NIMBYism deters growth throughout province

By Alan Thomarat, The StarPhoenix August 10, 2013 - New residential construction and housing demand is a bi-product of the exciting dynamism in Saskatoon and the province. With many different housing options being required and considered to accommodate diverse economic, cultural and social needs, existing communities and neighbourhoods may need to adapt to change, as city planners and the development community work to address the pressing need to respond to housing demand. We take for granted that one guarantee we have in life, is that we should expect change. How we cope with or adapt to change is the art. But not everyone welcomes change. Unfortunately, when change occurs in an established neighbourhood, or even new neighbourhoods, there are those in the community who object to the change and fight to defend the status quo without understanding the facts. As many will know this reaction is referred to as the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) factor, and refers to opposition to proposed land uses near existing residential communities and possibly opposition to almost every other form of new development. Although "nimbyism" can target any construction activity, the protests are primarily directed toward socalled social, affordable and multiunit housing projects including high density apartment buildings with units both for ownership and rental accommodation, and also row-style townhouse developments. Concerns may be focused on issues such as the design of the project, garbage collection, parking, or even increased traffic and the resulting congestion. These concerns can be remedied through careful community planning but too often however, the complaints are focused on the people moving to the community rather than the actual development. The basis is rarely much more than fear of change and stereo-typing; the rhetoric often seems grounded in prejudice and discrimination and phrases such as "ghettoism," over-crowded and congested often dominate the debate.

The City of Saskatoon has decided that four-plexes should be kept out of City Park. Residents of the neighbourhood feel that four-plexes are out of place and does not fit into the character of the existing neighbourhood. The reality is that Saskatoon needs a variety of housing in each part of the City; residents need to be able to live in whichever neighbourhood they choose. Fourplexes are more inclusive and allow for home ownership for those who otherwise might not be able to live in that neighbourhood. As the Saskatoon population grows, so does the demand for housing, especially affordable and entry-level housing. Builders in Saskatoon are capable of creating housing that fits both the style and character of an existing neighbourhood.

"Nimbyists" also argue that the inclusion of social, affordable and multi-unit housing will result in the increased use of roads and other infrastructure, which will lead to disrepair and overuse. In fact, studies indicate that infrastructure is improved and renewed or at least unaffected by higher density housing projects, and further an increase in public transportation services often results because of improving economies of scale in the area.

Nimbyism has its root in unsubstantiated fear and suspicion of people who differ from an existing neighbourhood's current residents. This attitude is at best archaic, and at worst prejudicial. The targets of this fear are those from different racial backgrounds, lower income strata or other sources of income, and other identifiers not common to the existing community. There are a multitude of myths regarding the effects of low-income and special-use housing for these residents, most notably that property values are negatively affected, when facts prove that in a growing market the opposite is true. In many cases property values actually increase because of the new amenities that are built nearby to accommodate the new residents and service a larger community. Furthermore, studies indicate that negative effects on property values typically only occur when projects are built in disadvantaged and declining neighbourhoods and this is far from the case in Saskatchewan.

Everyone should have an opportunity to own their own home or choose from better quality rental accommodations. Anti-growth sentiments opposing virtually everything prevent potential homeowners from buying a home in their price range by limiting the areas that attainable and specialuse homes can be built. Renters are not well served either when the market stalls and investment goes elsewhere.

We are a growing province, and Saskatoon's economic success depends on nurturing our exciting growth and welcoming a diverse population. All communities and their current residents have a unique opportunity to act as ambassadors for our province. Having an open mind and a welcoming community spirit will effectively support growth and maintain our new found place as the preferred destination for investors, for job seekers and their families for many generations to come.

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