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Old March 16th, 2011, 06:34 PM   #1
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Would bringing back grand planing help to overcome excessive NIMBY-ism?

Everywhere but on the most underdeveloped countries NIMBY-ism (the "not in my backyard" attitude of people who like modern life amenities and services but resists the idea of having anything built on their own area, for starters) poises a problem to progress, development and advancement.

As it is usually the case, a social trend to resist drastic government-backed schemes on housings, transportation, energy, sanitation and alike that didn't take any consideration for impact of projects on specific neighborhoods or cities overstepped boundaries and achieved more than most people would consider reasonable.

NIMBY-ism has different implications and dynamics, but I was thinking whether a particular practice, common on the developed World and many other emerging countries, is overempowering activists, localism and blatant opposition to projects needed anywhere: the piecemeal approach to environmental, social and economic impact studies and reports.

Most NIMBYs are not people posed against modern life, and almost all of them indeed enjoy comforts like electricity, running water, heating, highways, flights, prisons to keep criminals locked, the nice houses/flats they live in, the fact they work in an office and not in a dirty field exposed to the elements etc. At the same time, they will usually oppose development in their area under various allegations, usually that an infrastructure project will "damage the character" of the neighborhood or "spoil the environment" - never mind much damage and spoiling has been done to provide the comforts the NIMBY now have.

In most countries, environmental, socio-economic and other assessments are done in a Byzantine way, looking at as much impacts possible, while ignoring all but the immediate benefits and, more worrisome, failing to take into the picture the overall impact of not building, developing or upgrading some infrastructure.

For instance, many neighborhoods will protest the building of a new electricity transmission line, claiming that poles are an eyesore and even resorting to bogus science. However, cumbersome construction of new lines mean, usually, reinforcement of energy production at a nearby more pollutant thermal plant (coal, gas, oil etc). Same goes for countries that have much hydro power potential: greens will scream that certain areas will be "lost forever when flooded", which is true, but they totally miss the fact that, if not by flooding some hundred km˛, the alternative will be more coal generation, which produces damages in installments to the air and people.

In more urban contexts, transportation projects (highways, subways, trams etc.) usually fell prey to the same logic. It is impossible to build any new structure without some impact. People need to move around, but they will fiercely oppose works on their very close area. Nobody wants congested expressways, but they will oppose new ones. Many like the idea of subways, but God-forbid elevated expressways on the street your child has to walk to school. As a result, we see projects whose costs are multiplied n-fold because of mitigation measures, longer routes, non-intrusive tunneling requirement more expensive drilling methods (even if the tunnel is built solely to appease local residents, they will oppose a cheaper cut-and-cover that brings chaos for 1 year or 2).

When a project location/alignment is rejected, the needs to transport people, energy, fuel, or to shelter them, persists, so they move to an alternative project that will, again, be site-specific analyzed.

Therefore, wouldn't a more general, national assessment for transport, energy and alike be a solution to fight NIMBY-ism? I am not talking on issues like reducing eminent domain preemption compensation, but taking evaluations away from utterly local considerations, because everybody needs electricity, roads, schools/universities, medical facilities etc. In many cases, the cost of postponing critical works is much higher than standing and waiting. Delayed runways clog airports and increase fares to/from that city. Delayed road expansion means more time lost in congestion, let alone, depending on the case, more deaths due to increased fatality rates on dangerous roads.

Indeed, the case of power plants is rather interesting: because you can't overuse electricity (generation and transmission/distribution is either there or there will be a blackout), the result around the globe has been a resurgence on coal power plants that are faster to build and don't require dedicated supply lines, and it is rather consensual that coal generation is among the worst in terms of pollution. But to dam and flood a lake somewhere 200km north, that is not possible! Look at those birds! And those squirrels.

We need a more relaxed approach to environmental alteration and transformation. Men have been transforming the environment since we all stopped living in caves and adopted agriculture instead of hunting and poaching as primary source of food.
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Old March 16th, 2011, 08:53 PM   #2
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You make interesting posts Tilburg.

Indeed, people do need to relax about development, but let me ask you a question; if you had children (I don't know if you have or not) what would you think if they built a high security prison next to the school.
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Old March 16th, 2011, 08:54 PM   #3
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I don't get it; aren't you the one who wants to keep bars and businesses you disagree with out of your suburban neighbourhood? Is that not NIMBYism?
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Old March 16th, 2011, 10:40 PM   #4
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nimbys is the sign of way too much democracy.
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Old March 16th, 2011, 11:23 PM   #5
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I think the balance we currently have is more or less ok. Sure, some important projects are prevented by NIMBYism. But lets not forget that some deserve to be prevented. When every infrastructure project of the last few decades in Vienna would have been realized, we'd have a parking deck instead of our states opera house and elevated highways with extensive dead urban zones around it instead of the vibrant and dynamic Guertel (belt road) neighborhood. To name only two examples.

