Recent NIMBY

On May 28, 2017 · 4 Comments

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 Dictionary.com. 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.

Manly Places

On April 6, 2017 · 7 Comments

Where does the highest ratio of men live? An unknown visitor to Twelve Mile Circle posed that question in a recent search query. I didn’t learn why s/he wanted to know because I didn’t have a means to contact said person to ask. Nonetheless it seemed like an interesting query and I’d never considered it before. Maybe I should take a closer look.

I only examined the United States because I could find the data easily, and I’m too lazy to look for more. Perhaps I’ll search more broadly some other day. For now however, let’s stick to the U.S. where women outnumbered men by about 5.2 million during the 2010 Census. There were 0.97 men to every woman for a bunch of different reasons. For instance, men did stupid things and managed to kill themselves accidentally at greater rates than women. Sometimes I wonder how I survived my teen years, as an example. They also lived fewer years on average, just as a matter of physiology.

The national ratio shouldn’t surprise anyone. However, a few places actually had more men than women, sometimes a lot more. I found a number of sources that I could consult including the Overflow Data website (with 2014 Census estimates). The results took me to some unexpected places.


Prison Counties


Eden Fall Fest
Eden Fall Fest. Photo by mirsasha on Flickr (cc)

The top counties, the ones with the highest ratio of men, seemed rather counterintuitive to me. Why, for example did Concho County, Texas have 2.32 times more men than women? It didn’t seem any more or less of a testosterone magnet than other counties nearby. Then I noticed a comment on the Overflow Data website I mentioned earlier. Concho didn’t have a lot of residents so an anomaly could skew the ratio without a lot of effort.

That’s where the Eden Detention Center — named for the largest town in Concho — came into consideration (map). It housed 1,400 men in a low security prison facility run by the Corrections Corporation of America on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Half of the men counted in the Concho County census were serving time behind bars, incarcerated. Take those guys out of consideration and the ratio of men to women in Concho practically converged. Also, was I the only person who thought that Eden might be a terribly misleading name for a prison?

The same situation existed in Crowley County, Colorado, with 2.31 men for every woman. Crowley held the title for the highest ratio of men during the 2010 Census although it fell to second place with the 2014 estimate. It also contained a Corrections Corporation of America facility, this one housing medium security prisoners through a contract with the state of Colorado. The Crowley County Correctional Facility made room for about 1,800 prisoners.

Greensville County had the highest ratio of men to women in my home state of Virginia, at 1.58. Once again, a prison bore responsibility. The Greensville Correctional Center was run by the Virginia Department of Corrections. This maximum security prison also housed the state’s Death Row.


Alaska


Fishing Boats in the Harbor
Fishing Boats in the Harbor. Photo by J. Stephen Conn on Flickr (cc)

Alaska seemed the obvious choice to me, where more men would live than women. It didn’t disappoint either. The Aleutians East Borough and Aleutians West Census Area came in right behind Concho and Crowley. Aleutians East registered 2.24 men to women and Aleutians West hit 2.01. The economy of the Aleutians depended on fishing in some of the most rugged waters of the world, the Bering Sea. One of its biggest towns, Sand Point, had a thousand residents and a harbor that held 150 boats (map). That implied a lot of manly men heading out to sea every day.

The Aleutians attracted burly characters like those on Deadliest Catch; adventurous men attracted to the mystique of the Last Frontier. One woman described the situation vividly, saying "I once spent the better part of a year working in a fishing village in the Aleutian Islands, and the men of the Alaskan bush country were as surly as werewolves." Long ago it became cliché to describe Alaska’s overabundance of men with a simple aphorism: The odds are good but the goods are odd.

A funny thing began to happen in recent years, however. The ratio started to normalize. Sure, Alaska still contained a higher ratio of men to women than any other state in the nation although the imbalance fell to 1.08 in the latest Census. A crazy ratio still existed in the Aleutian Islands although the next borough on the list barely cracked the Top 50. The State of Alaska examined the situation and issued a report. It noted that an even split existed in Sitka, and men barely outnumbered women in Skagway, Haines, Anchorage and Juneau. Those were major population centers. This foreshadowed continuing convergence of the ratio.


Boomtown Counties


Oil Rig
Oil Rig. Photo by Lindsey G on Flickr (cc)

I thought boomtowns might score high too, and they did, although not as high as I expected. I figured Williams County, North Dakota might serve as a solid proxy. That’s the location of Williston (map), at the epicenter of oil extraction in the Bakken formation. The population of Williams County increased by more than 50% between the 2010 Census and the 2015 estimate. Those dirty, difficult oilfield jobs attracted lots of men. They came for high wages under dangerous situations and brutal winters. It also created an oddly skewed economy where the median annual income for men hit $50 thousand and where women made only half as much.

