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.
It is often used to call out hypocrisy and double standards.
The term 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.
Said John Vanderveld of the consulting firm Pioneer Equities: “We started calling it ‘the NIMBY syndrome,’ or ‘Not in my backyard.’ 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 for 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 Absolutely 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.
Use of “NIMBY” in a sentence:
- The NIMBY phenomenon has become a significant hurdle in the expansion of renewable energy projects, with local communities objecting to the installation of wind turbines and solar farms in their vicinity.
- Balancing the need for social services and housing with NIMBY sentiments is a complex task for policymakers who must find solutions that both meet societal needs and respect the wishes of local residents.
- NIMBYism often becomes a contentious issue during election campaigns, as candidates must navigate the delicate balance between promoting progress and appeasing local constituents who resist change in their immediate surroundings.
Taegan Goddard is the creator of the Political Dictionary.
Goddard spent more than a decade on Wall Street as managing director and chief operating officer of a prominent investment firm in New York City. Previously, he also served as a policy adviser to a U.S. Senator and Governor.
Goddard is also co-author of You Won – Now What?: How Americans Can Make Democracy Work from City Hall to the White House, a political management book hailed by prominent journalists and politicians from both parties.
His essays on politics and public policy have appeared in dozens of newspapers and magazines across the country.
Goddard earned degrees from Vassar College and Harvard University.
He lives in New York with his wife and three sons.