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Embrace Your Opponents: A Modern Approach to NIMBY

March 13, 2019

Listen, communicate, and collaborate to get a CRE project off the ground

Most urban dwellers agree that development projects such as renewable energy, homeless shelters, public transportation, and affordable housing are good for their communities. But when it comes to where those projects are located, many local residents come down with a case of NIMBY (Not in My Backyard). One of the many results of this syndrome is an increase in land use restrictions, which a 2015 study estimated cost as much as $1.5 trillion in lost productivity.

In South Florida, developers have had their successes and failures in countering the NIMBY response. Below we detail several thoughtful, proactive ways to engage a community and respond to concerns about a new development.

Put yourself in their shoes

It can be tempting to adopt a defensive posture when a community group pushes back on a project. In these situations, step back and imagine the scenario from their side. We all have families, live in neighborhoods, and want a quiet, safe place to call our own. Anything that seems to threaten that can be seen as dangerous and scary. Show respect for local residents and take the time to listen to their concerns.

To effectively mitigate this opposition, it’s crucial to address its root causes, which often fall into these buckets:

  • Misinformation. In the digital age, incorrect or biased information can circulate in a heartbeat. Correcting it quickly and clearly is essential to effective community engagement.
  • Conflicts of values. Odds are, project leaders and community residents actually share a set of values and goals (reducing unemployment, increasing local resources, improving schools) but have different opinions on how to get there. Focus on what you share and make the case for your project in that context.
  • Emotional needs. In the end, local zoning boards or planning commissions have the same desire – they want to be heard and expect to be involved in the decision process. Approach them with deference and treat them as partners. A gesture as simple as that can go a long way towards turning adversaries into allies.

Personal connections made in one-on-one conversations or meetings of small groups are the most effective way to build support. Large, public hearings are more difficult to manage and can often fuel the fire of resistance by giving potential opponents an opportunity to network on site.

Most people are not economists or urban planners. They don’t care about the 30,000-foot view; they care about the view from their porch.

Engage your supporters

An essential starting point in working against any NIMBY opposition is to find those who already believe in your cause. People will follow the crowd and if they believe that a majority of their friends and neighbors support your project, they are more likely to follow suit.

If you can rally supporters to speak out on your behalf – in person or online – even better. Residents who may be on the fence are more likely to lean in your favor if they hear testimony from their neighbors in a public forum or see positive chatter on social media.

Identify and target specific pockets of support:

  • People who benefit directly from the project, such as construction workers, property owners, new hires, and suppliers.
  • People who benefit indirectly from the project, such as area small business owners or local chambers of commerce.
  • People who make direct use of the project, such as families who need public housing or commuters who need affordable transportation

Listen and communicate

A comprehensive communication strategy can work wonders to convey a message consistently and clearly. As one-on-one interactions with residents inform your understanding of the issues involved, incorporate them into your messaging. Proactively address the most glaring concerns – traffic and parking, environmental impact, strain on services, neighborhood preservation –and your message will be one of collaboration rather than confrontation.

Share as many details of the project as possible so that they become familiar and, frankly, unremarkable, to your core audience. The more ordinary your plans seem, the less misinformation is likely to circulate.

Every NIMBY movement has its own unique motivations and local roots and thus requires a unique and locally-inspired approach. The more time you take at the outset to listen, understand and reflect back the community’s values, the more likely you are to gain supporters and minimize naysayers. We at Morris Southeast Group are proud community partners and are always tuned to the needs of our neighbors. For a free consultation on commercial real estate investment or property management services, call us at 954.474.1776. You can also reach Ken Morris directly at 954.240.4400 or via email at kenmorris@morrissegroup.com.

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