Two renderings of a proposed tower at Kingsway and Broadway in Vancouver. On left is the official version presented to City Council (by proponent, Rize Alliance), and on right a version by an independent expert for local group RAMP Vancouver (Credit: Stephen Bohus).
Community activist responds to our earlier post about the Rize development at Kingsway & Broadway
This essay is in response to a real estate marketer's recent article in City Caucus, entitled "Why NIMBYs could be calling the shots on how Vancouver is planned and built."
The use of NIMBY (acronym for "Not In My Back Yard") and name-calling in general really catch my attention, because name-calling is not confined to the school yard, and the accusation of being a NIMBY happens not only in our own city, province, or country — it's a global phenomenon. These are forms of bullying, and the only way to fight bullying is to expose it, stand up to it and get down to the real issues.
Decades ago, some people in Fukushima didn't want a nuclear power plant in their back yard. Perhaps, they were NIMBYs. But since the nuclear disaster in 2011, their descendants are banished from their homes for what may be generations. They were forced to pay a heavy price. A local Vancouver example of people who were considered NIMBYs is the citizens' uprising in the 1970s that rejected a concept in vogue at the time across North America — a freeway running along the waterfront and through our downtown The result is this beautiful city not blighted by a freeway through its heart.
The point is that communities know that decisions made by governments have serious implications for them. They know that long after the individual politicians have gone, public servants retired, consultants paid, developers have sold their properties and speculators moved on, communities are left to deal for generations with the consequences of decisions made by their governments. Neighbourhoods have a deep and inherent interest in the health, livability and sustainability of the community.
The accusation of being a NIMBY is a playground putdown. It's an attack word used to belittle local concerns about the harmful effects of a proposed change in land use. Playing the "NIMBY" card is often a desperate tactic intended to delegitimize an individual or group by insinuating selfishness and opposition to "progress" or types of change that proponents and supporters of project claim are inevitable. But turn this on its head, and a NIMBY is someone who values an existing neighbourhood asset more than the name-caller does.
"Why NIMBYs could be calling the shots…" is not the first example of name-calling and unfairness around here in the context of development and urban planning. I have witnessed many examples, convincing me that something is wrong in mindset at every level regarding respect for communities. This mindset needs to change.
Two years ago the mayor was caught swearing about and mocking members of the public who were simply asking for further discussion before the creation of a politically-appointed advisory body they felt could harm the community ("Arrogance," and "Pssst, Mayor…"). Then there was a case of cyber-bullying apparently directed out of his office and paid by public money ("Blogger scandal"). Our main city newspapers and airwaves cover industry experts accusing groups and citizens of being NIMBYs and attack dogs.
Shall I go on? Local and national papers carry opinions and inaccurate information, verbatim, from developers (who also pay for advertising), yet requests for corrections were refused are ignored (West End). Meanwhile, neighbourhood groups often have a hard time getting fair (or any) coverage of their concerns (Shannon Mews).We have witnessed a legally-flawed policy highly favourable to developers yet deleterious to neighbourhoods adopted with virtually no public consultation (Short Term Incentive for Rental Housing, or STIR), and rezonings approved based on it. Then there was a politically-affiliated pollster conducting an ethically-challenged "push-poll" apparently intended to build support for a controversial rezoning ("Push-poll"). A social housing community demolished and scattered (Little Mountain). A pubic consultation process on a major rezoning slammed by a UBC researcher as being flawed (Marpole Safeway). Gentrification of low-income neighbourhoods ("Downside of gentrification"). Meanwhile, hundreds who spoke at a public hearing last year against a controversial casino expansion were overjoyed, only to have the originally-satisfactory outcome circumvented (Vancouver Not Vegas). Important and complex land-use policies and decisions withheld from the public until just days before they are to be adopted (STIR, "Vancouver Views," Procedural bylaw amendments for public hearings). City staff reports and images have been presented to City Council and the public, with apparent flaws or misrepresentations (view from Spanish Banks, Rize tower proposal). A billion-dollar mortgage with funds owed by a developer to the City (i.e., taxpayers) was released without a clear explanation to the public (Millennium mortgage). We know of cases where numbered companies hide behind the screen of anonymity. A real estate consultancy firm holds secret (ahem, "by invitation only" meetings) apparently intended to urge people to lobby council to approve a rezoning. These are just a few examples of things that seem unfair for local communities, taxpayers, and citizens. Accusations of being a NIMBY are a just one part of a bigger picture.
The motives and resources of community groups and developers are vastly different. By the stroke of a pen, a rezoning can add tens of millions of dollars in value for a private developer. The prospect of these profits gives developers the financial power to pay for advertising, publicity, media experts, lawyers, and consultants, and the boldness to accuse anyone resisting the proposed form of development of being a NIMBY. Meanwhile, many active members of the community are motivated out of deep care for their communities and their city, not just their "back yard." Their involvement in civic issues comes at a considerable sacrifice of personal time and money.
Name-callers try to emphasize what people they label "NIMBYs" don't want. But what DO they want? Most people probably want a fair government, a healthy democracy, and a livable, sustainable city. Most can acknowledge the need for ongoing development to meet future growth. They can support sustainable development in a scale, pace and form that provides affordable rental and owned housing, protects heritage and neighbourhood character, and is implemented through genuine grassroots neighbourhood-based planning processes.
These things above are all hot issues in this city. Each case and issue is unique, complex and involves many interests, but for decisions, all roads lead back to city hall. It is up to the elected officials and public servants to balance all interests fairly.
The next imminent rezoning decision in Vancouver is a proposal by Rize Alliance for a 19-storey tower at Kingsway and Broadway. Over a hundred people have signed up to speak at the public hearing. Residents Alliance Mount Pleasant should not be just criticized as NIMBYs. The discussion should focus on their well-thought out and critical examination of the process and information provided by the City and proponent. Let's get down to work and have fair and honest discussions, in good faith.
Name-calling and accusations of NIMBYism need to stop. Yes, balanced conversations are a must if we want to improve the way we plan and build our city, our country, and our world. Trying to discredit people who care about their home community by calling them NIMBYs is not the way to accomplish this.
- post by Randy Helten