Seven reasons NIMBYs oppose new developments

Public protests like this can be a major headache for developers. Image: Hat Trick Productions/Channel 4.

It is a well-known fact that London’s housing supply is not meeting demand. The city needs for nearly 50,000 new homes to be built every year until 2035; last year the number of new homes completed was just shy of 25,000.

There are many reasons why London’s housing market is not delivering, so let’s hone in on one of them: opposition from local residents. Across London there are scores of locally run campaigns, set up by residents who fiercely oppose plans for to development their neighbourhoods.

So why do people oppose new development in their area? The typical response is to dismiss them as “NIMBYs” – an acronym which stands for “not in my back yard” – bent on preventing change. But this overly simplistic “NIMBY” narrative isn’t helping anyone; nor is it helping London to tackle its housing crisis.

For our latest report Stopped: Why People Oppose Residential Development in their Back Yard, we interviewed residents, planners and developers. We identified seven main reasons why people oppose new developments:

Services

In a growing city where the underground, bus and rail services are already stretched, residents fear that an increase in population will put strain on local services – particularly roads, public transport and healthcare.

One leader of an outer London borough told us: “I already have people who can’t get on the train at 6.30 in the morning going into London. Their view is: if I build more housing, how the hell are they gonna get to work in the morning?”

Trust

The complexity of the planning system, and the vulnerability of development to the economic cycle, has led to a decline in trust between residents, developers and local authorities. This makes communication and negotiation between the three groups more difficult.

As one developer put it: “If there’s a policy, people don’t understand why local authorities don’t stick to it… That’s why communities are as angry with their local authorities as they are with us.”

Put simply, many Londoners simply do not believe that the local authority will act in the interest of residents.

Outsiders

Social psychology has long suggested that people identify with their own group and will take action if its identity is threatened by outsiders. Our research suggests that objections to new housing are sometimes as much about new residents as about the houses they will live in.

Locals fear that incomers will dilute the existing sense of community; “These yuppies breed like rats,” as one resident put it.


Place

Residents’ objections are often rooted in the fear that new development will change the character or identity of the place they call home, or will simply be of too‑poor quality. That’s because people come to have close connections with the area in which they live. In the same way that a home is more than a house, a place is often more than just a location.

Politics

Elected politicians provide an important democratic check on development. But we found examples of planning debates being hijacked for alternative agendas, or being used as a political football.

One director of planning said: “If we did not have the local MP whipping up opposition to the planning application, we would have gone through without much opposition.”

Engagement

Tokenistic and superficial engagement often leads to outright anger. A West London resident told us: “Developers change a couple of windows and hope that we will get tired.”

When people feel powerless they tend to protest, and it is no different when residents feel ignored by planners and developers.

Disruption

Residents also fear the noise and safety impacts from construction. In some areas of London development is so intense that construction has begun to feel like a permanent feature of daily life.

As one councillor explained to us: “There is always something going on: trucks going up and down; the roads are muddy; bits of pavement are cordoned off with the latest development hoardings; the noise. It’s just constant here.”

 

Town planning always involves trade‑offs and balancing the interests of different groups, and some communities’ opposition to new housing is deep‑seated and hard to shift. But offering someone a new playground when they are worried about the disruption construction will bring is not get you anywhere.

That’s why developers and local authorities need to invest more energy and time in understanding the causes local opposition, before trying to resolve them. Maybe then we’ll be able to accommodate London’s next phase of growth. 

Jo Corfield is communications manager at Centre for London. You can download the full report here

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America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 


In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.