As a political activist, I have to recognize that people’s lives are most affected by their immediate surroundings and that means local politics. Yet, local politics is a very difficult arena to make a change in primarily due to a single factor, NIMBYs. The term NIMBY means not-in-my-backyard. Effectively, they oppose any change to anything anywhere whatsoever. I’m on the spectrum and I get the preference for consistency. Yet, I’m also rational and accept that sometimes my desire for consistency is irrational and when it is I accept the temporary discomfort of adjusting to a new reality because I know that increasing human welfare and decreasing human suffering is a moral duty that takes priority over my personal feelings.
NIMBYs oppose every possible alteration to urban life but especially those regarding the increase of density and the increase in common spaces. In short, they don’t like people, generally, and they don’t like strangers, specifically. I love strangers and I love talking to strangers. My hippie disposition and leftist Christianity mean I consider everyone my sibling and thus meeting more of them is a good thing. Even if it caused an increase in the discomfort of most people, if it facilitates love and siblinghood among people then it is a moral charge that we increase density and common spaces. That is a difference between virtue and utilitarian ethics. Yet, we now from many scientific studies, most famously Durkheim’s suicide studies, that higher densities and more common spaces also make people happier in the chronic and in general if in the acute they are made less comfortable.
In addition to the net happiness of the population, higher density and more common spaces drastically aid in environmental protection. The biggest thing we could do to help the environment would be to reduce the dependency on automobiles since every carbon-producing industry increases their production of carbon dioxide due to more consumer goods needed and more macro travel needed to support low-density and insular urban designs. Which, in the long-term, is going to reduce the economic and otherwise material suffering that everybody feels at every level. Yet, despite the physical and psychological benefits of higher density and less insularity, most people would prefer to chuck the rest of humanity and be left alone to their circle of friends and family.
If any party dare oppose their tranquility, it is an insult and threat to heritage and the quaintness and quietude of their abodes and they will rise up in boldness to challenge the urbane sociologists and biologists who think their brains are superior to the collective gut. No! In the name of Almighty God! This subdivision… I mean community… has been unchanged for thirty years! That basically the 1800’s. I say we collectively have a grandiose delusion of being Mister Smith Goes to Washington when we take on the hipster political nerds who think they know better than us! This country was built on Jeffersonian agrarianism, we will not have Hamilton’s urbanity poison our homeland.
In addition to their instinctive Malthusian fears of density and instinctive sociopathy toward people outside of their kin group, there is usually also a sweet dollop of racism flavoring their rhetoric and feelings. On both sides, as well. Conservative white people associate high density with black people and black people rise up when white people move in for the similar reasons that it is destroying the heritage and the culture of their community. Anti-gentrification campaigns take on similar rhetoric and style to the more stereotypical bourgeois white anti-density campaigns. This is not to say there is no validity to any anti-gentrification campaign nor is it to say that there is no validity to any campaign opposing urban alterations. It is to say that these are too often based in irrational cultural attachments rather than sociological, psychological, and physical science.
In the end, strategies in local politics need to be developed to counter the constant uprisings of NIMBYs. For environmental, social, and psychological reasons they threaten the health and safety of the planet, the species, and everything in between. They are, aside from authoritarianism and nationalism, the worst political movement in contemporary times. Much political science needs to be focused on either converting or circumventing NIMBY movements. The stakes could hardly be higher and, especially on the environmental issues, we’re running out of time. I don’t know exactly what strategies would work but I imagine in the entire realm of psychology and the social sciences that there is an answer and I dearly hope we find it.