Every time there is widespread community opposition to a bad government project, the defensive cry from the City and its faithful stooges is to label local residents as “NIMBY.” NIMBY stands for “not in my backyard” and it was originally used to describe residents that opposed projects considered to be beneficial or necessary to society as a whole but would negatively impact those living in close proximity to wherever the projects were – things like power plants and garbage dumps. But today, the label “NIMBY” is applied in a knee-jerk manner to try to marginalize anyone that has the audacity to point out when a government sanctioned action is questionable in some way.
Take for example, the Pan Am homeless hotel fiasco. The local residents that protested were automatically called NIMBY because, of course, warehousing the homeless in run-down hotel rooms without kitchens is a great thing that we should all feel good about. Elmhurst should fully support a “charity” with a history of fiscal malfeasance that runs a shelter full of vermin, serves inadequate meals and wastes millions of taxpayer dollars in the provision of services. If you feel otherwise, you’re a NIMBY. Never mind that it was the supposed NIMBYs that basically broke the news about the conditions at this shelter which has caused the comptroller to reject Samaritan Village’s contract twice already.
Do you believe the freight railroads that operate through this area should be held accountable for public safety, their train cars should have lids on them and they shouldn’t sit idling for long periods of time, causing air pollution? Well then the railroads and their loyal foamers will call you a NIMBY. You should want your family members to suffer from asthma and cancer for the sake of railroad profiteers. Just forget the fact that so-called NIMBYism got funding for new, quieter locomotives and may also get hard tops on freight cars mandated, eliminating the “stink trains” that plow through our neighborhoods.
How about the increase in airplane noise over the past few years? Has it been ruining the peace and quiet of your home? There are ways to mitigate the noise, which include rerouting planes over water instead of homes and tweaking the NextGen system which has caused the flightpaths to concentrate over our area, all for the benefit of the airlines. But don’t dare bring these things up because “you knew there were airports close by when you bought your house” and therefore are being NIMBY. Of course, it was alleged NIMBY activism that got monitors to measure sound levels, a voluntary night time curfew for flights into and out of LaGuardia and noise mitigation measures for schools in the area impacted by the noise.
These are but a few examples of false cries of NIMBY.
No civic person has ever suggested that the homeless shouldn’t be sheltered, that railroads should shut down or that the airports should close. Yet when suggestions are made for improvements to the operation of these things, the result often turns out to be automatic accusations from government representatives, phony advocacy groups and local people that are quick to form opinions based on selfishness. In 1775, Samuel Johnson said that patriotism was the last refuge of a scoundrel, yet in 2015, crying “NIMBY” at well-intentioned people seems to be a scoundrel’s first refuge.
The Brainwashed Facebook Folks
We have a pretty active Facebook page. When we venture to discuss issues such as those mentioned above, we always get a bunch of non-thinkers quick to call us NIMBY for either questioning or fighting the government’s nefarious plans for our neighborhoods. There are so many people out there willing to defend bad government actions and parrot their talking points that it’s actually kind of frightening. Who brainwashed these folks?
The fact of the matter is that if there weren’t watchdogs for our neighborhoods, the government would use Maspeth and Middle Village as even bigger dumping grounds than they already do. Maspeth in particular has borne the brunt of quite a bit of poor city planning over the decades. The smog-producing Long Island Expressway created a divide through the center of town and we also suffered from the presence of a polluting garbage incinerator for many years. The western end of Maspeth, which at one point provided enough manufacturing jobs to support many local blue collar households, has been gutted to the point where now the biggest landowner there is the City of New York. Just about every municipal agency has a fleet of vehicles taking up space in parking lots in West Maspeth where there were once productive factories that generated tax revenue. What have we gotten in return for accepting all of this? Absolutely nothing except more dumping. For decades, we have suffered from a severe lack of public parkland, inadequate sewers, and unreliable public transportation, yet to this day nothing has been done by elected officials to address any of these problems.
As to these elected officials, most of us remember a time when the City Council vigorously debated the merits of laws and actions introduced by past mayors such as Koch and Giuliani instead of participating in the type of lovefests we have witnessed over the past decade and a half. I recall almost as many “no” votes as “yes” votes. But since the age of Mike Bloomberg, the Council Speaker and Mayor have basically agreed on everything ahead of time and simply taken the Council along for the ride. This is not how checks and balances are supposed to work. Yet voters send them all back to office over and over again despite it being obvious that they are working against the best interests of the public by conducting all their affairs behind closed doors in the presence of lobbyists and special interests. Most will agree that public debate is healthy; avoiding it means that our government is sick.
Always Question Government
One must always question whether our government’s plans are actually for the greater good of the City or to better the bottom line of some politician’s campaign donor. Most of the time there is an ulterior motive and everything the government proposes and packages as something wonderful deserves to be thoroughly scrutinized and opposed when necessary. We owe this much to ourselves, our neighbors and future generations that will choose to live here.
The bottom line is that if a proposed government action will make a private interest very rich while causing a great deal of community suffering, then resisting it isn’t NIMBY, but rather our civic duty.