Housing Complex

Why I Don’t Call Walmart Opponents NIMBYs

In response to my NIMBYism manifesto, the Atlantic's Megan McArdle sees a double standard:

I read DePillis pretty regularly, and I don't usually see her calling out, say, people opposing a local Wal-Mart as "NIMBYs"; they're "opposition groups". The term NIMBY seems to be reserved for people who oppose locating things in their back yards that DePillis herself thinks are laudable. Small wonder that when she uses the word, people take it as a perjorative.

The problem here is that people have a ton of different reasons for opposing Walmart. A very small minority of those people actually qualify as NIMBYs. Most of them make universally applicable arguments against Walmart, and would better be described as NIABYs: Not In Anybody's Back Yard. Here's my typology of Walmart protestors:

  1. The union organizers who—rightfully—see Walmart as a threat to their bargaining contracts with Safeway and Giant, and also argue that Walmart will never offer its employees a real voice in the workplace.
  2. The small-to-midsize businesses that see Walmart as a threat to their very slim profit margins, and therefore existence.
  3. The smart growth liberals who are offended by the anti-urban form that Walmart typically takes, but who aren't particularly bothered by the business model. These folks don't have a problem with the mixed-use Walmart on New Jersey Avenue, but they also hate the massive complex that'll soon bulldoze wetlands in Fort Lincoln.
  4. The global economic justice liberals who see Walmart's history of workers rights abuses and market-bending purchasing power as a baleful influence on the laboring class around the world (even though it can sometimes be used for good, in the case of Walmart's more recent sustainability measures).
  5. A very, very small minority—in my experience confined to nutty Ward 4 ANC commissioner Brenda Speaks—who are fine with Walmart in concept, but just don't want the traffic and street activity it would generate near their homes, and would rather drive to shop at Walmart in someone else's neighborhood.

(Watching all of these people try to put out a consistent message has been a pretty classic case of the challenge of coalition building.)

Anyhow, I do try to be consistent in my application of the term NIMBY. Walmart opposition in D.C., by and large, hasn't merited it.

  • er

    why not just call all groups that oppose things "opposition groups" so you can avoid the silly unsubstantiated notion of second guessing motives?

    better yet, write about them without using connotation heavy labels.

  • Drez

    IMO the author's reasoning is fair and accurate.

  • hillman

    We fear walmart because the existing retail in these areas is so awesome we can't live without their surly service, the iron bars over their storefronts, the low wage jobs they provide, the high prices, the inconsistent hours, etc?

  • Tres

    Lydia, I'm going to call you a Creative Logic Parser -- or a CLP. If you see a negative connotation in that phrase, that's on you. Deal with it. ;)

    The only *real* political force in DC opposing the Walmart are NIMBY's -- people who vote in the neighborhoods that will house Walmarts. They have power, inasmuch as they sway/elect our intrepid council members with their aggregate sentiment. Is the so-called NIABY crowd really voting in Wards 5 - 8? Let's look at your cast of NIABY protesters:

    1) Unions. Fair enough, they vote and galvanize voters -- but I really think their impact is overstated most of the time. NIABY.

    2) Local businesses. Clearly, these are NIMBYs, not NIABYs. They don't oppose Walmart in VA, do they?

    3) Smart growthers. These are NIMBY against un-urban Walmarts in their backyards. They have no opposition to Walmarts in general, or non-urban Walmarts planned elsewhere. These are not NIABYs.

    4) Social justice types. NIABYs, clearly -- but they don't cast votes in the relevant Wards, or get the ear of relevant council members.

    5) Your basic NIMBY.

    So basically we're left with #1 and #4 as type NIABY. #2 is a political force; #4 is largely irrelevant as a political force locally. So as far as relevant NIABYs locally, all we have are supermarket unions.

    McArdle's right -- NIMBY is a term you use as it suits you, when the goals of a given group don't align with your understanding. This series of posts about NIMBYism is a tragic echo of your failure to admit you were wrong in the first place. Give it up. It's over. No one thinks NIMBY is a neutral term -- even you.

  • Tom M.

    Mark Penn is the (in)famous microtargetter and managed to run leading candidate Hil Clinton right out of the nomination. Because the author is informed (at least to some greater degree) about nuances in the Wal-Mart fight(s), does not in any way imply that she is informed or accurately applying the NIMBY term in any other place or circumstance. Seems like she would need to show as nuanced an understanding of people she disagrees with in many other circumstances to make the case that she is appropriately crowned benevolent princess/queen and empowered to lable all others as she deems appropriate. I'm jus' sayin'....

  • Mike

    So to summarize your argument, social service placement is a simple black and white, us vs them issue. No background, no additional research necessary. Services are right, neighborhoods are NIMBY's while Walmart is a much more complex issue where you agree with the nuanced opposition.

  • noodlez