Yes some projects need to go along nonetheless but environmental safe guards make sure they do so in the least intrusive, still feasible way. And if projects are really important there are tools how to overcome NIMBYs and if that means expropriation so be it.
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Old March 16th, 2011, 11:30 PM   #6
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I'm with you completely, OP.
Nimbyism in many cities around the world actually stifles economic growth.
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Old March 17th, 2011, 02:29 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Taller, Better View Post
I don't get it; aren't you the one who wants to keep bars and businesses you disagree with out of your suburban neighbourhood? Is that not NIMBYism?
+1... suburbanist contradicts himself in every post. He believes that pedestrians are a nuisance and that nobody wants public transit, but everyone wants freeways apparently (as long as they don't slice through his neighborhood its ok).
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Old March 17th, 2011, 06:43 AM   #8
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+1... suburbanist contradicts himself in every post. He believes that pedestrians are a nuisance and that nobody wants public transit, but everyone wants freeways apparently (as long as they don't slice through his neighborhood its ok).
I am talking about localization, not functionality. They are completely different issues, at least on my book.

As for freeways, I'd happily move to a place near a major interchange, one that I could spot from my house. Nothing is as cool as a 3-level stack full of concrete and steel
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Old March 17th, 2011, 09:36 PM   #9
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As for freeways, I'd happily move to a place near a major interchange, one that I could spot from my house. Nothing is as cool as a 3-level stack full of concrete and steel
Wow, at least you are consequent. I dare to claim people who'd honestly like to do that are a really rare kind. Actually I know only one example so far.
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Old March 19th, 2011, 11:05 PM   #10
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the least intrusive, way.
When it comes to architecture "least intrusive" is the worst approach possible, because it only ever results in utter banality.
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Old March 20th, 2011, 01:48 PM   #11
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When it comes to architecture "least intrusive" is the worst approach possible, because it only ever results in utter banality.
Not necessarily. But i was not having architecture as such in mind anyway, rather the ecological impact as well as the area consumption, etc. Let me give you an example. If you can choose between two highway options which cater for the same new capacity and one would need less space than the other, it would be less intrusive. Are you suggesting that would be something bad in itself?

Regarding architecture, utter banality is not worse than a sea full of attention whoring master pieces which form together nothing but chaos without any functioning greater urban structure. In the end you need both for a good city, landmark buildings on focal points but at the same time architecture which is not an ignorant island but also corresponds to its environment and also fits into a larger scheme.
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Old March 20th, 2011, 02:59 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Slartibartfas View Post
Not necessarily. But i was not having architecture as such in mind anyway, rather the ecological impact as well as the area consumption, etc. Let me give you an example. If you can choose between two highway options which cater for the same new capacity and one would need less space than the other, it would be less intrusive. Are you suggesting that would be something bad in itself?
The question is that rarely you have a situation of two functional identical functionally alternatives only differing for ROW they take. Usually a less intrusive route will be far more expensive, require some tunneling, be constrained to lower speeds (which is a degradation on service) or longer distances (degradation in functionality). As all of this can greatly increase costs, over the medium term you end up constructing far less infrastructure than needed because unreasonable constrains are imposed on them.
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Old March 20th, 2011, 05:00 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Slartibartfas View Post
Not necessarily. But i was not having architecture as such in mind anyway, rather the ecological impact as well as the area consumption, etc. Let me give you an example. If you can choose between two highway options which cater for the same new capacity and one would need less space than the other, it would be less intrusive. Are you suggesting that would be something bad in itself?
Sounds good, yes, but if NIMBYs got involved the most likely outcome would be either no highway or a compromise that would need replacing in 10 years time. How is that good? For example here in the UK we have people who oppose HSR, saying we dont need it and how it will destroy the views.

Quote:
Regarding architecture, utter banality is not worse than a sea full of attention whoring master pieces which form together nothing but chaos without any functioning greater urban structure. In the end you need both for a good city, landmark buildings on focal points but at the same time architecture which is not an ignorant island but also corresponds to its environment and also fits into a larger scheme.
Utter banality is utter banality, while good architecture is good architecture and it does not have to be an "attention whoring" masterpiece. Take Java Island (below) in Amsterdam, this is good architecture, however if NIMBYs got involved with their "least intrusive" nonsense youd have some mock-Victorian crap that would be ignored by everyone and loved by no-one. Here in London Ive seen perfectly fine proposals get criticised away by NIMBYs and turned into ugly, stumpy, non-descript lumps of concrete, which only blight the urban landscape.

