NIMBY psychology at Harvard University February 2013

 

NIMBY psychology comes to Harvard — from Australia!

 

February was an exciting month for me. I spent it teaching in the Graduate School of Design (GSD) at Harvard University and giving lectures and classes at MIT and Tufts University.

 

It was exceptionally cold for a person who lives in the sub-tropics. A huge blizzard dumped 20 inches of show on Boston days after I arrived.

 

 
Harvard in February. Brrr!

 

The highlight of my month-long visit was a   lunch-time lecture for the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University on 22 February.

 

I spoke about the relationships between environmental psychology and community resistance to housing density increases to an audience in the iconic Gund Hall, which houses the Graduate School of Design.

 

See: https://www.gsd.harvard.edu/#/events/what-s-psychology-got-to-do-with-nimby-with-wendy-sarkissian.html

 

Gund Hall, Harvard University

 

NIMBY

 

Throughout the Western world and especially in Australia, we are seeing strong initiatives to increase housing density to achieve sustainability initiatives. Paralleling these types of initiatives are concerns about the social impacts of higher density housing, confirmed by a widespread Australian research and a recent visit to Canada. Even in Hong Kong, there are community concerns about housing density increases. Where governments have mandated housing density increases, the results have not always been positive.

 

The much-lauded CityPlan community engagement process in Vancouver, Canada, resulted in a strong support for housing density in the late 1990s and early years of this century, (with planners believing that they had converted NIMBY to YIMBY (“Yes in My Back Yard”). However, currently a strong community backlash in Vancouver reveals that these gains were short-lived. After tens of millions of dollars spent on community engagement about density increases, residents and others are strongly opposing further housing density increases.

 

In many Western cities, the early optimism of what community engagement could deliver with respect to housing density increases has faded. The irony is that success in this arena is much more important that it was in earlier decades as the pressures of Peak Oil and climate change begin to be felt more powerfully by communities and governments.

 

So, if density increases are needed and resistance is increasing, what is the answer? What really is at the core of peoples’ concerns? Which approaches might work to engage communities with the issues of housing density?

 

What if we could achieve our sustainability and housing density goals without causing community unrest, dissatisfaction – even uproar?

 

Could communities respond positively to density increases under the appropriate conditions?

 

I believe that all of that is possible. But we must understand more about the psychology of housing to be effective.

 

We need to appreciate why governments must continue to campaign for increased housing density. It’s as though these two initiatives are at opposite ends of a spectrum. Yet they are connected by the very concerns that seem to place proponents of density increases at loggerheads with community members.

 

Caring

 

The issue that unites them is caring. Governments who care about the future of communities are alert to the many signs that automobile dependence and urban sprawl are expensive and ecologically unsustainable artefacts of a bygone era. We can no longer afford low-density suburbs. (Actually, we never could but we thought we could.)

 

Similarly, community members who care about the future of their communities are concerned that clumsy and ill-considered initiatives will make neighbourhoods unliveable cauldrons of noise, traffic congestion, parking problems. They will have no environmental quality. Some even say: `the slums of the future’.

So, if everyone cares, where’s the problem and what is the secret?

 

A key to understanding these conflicts (occurring in our communities today) is to understand more about housing. It’s not merely `product’, as some developers say. It’s more than a `commodity’ as economists would say. For some, it’s everything: a haven, a nest, protection, security”¦ many qualities that have little or nothing to do with density, tenure or whether one’s name is on the mortgage document”¦

 

Home is a deeply archetypal concept. Humans aer animals and, like other animals, we are hard-wired to protect our territory, the “territorial core” of our home. It’s complicated and that’s partly why people’s responses to a threat to their housing often get so very `complicated’. Our Homing Instinct is a deep-seated desire to protect what is personal, precious and `home’.

 

The psychology of place and housing

 

 

Here’s a link to the Harvard lecture and the PowerPoint presentation:

 

https://www.jchs.harvard.edu/event/what%E2%80%99s-psychology-got-do-nimby-exploring-deeper-meanings-community-resistance-proposed-housing

 

Social planning was having a good month!   The lecture was also picked up by the real estate blog, The Fifth Estate: Our Planet, Our Real Estate:

 

https://www.thefifthestate.com.au/archives/45397/

 

Here’s the lecture in a Word document:

 

Sarkissian Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies lecture 22 February 2013_revised for web

 

Many sincere thanks to Eric Belsky and his colleagues of the Joint Center for generous support and hospitality and to Professor Ann Forsyth of the GSD.

 

Silencing Dissent: charity begins at home

April 29, 2011 – 4:07 pm



In an eco-village, there is more to life than managing weeds and water quality in the dams.

 

What we have learned about social reform and social change in Western countries over many decades is that burning books and silencing dissent are very dangerous practices.

What is my dissenting voice really saying?

