More and more, we are seeing Councillors and city staff oppose developments that are actually supported by local residents.
By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published October 07, 2015
The recent week-long twitter saga between Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead and a cast of hundreds over the virtues of traffic calming on Aberdeen Street got me thinking about the increasing tendency of people to oppose any and all development.
Getting splashed on Aberdeen Avenue during rainfall (RTH file photo)
This reflexive opposition is often called NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) or, in more extreme cases, BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone). These are now pejorative terms that are used by developers or local government to dismiss the arguments of local residents against a new development.
The terms rose to prominence in the 1980s, and typical examples include opposition to group homes, wind turbines, waste treatment plants and big box developments.
Throwing around the term "NIMBY" can be an easy way to avoid addressing genuine concerns. However, it is true that almost any project, no matter how minor, tends to catalyse some kind of opposition movement. This was probably always true, but zoning and environmental regulation (along with mandated public input) mean that it is easier to try to oppose a new Walmart in 2015 than it was to oppose a slaughterhouse in 1915.
But the Aberdeen discussion (with Councillor Whitehead on one side and everyone else on the other) was actually something very different, and it seems to be becoming increasingly common in Hamilton.
We saw a City Councillor reflexively opposing change in another Councillor's neighbourhood. In other words, he was actually being a NIYBY: Not in Your Back Yard. We're seeing this more and more: residents, councillors and city staff are opposing developments that are actually supported by the residents.
This is the mirror image of NIMBY! In the case of street calming, bike lanes, or pedestrian crossings - all of which have been opposed in wards 1 and 2 by councillors from outside the wards - the position is actually a form of OIOPBY: Only In Other People's Back Yards.
The opposition is entirely based on the concern that street calming will make it slower or more inconvenient to drive through other people's neighbourhoods. But, of course, these same people would never want to live on these sorts of streets themselves.
Consider the case of Councillor Ferguson opposing street calming in the lower city while being justifiably proud of the street calming he achieved on Wilson Street, not to mention the default 40 km/h limit in Ancaster.
Wilson Street in Ancaster, Before and After traffic calming (Image Credit: Google Street View)
Strangely, this micromanagement of sidewalk widths, lane directions and crosswalks is not a two-way street.
Suburban councillors are constantly examining minor downtown street re-designs in detail, and debating any changes ad nauseam - for example, the Cannon Street Cycle Track or the ill-fated transit lane on King Street.
Lower city councillors exercise collegiality in not dictating to their suburban counterparts how to reflect their constituents' values in their preferred street designs - but the suburban councillors adamantly do not return that courtesy.
It clearly isn't a matter of cost. The kinds of changes lower city residents seek are extremely cheap to implement, especially compared to the suburban road projects that escape close scrutiny.
It seems instead to be a feeling that the "downtown belongs to everyone" whereas other parts of the city belong to their own residents.
That sense of stewardship and concern can be a good thing for a city: the health and success of the downtown core is indeed important for the entire city.
Unfortunately, for many suburban councillors the concern starts and ends with whether the change is perceived to benefit car commuters cutting through the lower city on their way to somewhere else.
Stranger still, we're now seeing downtown projects and initiatives that are strongly supported by the local community but opposed by councillors representing distant wards that would see little or no effect.This NIYBYism is even stranger than OIOBYism, which is at least straightforward hypocritical self-interest.
Council votes to kill the bus lane and location of the bus lane (Image Credit: Alistair Morton)
In a few of these cases, like the Cannon lanes and bike share, Council eventually decided to support them - but only after extremely long, excruciating debates filled with hyperbole, fearmongering and anti-urban rhetoric.
In addition to Council's position - or perhaps in reflection of it - City staff have also reflexively opposed various new businesses and amenities like patios, despite strong support from the local community.
We're now in the strange position where local residents are coming out in force to show support for zoning changes for new businesses, like the proposed cafe at the corner of Charlton and Caroline or the Rolly Rockets patio at King and Locke, which staff opposed but the Strathcona Community came out in force to support.
Lower city residents have become nervous that zoning changes for new businesses will be rejected out of hand unless there is strong and active community support!
Instead of the NIMBY stereotype, what we are seeing in much of the lower city is that residents are relatively open to positive change, perhaps more open to change than residents in other parts of the city.
They care deeply about where they live and they can see what is standing in the way of their neighbourhoods achieving their full potential. This is often outdated or overly restrictive zoning, combined with outdated auto-centric street designs that make pedestrian-oriented urban living uncomfortable and dangerous.
It would be great to have a citywide discussion about how to ensure the lower city - and especially downtown - can best achieve its human and economic potential.
But this discussion requires that we all agree that, just as in every other successful city, urban streets are first and foremost places where people live, work, enjoy themselves and run businesses. They are only secondarily a way of getting in and out of downtown as fast as possible.
And it is a good starting assumption that the people who live there have a good idea of what it will take to make those areas attractive and successful places!
If you wouldn't want to live on a four- or five-lane one-way street with narrow sidewalks right next to speeding vehicles, don't be an OIOBY and oppose resident-supported changes that would make those streets the kind of place you might want to live or shop on.
And the city should stop being a NIYBY and start facilitating development that the residents support, even if it involves a patio or a new use.
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