Recent NIMBY

The topic became my white whale. I came close to conquering it when I wrote Nimby Lane in 2015. Even then I joked about my problem, my seeming inability to write an article about the NIMBY phenomenon even after several attempts. NIMBY stood for "not in my back yard." In that earlier article we established that the acronym even appeared outside of the United States. Subsequent research also showed that it seemed to be transitioning from an all-caps NIMBY to a lowercase nimby. I think I’ll make that adjustment too.

It might be worth repeating the definition as listed in That could be helpful to readers who don’t speak English natively. It’s used to describe:

… opposition by local citizens to the locating in their neighborhood of a civic project, as a jail, garbage dump, or drug rehabilitation center, that, though needed by the larger community, is considered unsightly, dangerous, or likely to lead to decreased property values.

Anyway, the day finally arrived! Today I offer my nimby article at long last. The solution, once I discovered it, came easy. I simply typed nimby into Google and selected news. I chose examples only from the initial page of results as they appeared in front of me. Your results will vary.

I don’t mean to imply that any of these stories actually qualified as examples of nimby behavior. I’m not making value judgments. However, somebody though they did or the news articles never would have been published.

Falls Church, Virginia

Railroad Cottages
No to Railroad Cottages. My own photo.

Actually I noticed the first example in person before I ever saw it online. I spotted little placards stuck along the side of the Washington & Old Dominion trail as I biked through Falls Church a few days ago. They read, "No to Railroad Cottages." I didn’t give them another thought until my recent search results popped-up some commentary about them, Cottage Criticism is Just More NIMBY Opposition. I think Google fed it to me because of my geographic proximity.

The City of Falls Church provided more detail about the Railroad Cottages Project. Ten small standalone houses would cluster closely together around common open space and a social interaction building. It would cater to residents aged 55 years and older. The 1.3 acre triangular lot sat at the eastern end of Railroad Avenue, hugging the W&OD trail (map). Supporters cited it as an example of smart growth that also allowed city residents to downsize as they aged. Opponents worried about traffic, parking, density, noise, emergency response, displacement of flora and fauna, and diminished property values.

The lot also hid an interesting history. An African-American family purchased it just after the Civil War and retained ownership for the next 150 years. The man who sold the lot to developers was the great-great-great grandson of the person who first bought it for $75 in 1865.

Snow River, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

Moose Pass
Moose Pass. My own photo.

Next I came across The NIMBY state on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. Twelve Mile Circle visited the area back in 2010 so I paid particular attention. Huge numbers of people traveled down to the Kenai each summer for salmon fishing. Fishermen needed guides, equipment, food and places to stay, so tourism dollars fueled a huge part of the local economy.

People got angry when they heard that the Chugach Electric Association wanted to consider damming the Snow River (map) near Moose Pass. As the article noted, "Dam is a four-letter word worse than the f-word in that community." This one would reach 300 feet high and 700 feet across, too. Chugach Electric hoped to figure out whether a dam might actually increase salmon along the Snow River. Theoretically a better controlled river could improve spawning channels. However, that question will always remain a mystery. The public outcry forced Chugach Electric to abandon its effort. Citizens felt the risk to the local economy was too great.

Rainford, St Helens, Merseyside, England

Rainford - farm in the snow
Rainford – farm in the snow. Photo by Ian McFegan on Flickr (cc)

One person at least proclaimed she was Proud to be a Nimby in Rainford, England (map). This came in response to social media statements made by a member of the St. Helens Council. The Councillor remarked, "As I say you are nimby’s," referring to members of the Rainford Action Group. The group opposed turning over some of the village’s green belt to developers to build more than a thousand homes. It cited loss of agricultural land and jobs, as well as "extra pressure on our roads, surgeries, dentists, drains, or schools." The battle raged on.

