Do you have control over NIMBY?
(Admin note: This article was submitted by invitation to discuss the growing challenge of addressing the “Not in my backyard” (NIMBY) mindset when proposing the construction of new generation or transmission facilities.)
Picture this: economic difficulties haven’t slowed your business down and you decide to pursue a new development. You want to build a new facility. You construct your business plan, collect the proper paper work and get ready for the approval process. All of a sudden the zoning commission holds off on granting your permit. Why? Residents of the local community created an opposition group to fight your project. They say your new facility would be too close to their homes. They say it would create too much noise, pollution, traffic, and obstruct their views. They say they have financial and moral objections to your venture. This is when you realize that opposition is indeed a road block that may halt or even destroy your project. So what do you do now?
The problem that you are faced with is not so uncommon. It is called the ‘Not In My Backyard Syndrome’ (or NIMBYism). It consists of strong opposition by one person or a group of people to a new project or development in their community. NIMBYs, as they are commonly referred as, are very likely to organize quickly to communicate their opposition to a local project in an effort to curb development.
The origins of NIMBYism are somewhat vague. Some scholars believe the concept originated as early as the 1950s. However, the practice of communal opposition to development blossomed in the 1980s. During that time, community concerns were reasonable and justified in most cases. For instance, with the technology available during that period, building a landfill in a neighborhood would mean noise, odor, air pollution and hazardous water and soil. While those days are gone, the sentiment of opposition remains, as does the stigma of any development near one’s home. With the use of modern technology and strict governmental regulations, the inconvenience caused by any sort of development is usually reduced to the minimum.
The NIMBYs, however, always find a reason to oppose development. It seems that very often they are simply “in it to win it.” They oppose just for the sake of making a statement. The “Backyard” has grown so vastly that nowadays NIMBYism affects industries all over the world. From New York to Tokyo, real estate development, alternative energy companies, wind power, energy transmission, nuclear and other various industries are looking for ways to win the NIMBY battle. If you think this syndrome will not affect you, think again.
If your firm finds itself involved in a NIMBY fight, take the steps necessary to ensure the proper message is getting out to the public. Hire a firm that specializes in grass roots level tactics. The truth is that most PR firms aren’t trained in grass roots capabilities to counter the NIMBYism. It is necessary to look for local support and build allies in order to form a supporter coalition. Specialized professionals from a grass roots firm will ensure that the silent majority is heard and help win over the community. Direct mailers, e-mail reminders, letter writing, public hearing attendance, petition drives, phone banking and newspaper ads reminding potential supporters of the advantages that a new development will bring to their town can all be done more effectively if you take on the services of a specialized firm.
When it comes down to it, you have a decision to make. You could become Firm A- the company that ignores the NIMBY fight, doesn’t possess the necessary experience to strategically approach the battle, and doesn’t employ services of a grass roots firm to tackle this issue. Or you could become Firm B. You hire specialized professionals who develop a strategy for you, engage in conversation with the community and encourage the proponents of the project to voice their support. You’d be surprised how quickly experienced professionals and a tailored strategy may bring your project back to life. Before you know it, your permit is granted and you are making arrangements to begin the construction.
The bottom line is: the way you approach the situation will make all the difference. Which scenario would you prefer?
Al Maiorino started Public Strategy Group, Inc. in 1996. He has developed and managed multiple corporate public affairs campaigns in a variety of industries such as gaming, cable television, retail development, auto racing, power plant/wind farm projects, and housing/residential projects. Al received his BA in political science and a MA in American Studies from the University of Connecticut.