The NIMBY Conundrum…

Self-interest.  It’s a jungle out there, and we are all struggling to survive.  ‘Looking after number one’ is instinctive, a hard-wired response to a threat, so why stress about something that is so ingrained in our nature as to be beyond change.  Right?

Except that’s the sort of crap that social Darwinists and eugenicists spout when they realise that they’re on the losing end of an argument.  And it’s the polar opposite of what I see every day in community-based charity work, where good citizens pool their resources (time, energy, skill, money) to find solutions to problems that blight the particular community they are striving to support.  What’s in it for them, these volunteers, these carers, these good neighbours?  I like to put my faith in enlightened self-interest, or the notion that we all “do well by doing good”.

Imagine my dismay then to have to ruminate on the idea that I might, in fact, be that embodiment of self-serving individualism – a NIMBY.

You see, one of the things that is often forgotten about the potential development of Posties Park is that the site includes two privately owned properties.  And one of them is chez moi.  So, if I’m objecting to our park (or my back yard, as I like to think of it…) being developed, then that must make me a NIMBY, right?

Well, I’d sooner don a unitard and can-can up the High Street than align myself with NIMBYism as I understand it.  The term NIMBY, which stands for ‘not in my back yard’ has been widely used pejoratively, to describe those sorts of people who care only about their own outlook and social standing; the sort who don’t want the tone of the neighbourhood lowered by the building of a methadone clinic or homeless shelter nearby.  NIMBY has become synonymous with snob, or someone who looks down on others.  The media have classified Nimbies as entrenched, navel-gazing stick-in-the-muds, who have time on their hands and no friends, so find meaning in their lives by objecting to everything on principle.

nimby

I fully admit that my reaction to the proposal to turn Posties Park into a sprawling secondary school site was visceral; my stomach lurched before my brain even properly engaged.  But imagine, for a moment, that you were in my shoes and picture this scene :

You’re walking through the local supermarket, idly thinking about what to buy for dinner that night, when you pass a newspaper stand and something catches your eye – it’s a photograph of your house, right there on the front page!  And then you take in what the headline actually says, ‘Revealed: Town centre site is the top choice for new high school’.

When I found out, from the local newspaper, that Posties was the ‘preferred site’ for a huge new school development, what followed was a period of terrible uncertainty.  The absence of any form of consultation, or even any formal communication or update coming from the council, stoked the NIMBY fires within me.  Would I find myself subject to a Compulsory Purchase Order and forced out of the home I love? Would the house that Him Indoors and I had so lovingly and painstakingly restored and updated end up being bull-dozed to make way for a concrete monstrosity?  I sought clarification from the local council, but was dismissed as ‘jumping the gun’, because, of course, no decisions had yet been made.  However, it has since come to light that Posties has been the preferred site from the very beginning, and it seems that the thoughts and feelings of the residents of Posties Park don’t come into the equation.  Of course.

Sorry, I went off on a total NIMBY rant for a moment just then…

Anyway, cards on the table : there are, without doubt, concerns like those above that are exclusive to those of us who really are losing a back-yard to this development.  But my primary concerns aren’t around traditional NIMBY objections – this isn’t about keeping out the riff-raff or stopping those ghastly commoners from lowering the tone. The fact is, Posties Park is very well used by a huge range of people, and it certainly seems to have a positive impact on the well-being of those who use it.  If you run or walk on Posties, you’ll get ‘good morning’ greetings from everyone you pass.  People look relaxed.  I fully believe that this is the impact of nature.  Just by being in an area of greenness you somehow feel better.  I love to look out of my window and see the park full of people – a football game, formal or just a kickabout; an outdoors ‘bootcamp’ exercise class; dog-walkers throwing a stick for their beloved mutts.  It’s the loss of this that I dread. This valued open space that the people of Dumbarton have been blessed to enjoy for years and years.  It should be kept for future generations to enjoy.  The same applies to the rest of the parks and green spaces in West Dunbartonshire.  Leave them as they are, and use the ugly, run-down demolition sites that blot our landscape for new developments and, in doing so, clear the area of some proper eyesores.

And whether you read this and think that I’m a NIMBY or not, you should be assured by the fact that the vast majority of ‘Save Posties Park’ activists live far enough away from the park so as not to be impacted by ‘neighbour’ issues.  But still they campaign, because they know the true value of the site, and they are prepared to give their own time and energy to support their community.  Enlightened self-interest, in action.

Early on in the campaign, I kept a really low profile because I didn’t want detractors to be able to level an accusation of NIMBYism at a campaign that is driven by the very best intentions and is collectivist and non-partisan.  But the arrogance that I’ve witnessed from people who really don’t know anything about the park but speak as if they’re experts has forced me to break my silence.  Like when Terry Lanagan stated to the education committee that he’d taken a drive down to the park and found it to be “almost derelict” and “hardly a woodland idyll”. Or when councillor Tommy Rainey said that he “sometimes” goes to Posties Park and always finds it completely deserted.  Either he’s visiting in the dead of night, or maybe people are leaving in droves when they see him coming, but it doesn’t sound like the Posties Park that I know and see every single day.

The problem with faceless council officers conducting desk-top studies on sites that they don’t know and have only ever seen on a Google map is that they fail to understand what these sites actually mean to people. It’s much easier to simply label people as NIMBY do-gooders and dismiss us as backward-looking and anti-progress.  That way these officers can go to their out-of-town homes at the end of the day and get a good night’s sleep with a clear conscience.

When Peter Denny and John McMillan gifted the people of Dumbarton our parks in 1885, I’m sure that was primarily an act of enlightened self-interest.  But maybe it was underpinned with a teeny bit of NIMBYism too – given as it was seen as a move to block Singers in Clydebank from developing the area.  Nowadays we don’t have wealthy benefactors who can use their riches to influence and control town-planning (ahem…) but we do have elected representatives.  These are the people who should be keeping the officers in check, and making sure that the voice of the community is heard and actually listened to.  More than ever, we need our councillors to step up and actually represent us.

And if over 1500 petition signatures and dozens of local news reports haven’t already given them the picture, then you need to tell your councillors that this proposed development of Posties Park is actually a LULU.  And, for those of you who haven’t been keeping up to date with town-planning acronyms, that’s a Locally Undesirable Land Use.  Your councillors work for you. Use your people power to let them know what you want and then make sure that they listen. And if you find that they don’t listen, use your people power again and vote for someone who does.

– MAx

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