Not In My BackYard: A celebration of Croydon’s NIMBYs

By - Monday 22nd June, 2015

Jonny Rose sings the praises of Croydon’s “selfish individualists”

Once again, the spectre of social housing has got the people of Croydon all hot and bothered. This time it’s in the south of the borough where a Baptist church in Purley has put in for a planning application to build a sixteen storey mixed-use ‘skyscraper’ in heart of the town centre.

Complaints from locals are manifold: not least because the proposed structure is massively ‘out of character’ in an area where the tallest building is currently on six storeys high. A petition by newly-installed Croydon South MP, Chris Philp, has garnered over 2,000 signatures against the structure, yet, so far, these reasoned protests have been met by local Labour councillors with accusations of NIMBYism.

Haters gonna hate

The term NIMBY (‘Not In My Back Yard’) has long been used to criticise people who oppose commercial or industrial development in their communities. Invariably pejorative, it casts citizens as selfish individualists who care only for themselves and as hypocrites who want the benefits of modernity without paying its costs.

NIMBYs are reviled by developers, local planners and those with a strong sense of civic rectitude

NIMBYs are derided as malcontents who have found housing in areas of scenic or cultural splendour and now want to close development to anyone else who may wish to enjoy the same benefits. “I’m OK, so stuff you and your needs!” is the ethos ascribed to the NIMBY, according to developers, property owners and planning officials who must deal with their parochial demands to stop development in its tracks.

The target of much righteous indignation, the NIMBY at first glance seems little deserving of much sympathy. However parochial the NIMBY’s motivations, does the NIMBY deserve scorn for their attempts to stymie development that would encroach upon their personal Utopia? For the most part, no.

In praise of the NIMBY

NIMBYs oppose projects for a number of perfectly fair reasons. They seek to maintain their views, and property values. They oppose projects that will result in more congestion on the roads that they use. The seek to stop projects which will result in crowding at local amenities. They stand in opposition to development that will change the character of their neighborhood. Who honestly doesn’t wish to preserve what little tranquility they may have worked very hard to earn?

NIMBYs also act as a much-needed community voice against government. When no one else may be looking, the NIMBY is the only party keeping an eye on the store – their vigilance benefits us all. Its role may therefore also be considered a bulwark in democratising planning decisions. The NIMBY, however narrow his or her interest, provides public input where there would otherwise be none.

The NIMBY is the public, and – whatever their motive – they are the community’s voice when all others are silent or indifferent

NIMBYism also ensure planning policy and development laws are complied with. In doing so, they secure the public imperative of transparency and open process. Of course, many NIMBYs don’t really care about the important role they play in accountability or local governance – what they are concerned with is how a project affects them – but thanks to their involvement and vigilance, the public is rightly protected from the potentially shady dealings of private developers and cash-strapped local councils.

NIMBYism unintentionally raises some important questions that need to rationalised and justified, and not just assumed. These questions include: ‘Which is more important: the common good or individual rights?’ ‘Could they in fact be the same thing?’ ‘What is the role of local government?’ ‘Is social housing always a good thing?’ ‘What alternatives are there to this proposed structure that you aren’t considering?’, etc.

Hug a NIMBY 

There is no doubt that as Europe’s largest town there is a desperate need for housing in Croydon. This pressure will only increase as more and more people flock to the area to capitalise on the opportunities that Croydon has to offer.

But give the NIMBYs a break: at best they are guardians of the environment and proponents of open government and fair dealing. At worst they are a necessary evil keeping an eye on local government while the rest of us, untroubled, enjoy the environment they protect.

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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  • Anne Giles

    I am definitely a NIMBY. :-)

  • Terry Coleman

    I’m a NIMBY but because I live in the north of the borough my nimbyism falls on deaf ears.

  • NeilB

    I’m inclined to agree. The last thing Croydon (town or borough) is more tower blocks. Such high density social housing should be in inner London, not outer London.