Editorial: No Virtue in NIMBYism

August 2, 2006 5:00 PM0 comments

Frankly, we’re not the slightest bit engaged by the plight of well-to-do persons of privilege fighting to defend the pristine character of their residential neighborhoods.

There’s far too much chaos and destruction in the world to waste a lot of time packed into a Falls Church City Council meeting listening for hours to wealthy folks plead to stop a predominantly residential development that would offer 124 decent rental housing units to, suffer the thought, traffic choking, history-ignoring, school age children proliferating middle class people.

Listening to these neighbors succeed last week in persuading the City Council to ignore the recommendation of its own professional staff and kill the Hekemian proposal for North Washington recalled, seemingly word for word, the scenario when the neighbors in the West End Park area defeated plans for a senior affordable housing project there not so long ago. The arguments were the same: We’re not against the idea, it’s just that this is not the right location. (We nominate that phrase as the official slogan of the City of Falls Church).

We applaud the actions of the three new members of the City Council to, if timidly, vote in favor of continuing the dialogue on the Hekemian development. But the refrain emanating from the other four, more veteran members of the Council was all too predictable. They did not engage in a dialogue with, but they spoke at and made offhanded pronouncements about the developers. They did not ask why the project was necessarily more massive than another for a neighboring plot twice the size. They did not explore why the City Hall staff recommended in favor of it. They did not consider the proliferation of other similar projects nearby that would make the specter of the problems presented by this project miniscule. Finally, they chose not to talk any more at all. 

It was disappointing to see so many esteemed and accomplished members of our community who’ve not been seen at Council meetings for years to speak on any number of other issues rise to this occasion to exercise their “Not in My Back Yard” (NIMBY) options last week. Their “pedigrees” were revealed in their addresses: virtually all from the 100 or 200 blocks of E. Columbia or E. Jefferson.

There is nothing virtuous or honorable in NIMBYism. It is based strictly on self-interest which is generally viewed as the opposite of altruism and other virtues we like to bestow upon our children. When brazen self-interest is exercised, it is the kind of thing we should try to keep out of the children’s view, because of how unattractive and unsavory it appears. It is the cause of wars and it undermines idealism, especially in the young. And when high minded arguments are cooked up to justify NIMBY aims, it smacks of the disingenuous, even more crass than self-interest. Could it be that so many in our community have forgotten all this? At least, for heaven’s sake, they shouldn’t behave in such ways in public, with the television cameras running.

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