It’s tempting for governments and developers to draw some lines on a map and say, “Here! This is where we’ll make it happen.” But the people who live within those lines, have other ideas. Not only that, they now have the power to stop, delay or at least heavily influence those high-level plans.
So the bad news is that community outrage is a real project risk. The good news is that groups are emerging who are keen to work for urban renewal as long as they are part of it. They are called YIMBYS – and more on them soon.
I recently had the privilege of speaking at a conference held by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) on the challenges and opportunities posed by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The SDGs are a set of 17 goals that the international community has committed to achieving by 2030. They range from Zero Hunger and Gender Equality to Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. Idealistic? Certainly – but even as a set of aspirations, the SDGs provide a blueprint for a better and more sustainable future for all.
Particularly relevant is Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. UNESCAP says its challenge includes weak stakeholder engagement, especially with the private sector and vulnerable groups, and a lack of participatory, community-led approaches.
In Australia, in the last decade, more than A$20 billion has been wasted on projects delayed or cancelled due to community outrage. And that’s just road projects. In just one country.
How can this happen in a nation that has a long, proud history of democracy? The origins of the word give us a clue. Democracy comes from Classical Greek, with “demos” meaning “people” and “kratos” meaning “rule”. The theory says “rule by the people” rests on four key tenets: the individual is both moral and rational; there is a common belief in reason, progress and growth; society is consensual, cooperative and ordered; and power should be shared.
But I believe this definition is changing. For many, “rule by the people” has been transformed into a feeling of “What’s In It For Me” (WIIFM) and “Not In My Back Yard” (NIMBY). And social consultation and power-sharing have been reduced to voting in elections every few years.
These days all projects are political, and anyone can be a protester – not just activists, but all of us – mums, dads, children, and grandparents. Meanwhile, the capacity to connect has been turbo-charged by social media. It’s a game-changer, creating a virtual meeting place where people can organise and agitate.
Thankfully, out of this disruption is emerging a new disruptor, the YIMBY. These are the people who say: “Yes In My Back Yard”. They say Yes, I accept that development is going to happen. And yes, I want to have the necessary infrastructure and services in my urban neighbourhood. So yes, let’s work together to make sure the community benefits.
YIMBY recognise and acknowledge that, due to limited supply, the redevelopment of brownfield sites is essential. With their eyes on the future, they’re pushing for sustainable development where everyone gets to reap the rewards in the end.
Kylie Cochrane is Aurecon's Global Lead for Communication and Stakeholder Engagement and the International Chair of the International Association of Public Participation Australasia. She has almost 30 years of experience in community and stakeholder engagement, strategic communication and issues management in road, rail, water and social infrastructure.
This article is an adaptation of LinkedIn Pulse by Kylie Cochrane titled, “Yes in My Back Yard – the power of community engagement in infrastructure development”.