We have talked a lot in recent years about the rising trend of NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) across New Brunswick. Combine our aging population with a rising cynicism of government and a social media environment where ideas (good and bad) spread like wildfire and you get the perfect environment for a paralyzing NIMBY attitude.
NIMBYism is fundamentally about resisting change. While protesting against development is an important part of democracy we need to envision a way to protest in favour of development. In short, we need a tool to foster the YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard).
The Economist magazine ran an interesting story last week about a new idea out of Finland designed to turn NIMBYs into YIMBYs. Brickstarter is a new platform for citizens to articulate, promote and garner consensus around ideas for development in local communities.
It is meant to reverse the polarity from NIMBY to YIMBY, from “complain to create, outlining a platform for suggestions, developed and driven by participation of citizens, local business, and government”. Brickstarter explores how to make it easier for communities to voice a productive and collective “yes” to their best ideas.
The Web-based tool includes a forum for citizens to articulate possibilities and start aggregating attention. It provides a public story-telling platform, fosters debate around proposals and includes a community fundraising tool for shared initiatives.
Those of you who have faced hard-edged NIMBYism will immediately be skeptical of Brickstarter. You will say this service will just become another forum for negativity as those fighting against new ideas will overwhelm those who are trying to gather support for anything new.
This is a distinct risk. As Captain Spock remarked in Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan “as a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy than to create”. When highly motivated people forcefully make their case against development, the rest of conservatively-minded New Brunswickers are susceptible to siding with the ‘do nothing’ option.
But I think we need to find new ways to discuss development – even thorny issues such as shale gas and mining – openly in the public square. There are many people in our communities who are open to a fair dialogue but have limited options for constructive engagement.
Brickstarter is not really positioned as a platform for citizen engagement on big industrial development opportunities. Its primary focus is fostering a bottom up approach to community development projects. But the principles are the same.
There must be a silent majority of New Brunswickers who intuitively understand the unstable path this province is on. They see their kids moving away. They see first-hand the aging of their communities. They read about the squeeze on government funding and see the results of this austerity as it impacts public service delivery. This isn’t a story that is confined to a small group of nervous nellies.
The economic development we need will give rise to NIMBYs. It is uncomfortable to see an increase in large trucks on our roads. New construction activity leads to noise and dust. Trees will have to be cut down. Holes will need to be drilled. Pipes will be laid.
Don’t forget, there are those against the development of office-based industries too. Efforts to grow the call centre industry in the 1990s led to people decrying the ‘sweatshops’ in ‘Alabama North’. You would be hard pressed to find any economic development opportunity that wouldn’t raise the ire of someone.
We will need a lot of YIMBYs. They will be critical to moving this province towards the path of economic sustainability. They will fight for the future of their communities and they will need a platform to engage.
I have to believe in the end that good ideas will trump bad ideas.