Devonport, Auckland, New Zealand

Aukland from Across the Bay
Auckland seen from Devonport. Photo by Jeremy Oakley on Flickr (cc)

The nimby phenomenon existed in New Zealand too. There I found Nimby wars: everyone’s a winner in Devonport, or are they? Ryman Healthcare wanted to build a retirement village on a vacant parcel in suburban Aukland, along the scenic Ngataringa Bay (map). Opponents didn’t so much care for the design aesthetics, and they also feared the impact on endangered plants. Plus they claimed it would cut the neighborhood in half. This situation seemed to have resulted in a happier ending than most. Ryman Healthcare agreed to a number of design changes that pleased most, although not all local residents.

Maybe I’ll run this experiment again in a few months and see how much the results change. Maybe I won’t.

Divine Apartments

I can’t tell if I live in an area overflowing with geo-oddities or whether my personality reflexively uncovers unusual situations wherever I happen to locate myself. Would I be equally adept at mining unusual patterns in London, Toronto, Sydney or Dakar? Perhaps. I’ve argued before that weirdness exists everywhere. Even so, my home area provides strange situations in great abundance and continues to add to them.

Behold the First Baptist Church of Clarendon in Arlington, Virginia. I think you’ll agree that it looks fairly typical. Can you guess the weirdness associated with it without resorting to any of the search engines? Of course you can’t. It’s a complete paradox.

First Baptist Church of Clarendon

Historically, anyway, it was known as the First Baptist Church. I’m not sure if they are affiliated with a particular denomination any longer as they seem to have dropped the Baptist part of their name. That’s not particularly germane to the story, or perhaps it is; it’s hard to tell with everything that’s transpired over the last decade. I lifted the image above from Google Street View, and that’s how it appears in their database today (future readers may notice it change). It will look much different the next time a Street View car rolls by and updates its imagery.

I happened to walk past there a few days ago. I noticed that constructions was well underway.

View of Clarendon Under Construction

The Church at Clarendon struggled with a dilemma that many churches face today: declining membership; aging infrastructure; increasing financial pressures and an uncertain future. However, the congregation did not follow the typical approach. The physical building is undergoing a metamorphosis that will create The Views at Clarendon. When completed, the church will be totally rebuilt with a ten-story apartment building incorporated into its design.

A quick examination of the local area reveals the seeds of the solution.

View Larger Map

The Church, by fortunate coincidence, happened to be located on one of the few remaining parcels zoned for intensive development in a rapidly urbanizing corridor. The congregation faced financial pressures but it was sitting atop a fortune made of dirt. The land beneath their feet was incredibly more valuable than the structure rising above the surface. Many churches would have sold the property and rebuilt elsewhere, probably with enough cash left over to establish a nice endowment that would ensure financial solvency forever. That’s not what happened here, however.

The congregation entered into a triangular business relationship involving a developer and the state/local governments that set-aside a sizable portion of the apartments for "affordable housing." The congregation would gain a completely refurbished house of worship; the developer would receive significant tax breaks and low-interest loans, and the county would add 70 units to its list of affordable housing stock in an area where it had been diminishing. Everyone wins, right? Wrong.

The satellite image also reveals a justification for dissent. Notice all of the single family homes immediately adjacent to the church parcel. Their residents would now live in the shadow of a ten-story wall and their neighborhood would bear the pressures of increased cut-through traffic and competition for parking. I don’t have enough facts to form an opinion so I will simply note that there were two completely separate positions. The debate became heated and emotional with all of the obvious inflammatory charges and counter-charges one could imagine, hurled equally by both camps (NIMBY, Socialism, Racism, Greed, etc.).

The county passed an initial plan in 2004. Legal challenges were still underway as late as December 2010 when a judge on the Fourth Circuit Court upheld an earlier decision: the plan served a secular purpose and was not an entanglement between church and state.

Interestingly, this isn’t the only place in Arlington with an unusual church arrangement. Previously I featured a church with a gas station beneath it, just a couple of miles down the road. Are multipurpose churches a feature unique to the area or are they a more widespread indicator of land pressures in an urban environment? I’d love to know if other examples exist elsewhere.