Eugene Tan and Patrick Loh, for TODAY, June 19th 2012
The “Not In My Backyard” syndrome, or NIMBYism, has been very much in the news recently.
It has been singled out as the reason for the strong opposition to plans for a variety of facilities and amenities such as a nursing home (Bishan Street 13), a rehabilitation centre (Jalan Batu), an eldercare centre (Woodlands Street 83) and studio apartments for the elderly (Toh Yi Drive).
Are these “oppositionists” merely mindless NIMBY enclaves demonstrating reflexive opposition? Or is attributing such resistance to NIMBYism too simplistic, and an easy way out to dismiss such opposition?
Ordinary citizens should have a say in what happens in their community, for several reasons.
It contributes to active citizenship and a stronger sense of ownership of one’s environment; town Councils were created in 1988 for that explicit purpose of getting residents involved in their own communities.
And while bureaucrats may know what is needed at a national level, they may lack the ground knowledge of how best to implement national-level initiatives at the precinct level.
CONTESTATION THE NEW NORM
In all four recent events, we see a well-coordinated effort by an apparent vocal minority to challenge and resist the location and construction of the amenities.
In the Jalan Batu case, this has motivated another group (often described as the “silent majority”) to welcome the proposed rehabilitation centre. We should not be surprised by this robust debate in which different groups contest each other based on their competing, and sometimes conflicting, needs.
Indeed, this contestation will probably be the norm going forward. This means that there is an urgent need to develop the rules of engagement lest these differences of views result in divisiveness and confrontation. Respect, civility and lawfulness will be necessary.
But, it would seem, the dialogue sessions organised to discuss the relevant issues were characterised in some media reports as one group trying to railroad the other group.
While we cannot expect a total meeting of the minds – especially when participants have diametrically opposite start- and end-points – it would be a pity if participants and organisers alike proceeded with closed minds. Then a valuable platform to better understand and address the issues, concerns and fears would be lost – and deeper misgivings of the other party fostered instead. Continue reading