Namby Pamby Results of NIMBY PIMBY Thinking

An op-ed piece published in Business First, Dec 28 2012 edition.

Imagine you are chief of staff for a local elected official. The mail arrives and in it are two letters from constituents. You open the first and read:

Dear Mr. Big Pants,
It is with absolute vehemence and unbending determination that I write you on behalf of my constituent groups – the Bunch of BANANAs (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone) and the CAVE People (Citizens Against Virtually Everything). We insist that you immediately cease and desist with even the most remote thought of placing any infrastructure relating to waste (solid, sewage, water, chemical, biological, nuclear, animal, vegetable or mineral); public, transitional, therapeutic or group housing (for the physically or mentally handicapped, homeless, or formerly incarcerated – but we will consider the elderly and the orphaned, but only until age 18, on a case by case basis). We also reserve the right to oppose any entity we find objectionable based on moral, ethnic, immigration and sexual orientation.
Sincerely yours,

The second letter says:

Dear Mr. Executive Officer,
It is with absolute confidence and a strong commitment to this community that I write you on behalf of my constituents – the BIROTOMs (Build It Right On Top Of Me), and the IMBONYs (In My Backyard Only, Not Yours). We beseech that you commit to investing in roads, bridges, broadband and telecommunications, hospitals, parks, public spaces, public art, enhanced utilities and light rail in our community. We also encourage you to consider upgrades to intermodal hubs and airports, but due to noise pollution and traffic issues, would humbly request that they be placed at the farthest convenient edge of our circle of influence. Sincerely yours,

Being the dutiful chief you are, you paperclip them together and deliver them to your elected’s inbox. An hour later you get them back, with a Post-it note that says:

Dear Messrs. NIMBY and PIMBY, you’re not fooling anyone. You’re the same person, just writing me on different days. This isn’t my first rodeo.
Sincerely yours,
MIMBY WIIFM, Elected Poobah

These communications go on every day. Not In My Back Yard. Please In My Back Yard. Maybe In My Back Yard but What’s In It For Me? All too often, cities, towns, villages and townships are engaged in competition, seeing all infrastructure investments as wins or losses.

The unfortunate consequence of this is a set of seemingly incompatible, but unavoidable, statistics. Central Ohio has the highest salary growth, fastest economic recovery and lowest unemployment rate in the state – yet we lead the Midwest in poverty. Our region has many top health-care facilities yet we surpass our neighbors in the number of uninsured children, rate of HIV infection and obesity.

In order to rise above these dichotomies, we need new definitions and new adjectives.

I propose we redefine the term “back yard” to mean “entire region,” and replace “my” and “their” with “our.” Doing so means the south side of Columbus and New Albany are on the same team. It means township trustees interact as equals with mayors and that land use and planning are not reduced to a struggle of Us vs. Them.

I further propose we eliminate using “good” and “bad” before “infrastructure.” Roads and bridges get us to and from our destination but are costly to maintain and take lives in the form of traffic accidents. Sanitary landfills and sewage and wastewater treatment plants aren’t pretty, but imagine how ugly it would be without them.

The same goes for human capital. I propose we acknowledge work-force development and social safety net services as soft infrastructure, not as “welfare.” What we are doing with community college grants, transitional housing and ex-offender programs is retraining and re-entering people into jobs.

Through the work of committed organizations such as the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission and Columbus2020, attitudes and priorities are shifting to this regional “coopetiton” model and yielding amazing results for new companies, mergers, acquisitions, expansions, capital investment and work-force retraining. I am proud to serve on the board of both and look forward to the changes in approach and vocabulary as we grow our region.

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