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It is a syndrome, a pejorative, and an acronym of our times: NIMBY, or Not In My Back Yard. It has a political arm, NIMTOO (Not In My Term Of Office), an object of attack, LULUs (Locally Undesired Land Uses), and an extreme form, BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone). Acronyms aside, however, the question remains as to whether or not NIMBY has victims. Is anyone hurt by NIMBY?

Many leading voices in the environmental justice movement believe that minority communities are victims of NIMBY. For example, Professor Robert D. Bullard has written that "[t]he cumulative effect of not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) victories by environmentalists appears to have driven the unwanted facilities toward the more vulnerable groups. Black neighborhoods are especially vulnerable to the penetration of unwanted land uses .... NIMBY, like white racism, creates and perpetuates privileges for whites at the expense of people of color." This viewpoint has many adherents, including the Environmental Equity Workgroup of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In addition, some have argued that opposition to facilities, especially social service facilities, "compromise[s] the civic republican account of community services as a public commitment shared by all," and "is a violation of the American right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and of religious and moral teachings that each individual has worth and dignity. NIMBY divides our society into acceptable and 'unacceptable' groups and threatens the social unity essential to harmony and progress."

NIMBY, in its various forms, has three principal types of targets. The first is waste disposal facilities, primarily landfills and incinerators. The second is low-income housing. The third is social service facilities, group homes and shelters for individuals such as the mentally ill, AIDS patients, and the homeless.

This Article addresses the issue of the victims of NIMBY, with special reference to the effects of project opposition on racial minorities. Because the effect of facility opposition varies widely with the type of project involved, Part II arrays the types of relevant projects and shows the ways that opposition manifests itself. Part III then briefly discusses the legal techniques used by those who oppose facilities, and the counter measures used by facility proponents. Part IV examines the available evidence on who suffers as a result of the opponents' techniques. Part V looks at who benefits from opposition to siting new facilities. Part VI is devoted to some of the secondary and imponderable effects of facility opposition. Finally, Part VII draws conclusions from the preceding discussion, and shows how the costs and benefits of NIMBY are very different from those envisioned by those who either condemn or applaud facility opposition.


Environmental Law | Land Use Law | Law | Law and Race


This article was initially published in Volume 21 of the Fordham Urban Law Journal and is republished with permission.