Even so, there were "only" 1.19 men to women. That surprised me.

More Oddities from Independent Cities, Part 2

On March 26, 2017 · 7 Comments

Virginia’s independent cities continued to offer their peculiar geographic secrets. The earlier part of this series explored tendrils and quadripoints. However, other strange features hid within their twisted layouts. I turned my attention to enclaves and pinches next. Those unusual features probably came from heated negotiations between cities and counties during drawn-out annexation hearings. In Virginia, that involved a special court held specifically for that purpose, overseen by a three-judge panel.

Two separate cities included enclaves within their borders. Those little doughnut holes belonged to the counties that surrounded the cities.

Enclave within Fairfax City


Fairfax Enclave
Enclave within Fairfax City

Fairfax City became an independent city in 1961. The county surrounding it — also called Fairfax — extended much farther back in history. English colonies, including Virginia, still hugged North America’s Atlantic coastline when Fairfax County appeared in 1742. The county built a courthouse in a convenient, central location in 1799. That became a seat of local government and a little town grew around it. Eventually the town evolved into Fairfax City.

Fairfax County remained quiet and rural for the next several decades. However, it did not escape the Civil War unscathed. Virginia joined the Confederacy. Union troops crossed the Potomac River as the conflict began, capturing a chunk of Northern Virginia. This protected its capital city, Washington, DC. It also put Fairfax directly on the border between two hosile armies. Troops from both sides crisscrossed Fairfax repeatedly between 1861 and 1865, each occupying the courthouse at different times.

The war’s first death of a Confederate officer took place on the courthouse grounds in 1861 when Union troops shot Captain John Quincy Marr during a skirmish. Two years later, Confederate forces from the legendary Mosby’s Rangers paid a visit.

Mosby’s most famous raid occurred in March of 1863, inside Union lines at Fairfax County Courthouse, when he captured Brigadier General Edwin H. Stoughton. Mosby found Stoughton asleep in bed. Awakening the General with a slap to the rear, Mosby asked "Do you know Mosby, General?" The General replied "Yes! Have you got the rascal?" "No," said Mosby. "He’s got you!"

Obviously Fairfax County didn’t want to give up its historic courthouse when Fairfax City split from it. The two carved-out an enclave around the courthouse grounds that remained part of Fairfax County. I confirmed this arrangement on the Fairfax City zoning map.


Enclave within Manassas


Manassas Enclave
Enclave within Manassas

A little hole also sat within the independent city of Manassas, although it didn’t offer the same historical pedigree as the one in Fairfax. Nonetheless, it existed for a similar reason. I confirmed its existence in the Manassas zoning map and then I drilled-down to check it out. Manassas carved its territorial independence from Prince William County, however, the county courthouse already stood there. It became an enclave. The space contained the Prince William District Court, an Adult Detention Center, the Health Department, a senior center and some associated parking, all part of Prince William County, not Manassas.

Then I spotted something truly surprising. Somehow a single residence remained within the Prince William enclave. An entire neighborhood became part of Manassas except for 9210 Peabody Street for some unknown reason. Zillow dated its construction to 1965 and Manassas gained its independence in 1975, so the house definitely existed before the city changed its status.

The family residing there lived in Prince William County. However, they would need to cross completely through Manassas if they wanted to visit anyone else living in the county. On the other hand they wouldn’t have to cross a border if they ever got arrested. I’m sure they’d have other concerns in that situation anyway.


A Pinch to Grow an Inch


Grayson Pinch
Grayson County Pinch

A different oddity came into view in Galax. Here, a county line complicated a border. The line originally separated Grayson County from Carroll County. Galax grew right atop the line, which annexed land from both counties. The western side of Galax also contained a nob. It extended almost all the way to the county line and then stopped a tiny bit short. That prevented Galax from pinching-off a piece of Grayson. My eyeball estimate concluded that it fell just about seventy feet (21 metres) short of creating a Grayson exclave.

It was awfully nice of Galax to keep Grayson intact. Theoretically the farmer that lived inside that pinch remained connected to the rest of the county. However it didn’t really matter much because the only road access to the farm came from Galax. That made it a "practical exclave."


Bonus Avoidance



Staunton, Virginia

Check out the eastern border of Staunton along Interstate 81. I found several examples of Staunton drawing its border to avoid highway infrastructure maintenance. At the northern end where I-81 diverged from Staunton, the border turned northwest along Route 262 to avoid the cloverleaf. Near the midpoint, New Hope Road crossed above I-81 so the border did a zig-zag around the bridge. Approaching the southern end, the border avoided Route 250’s cloverleaf and then turned to the west, making sure to skip the Interstate 64 interchange. These was classic behaviors influenced by the anti-city provisions of the Byrd Road Act.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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