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Old March 21st, 2011, 12:37 AM   #14
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That of course depends on how the plan is constructed. A larger plan that spans a long time in to the future is positive because its predictable. You know that on a particular street the neighboor might build a 5 storey residential building so you have to adapt to that fact. Such plan makes the planning process more effective and construction wont be hampered by protests and beurocracy.

Planning highways in urban areas however is hopefully something of the past, in cities you plan streets or boulevards. Highways you plan in the country side.
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Old March 21st, 2011, 05:24 AM   #15
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NIMBYs have power exactly because there is legal precedence for defining what nuisance is and allowances for regulating land use based on loose criteria. So they can show up at a meeting and quash some project-either a private one by politically forcing a committee to vote no during the entitlement process or a public one launching endless lawsuits that claim the new bike lane somehow is causing environment impacts outside the scope of its environmental impact statement and other such red tape.

But cities and planners also use this power to make grand plans and then actually make them happen. The same precedent means its legal for codes and regulations to exist and without them grand plans would be nothing more that pretty drawings in a filing cabinet.

If your country's judiciary decided to interpret property or "taking" differently, you flip this on its head. Some of the NIMBYs could no longer fight a plan to build a highway because their aesthetic or environmental concerns would no longer be grounds for legal action. But then the government itself wouldn't be able to justify eminent domain for the land to build it because that would be a taking for something that doesn't matter anymore either. Only private companies could build anything substantial, but then this would be the antithesis of public planning.

But I guess I'm assuming a Western-style democracy here where the rules go for everyone

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Old March 21st, 2011, 07:26 PM   #16
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Quote:
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The question is that rarely you have a situation of two functional identical functionally alternatives only differing for ROW they take. Usually a less intrusive route will be far more expensive, require some tunneling, be constrained to lower speeds (which is a degradation on service) or longer distances (degradation in functionality). As all of this can greatly increase costs, over the medium term you end up constructing far less infrastructure than needed because unreasonable constrains are imposed on them.
This was only an example of extremes to show what I mean. In reality things are relative of course. Then the factor of "least impact" should play an important role but of course no the only one. Costs are another important factor, one has to weigh off all factors against each others.

Slightly lower speeds especially in regards to highways are nothing bad. They are a cheap means of increasing capacity while reducing emissions.
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Old March 21st, 2011, 07:29 PM   #17
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Planners go to school so that they may be more informed than the public on what good planning is and what is best. The fact that we have this charade of public meetings and neighborhood input is absolutely ridiculous. That NIMBYs are actually influential in the planning process is beyond me.
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Old March 21st, 2011, 07:32 PM   #18
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Utter banality is utter banality, while good architecture is good architecture and it does not have to be an "attention whoring" masterpiece. Take Java Island (below) in Amsterdam, this is good architecture, however if NIMBYs got involved with their "least intrusive" nonsense youd have some mock-Victorian crap that would be ignored by everyone and loved by no-one. Here in London Ive seen perfectly fine proposals get criticised away by NIMBYs and turned into ugly, stumpy, non-descript lumps of concrete, which only blight the urban landscape.
I was not talking about things like this when I used the term "least intrusive". I think I went into depths of what I meant in other postings above.

Regarding your examples of "Java Island". I agree with you, its good architecture. But then it is not "attention whoring" nor "utter banality" either. It certainly is extroverted in its nature but it is set into a very well context of local building traditions and even to a good extend in terms of building materials. Except for one single homes among those showed. That concrete piece with the awkward windows is outright ugly but as the others are pretty nice it doesn't do a lot of damage.
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Old March 21st, 2011, 07:36 PM   #19
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Planners go to school so that they may be more informed than the public on what good planning is and what is best. The fact that we have this charade of public meetings and neighborhood input is absolutely ridiculous. That NIMBYs are actually influential in the planning process is beyond me.
This is partially true, but they don't have to live necessarily with the consequences of their doing. Local inhabitants do and its just fair that they have some platform to give some input. That does not mean that I think they should have too much power either. As always its a matter of the right balance.

As things are, I don't think they need more influence than they have but its more or less ok. Sometimes it might be a bit too much influence but generally for really important projects the NIMBYs can be overruled anyway if need be.
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Old March 21st, 2011, 07:43 PM   #20
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This is partially true, but they don't have to live necessarily with the consequences of their doing. Local inhabitants do and its just fair that they have some platform to give some input. That does not mean that I think they should have too much power either. As always its a matter of the right balance.

As things are, I don't think they need more influence than they have but its more or less ok. Sometimes it might be a bit too much influence but generally for really important projects the NIMBYs can be overruled anyway if need be.
This is what elected officials are for. True, our politics and voting procedures are just as much a charade as the planning process, but what's the point of having any Joe Blow attend a public meeting to voice his outrage? Nothing ever gets done. Every takes so much time and costs so much more money now that we have these public input meetings.
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