I am saying that exclusionary practices in the Jarlanbah Permaculture Hamlet make me and many of my neighbours feel excluded and unhappy.

 

At a higher level, they are inequitable, unfair and destabilising of community strength, solidarity and, ultimately, sustainability.

 

It’s not fun being the focus of sustained attacks.

 

But I am willing to wear that discomfort to have my voice – my small single voice – heard.

 

I come from a long line of people who spoke out against injustice. As a Canadian-Armenian, I know what happened to my father’s family and his father’s family. The blood of the martyrs runs in my veins.

 

Social exclusion and bullying in Jarlanbah are hardly genocide. But they are definitely ways of killing community.

 

I guess I just have to be unpopular. Tearing off the gag.

Speaking the unspeakable.

 

And I am going to fight for the rights of the disenfranchised and silenced members of communities with my dying breath.

 

So when I think of silencing dissent charity begins at home!

 

 

The original dream for Jarlanbah Permaculture Hamlet

April 5, 2010 – 3:07 pm


I’m mining the archive!

 

 

Jarlanbah Permaculture Hamlet from Shirley’s house, 1993

 

The original dream for Jarlanbah Permaculture Hamlet was very different from the back-biting and suffering we experincce every day on this community. It was a dream with substance and charm. A real dream.

 

Here’s a photo of the Jarlanbah Permaculture Hamlet from Shirley’s place (lot 6) in late 1993. An exhausted dairy farm being transformed into a Permaculture Hamlet.

 

Shirley has been explaining to me how the process worked. That heady mix of dreaming and practical realities.

 

She’s been explaining what her intentions were, coming here alone as a widow in her early sixties. She was dreaming of community. And support. A place to put down roots and live into her older years. Her own, ecological, architect-designed house.

 

A place where she (a distinguished fine artist with works already in the National Gallery) could paint and create in peace – embraced and supported by Nature’s beauty and bounty.

 

Embraced and supported by a community of like-minded people caring for Nature and for each other.

 

What exciting days those were!

 

The dream was so inviting; the vision so bright; the intentions so clear.

 

Promotional material for Jarlanbah Permaculture Hamlet

 

Here’s the Jarlanbah Permaculture Hamlet insert in the Northern Star for late March 1994:

 

Star Focus on Jarlanbah March 1994

 

This is the vision we need to revisit.

 

How can we update the vision and re-align with our current version?

 

How can we move forward in harmony, cooperation and peace?

 

I look forward to your comments.

 

All ideas are welcomed. Contrary views are welcomed and and invited.

 

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter”¦. Obliged to you for hearin’ me“¦.

(re)visioning Jarlanbah Permaculture Hamlet

April 3, 2010 – 9:44 am

 

It’s Easter weekend: a time for reflection on renewal, blessings and hope.

 

I am awash with fresh insights following a fascinating community mediation about the dual occupancy (accessory dwelling unit) issue on this community.

 

Sometimes people leave intentional communities. See “Leaving Utopia”, click here: Leaving Utopia – MARY GARDEN

 

Things are different now. We’re settled in, the toilet is built, the deck is a daily marvel and my three books have been birthed and are now for sale.

 

I realise that I can no longer turn my back on the goings-on in my own immediate community and focus only on other communities.

 

There is much to learn from this small eco-village and much that needs to change.

 

The Jarlanbah archives

 

With the help of my elderly artist neighbour, Shirley, a founding resident, I have been exploring the Jarlanbah archives from the early 1990s.

 

What a tale they have to tell us!

 

 

Robyn Francis

 

The birth of this community in 1993 was accompanied by deep reflection and much dreaming, bearing in mind the state of the Earth and a deep desire to care for Nature in all her wondrous beauty. The developer was completely aligned with these ambitious social and environmental objectives. The designer, eminent Permaculture educator and designer, Robyn Francis, keeps in regular contact with many of us and recently has been helping us understand the deeper intent of our founding principles with respect to intergenerational equity, density, community infrastructure, inclusion and sustainability.

 

She’s reminded us of the strong focus on inclusion in the founding documents. Given that today there’s a lot of exclusionary thinking about in the world, it’s a salutary reminder!

 

Those of us who live on Jarlanbah are blessed to have Robyn as a neighbour. Awarded NSW Rural Woman of the Year a few years ago, she’s a Permaculture designer and educator of international eminence.

 

For Robyn’s award-winning teaching, education, training and design work, see:

 

www.permaculture.com.au

 

and

 

https://www.abc.net.au/rn/utopias/dream_machine/docos/jarlanbah.htm

 

How I wish I could have been part of that early planning process!

 

The far-thinking developer, John Hunter, his planners and designers (and then the first residents) spent long hours exploring alternatives for the social and physical design of this place. It was a dream that was both far-looking and practical; resilient and able to be modified.

 

We’ve lost our way”¦

 

For reasons that I will explore in this blog, I believe that we’ve lost our way here in the Jarlanbah Permaculture Hamlet.

