Not in anyone's back yard

Development: Opposing change is the all-too-common reaction of urban, suburban communities alike.

June 14, 1999

OPPOSITION to development proposed in the city or the suburbs has become virtually automatic. Whether the project is a housing subdivision just inside the city line, a synagogue in Worthington Valley or an Inner Harbor hotel, neighbors quickly mobilize to block it.

This hostility is disturbing.

Whether such "not in my back yard" sentiment originates from frustration with developers' perceived influence in government, or from a more basic resistance to change, it is potentially destructive to a dynamic society.

At its heart, NIMBYism is nihilistic and selfish. Its message is that any change should occur far away and that rarely is constructive.

To preserve quality of life, local governments have enacted a variety of laws -- from zoning to environmental protections. Neighbors can use these tools to force developers to improve their projects.

But when they decide to abandon efforts to negotiate and modify development proposals, they leave the task to bureaucrats and politicians. The result many times: Projects that pass regulatory muster but don't represent the community's best interests.

Vigorous debate is an integral part of a democracy. For the process to work, however, communities must be willing to engage in good-faith discussions with property owners, recognizing their right to develop their land to the extent the law allows.

A willingness to compromise is essential -- although it's a quality that appears to be in short supply these days.

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