to call out hypocrisy and double standards.

The term NIMBY has been around since at least 1983, when the New York Times wrote about the reluctance of local governments to allow hazardous waste disposal facilities to be placed in their regions. The Times reported that the term NIMBY had been coined by a consulting firm working to find locations for the waste disposal. ”We started calling it ‘the NIMBY syndrome,’ or ‘Not in my backyard,’ ” said John Vanderveld of the consulting firm Pioneer Equities. ”The words ‘hazardous waste’ simply send shivers down spines.”

The result of NIMBY is that, in practice, municipal projects like landfills, prisons, and public housing tend to end up being located in low-income neighborhoods. That’s because wealthy neighborhoods, which hold more political power, usually protest vociferously against have such projects located in their “back yards.” It’s not that the wealthy object to prisons, landfills, and public housing, but they do usually object to having them located near their homes. Meanwhile low income neighborhoods usually hold much less political power, and can’t effectively prevent undesirable projects from being put in their areas. 

The opposite of NIMBY is, of course, YIMBY, which stands for Yes In Many Back Yards. Some developers, frustrated at having their projects rejected, have talked about the need to “flip” the obstructionist NIMBY into an accepting YIMBY. Writing in Bloomberg, though, Garrett Dash Nelson argued that the real solution to NIMBY is to change the accepted definition of “back yard.” In other words, people need to learn to look beyond their narrow, community interests and consider the broader good of their city or municipality. After all, Dash pointed out, most wealthy Americans already think about their careers in global terms; it’s time to view public projects in the same terms:

To think that our “back yard” consists only of a few square miles or the catchment area of a single elementary school is a fantasy—or, more likely, a motivated illusion—in a multicultural nation, a globalized economy, and an utterly despatialized public sphere in the form of the internet. The NIMBY’s great hypocrisy, then, lies not in their insistence on saying no, but rather on their ability to shift the scale of their back yard. When deciding about housing or environmental protection, it is very small, but when deciding where to look for a job, or an investment opportunity, or a college to attend, suddenly it becomes very large.

In the late 1990s another alternative to NIMBY and YIMBY was being bandied about in New York City and in other major cities. BANANA – Build Absolution Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone – was the tongue in cheek approach of Claire Shulman, who at the time served as Queens borough president; the term was also picked up in other metropolitan areas. BANANA, for obvious reasons, did not have the staying power of either NIMBY or YIMBY.

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