Sunday, July 14, 2024
The Whistle

The NIMBY Whistle

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The expression “Not In My Backyard” or NIMBY seems to have grown from a movement in the 1970’s when communities in the eastern US opposed the construction of nuclear power plants near their homes.  Over the years the term has become more nuanced and harsher.  NIMBYism still connotes opposition to large scale projects by government or corporations that could decrease quality of life or harm the environment. But for some, NIBMYism refers to attitudes or policies designed to worsen racial segregation, deepen economic inequality, and/or limit the overall supply of affordable housing.   

The problem in Leavenworth is that both definitions have been adopted by the community, and no where does the division seem more clear than when elected officials perceive NIMBYism through the lens of social justice, while citizens are genuinely concerned about their quality of life and the impacts of development on Leavenworth’s unique mountain environment.  Until the community acknowledges that both perspectives are valid and indeed embraced by citizens, finding collaborative solutions will remain problematic.  

Today, The Whistle invites you to explore NIMBYism in the most basic way by suggesting that no one is immune from sending up the NIMBY flare given the right triggers.  

In late December I was walking down from my house to the Village of Lights.  Visitors were pulling into town, parking farther and farther back into the neighborhoods.  The evening was crisp and cheery, inviting a sense of anticipation.  Eager to begin the Instragrammable moments, I watched a couple climb from their rig, walk ten feet into a nearby yard and begin taking selfies using the backdrop of a well lit home. A block farther, four people debarked, went 15 feet into a neighbor’s yard adorned with several snowy mountain ash trees and began to click away while shaking snow from the branches, posing again and again.  Are you a NIMBY if you don’t want your back (or front) yard to become a tourist opportunity? 

One resident who lives in an older neighborhood with small homes confessed that she fears her sunny, semi private backyard, a small area with garden and hammock, will be obliterated by a tall multiplex going in next door to the southwest if her neighbor’s tiny older home is torn down. Does that make her a politically incorrect NIMBY?  There is no proof of racism or insensitivity to socio economic status.  From what I can tell, she simply values her sunshine and privacy, typically more available in a single family neighborhood. In fact, the majority of residents surveyed by the city of Leavenworth list single family neighborhoods as their most preferred residential setting. 

What about the case of the Multi Family Tax Exemption that allowed extended tax breaks for developers who make a small portion of their development more affordable.  This was a hot topic a couple months ago before the council voted in favor.  The majority of comments from citizens were against the MFTE.  People concerned about their fixed incomes said it wasn’t fair to pay the developer’s taxes.  The junior taxing districts, such as the Fire District, said the MFTE would negatively impact their funding stream.  Should we label these concerns as NIMBYism, enemies of social justice?  No. 

This month we’ve watched as the Leavenworth Alpine Park (LAP) requested a roll back of some of their conditions of operations, set in place “for the lifetime” of the operation.  Almost two hundred letters were submitted and I’ve read most of them.  Ninety four percent were against loosening the conditions and restrictions on LAP.  I was proud to call myself a member of the community as I read the thoughtful, detailed, heartfelt concerns and perspectives of our citizens.  Allowing the LAP to take more from the community’s perceived quality of life sent up the NIMBY flare.  And that’s OK.  Who would we be without the ability to express our experiences, perceptions and boundaries?

I suggest we cease laying the NIMBY label on people who oppose specific aspects of housing or other forms of development.  Let’s build a world where we listen to each other first and label second- or better yet, not at all.  Until next time, keep Whistling.  We hear you.         

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