 

But I am confident that it’s not too late to bring the original vision up-to-date, realign with it and and move forward in cooperation, self-reliance and harmony.

 

I’ve pasted in below the poster that used to be on our sign at the front gate: the original dream. The sign went missing but the dream is still alive in the hearts and minds of many early

Jarlanbah Hamleteers. And the newbies are now learning what our founding mothers and fathers had in mind.

 

The details of the dream are spelled out in a detailed Management Statement and fascinating early newsletters, which I will also post for people to read.

 

We need to understand our history here.

 

I need to understand it!

 

Blessings on you all this Easter weekend! May we all live in peace, cooperation and harmony.

 

The promise, if not (yet) the reality”¦

 

Trouble in Paradise: Dual Occupancy at Jarlanbah

March 15, 2010 – 9:59 pm

 

Trouble in Paradise

 

Tomorrow evening my neighbours are meeting to decide whether or not to try to ban dual occupancy (commonly called accessory dwelling units: https://www.mass.gov/envir/smart_growth_toolkit/pages/mod-adu.html ) in this eco-village of 43 dwellings on 22 hectares.

 

The whole process has me mightily confused.

 

Imagine the contradictions

 

Imagine the contradictions. Here we are living on half an acre in a Permaculture community committed to self-sufficiency and sustainability principles.

 

We live in a low-income community (Nimbin, population 350) with a desperate shortage of housing, especially for lower income residents. And most of us do not grow much food – if any – on our properties. I think every lot has at least one car. We’re highly automobile-dependent and we’re certainly not secure in terms of food production.

 

Designed by Robyn Francis

 

But we’re trying. The Jarlanbah community, designed by formidable Permaculture designer, Robyn Francis, who lives down the road at the Djanbung Gardens Permaculture Education Centre (see: https://www.earthwise.org.au/), was established in 1993 and the first residents moved in in 1994. We’ve been here since 2001, actually living here since early 2006.

 

Now many of us are ageing and looking for opportunities to age in place and to have the possibility of a caregiver living on our house block.

 

Or to have an income stream from renting a small dwelling on our land.

 

Recently, the Jarlanbah Review Sub-committee rejected a proposal by one of our neighbours for a dual occupancy arrangement on his block. In North America, this is generally called an “accessory dwelling unit”.

 

His house is very stylish and modern in its design and I wondered what role “aesthetics” played in the decision.

 

Arguments in favour of dual occupancy

 

In any case, this case, which is likely to go to a formal mediation session, has caused a huge amount of discussion in our community. Some of us, citing global sustainability principles, Peak Oil, automobile dependence and the needs of an ageing, rural population, want to be able to have two dwellings on a lot. We can’t see how this would differ – in planning terms – from, say, a house with four or more bedrooms for a large family or shared household. We don’t see that the impacts on our road infrastructure would be that dramatic.

 

Not everyone would want to have another dwelling on their lot (perhaps half might – eventually) and those who did could pay extra to reflect the wear and tear that another vehicle might cause (assuming that vehicles would not be shared).

 

“It will open the floodgates”

 

But not all residents feel this way. Others are afraid that having a few more dwellings will open the floodgates. “It’ll turn Jarlanbah into a slum and a ghetto,” remarked one of the long-term residents, while another claimed that she did not move to Nimbin “to live in cluster housing.” “This is not inner city Redfern,” claimed another.

 

NIMBY and BANANA

 

As a Jarlanbah resident who has spent a whole career (since 1967) working in housing and planning, I am curious to understand what this really means.

 

Where would these road-wrecking new slum-dwellers come from?

 

How could a ghetto emerge as a result of density increase?

 

I can’t help but think of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) or better still, BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything (or Anyone).

 

Nevertheless, this small village community on 43 lots is about to embark on an open, democratic, community discussion on this matter. In the Jarlanbah community centre, subject of an equally acrimonious debate that featured bullying and recrimination, broke hearts, shattered trust, offended aesthetic sensibilities and still rankles”¦

 

The Jarlanbah Community Centre

 

Watch this space!

 

Wednesay morning update:

 

Shocking meeting with no facilitation process to help us.

 

People jumping up and threatening, screaming and swearing at each other, unable to be controlled by the Chair.

 

I’m now branded as a consultant who’s the same as a dot-com operator – in the pay of the developers, plotting the extinction of all the wallabies, echnidnas and antechinus.

 

Pretty soon we will have blocks of flats at the bottom of the gully!

 

More soon!

 

Wednesday, after the mediation session

 

This matter has been taken to a formal mediation session through the State Department of Fair Trading. As a trained mediator myself, I know that what goes on inside the room stays insidethe room.

 

I will post my later thoughts on dual occupancy policy in this blog but for now, I cannot report on the latest events at Jarlanbah.

 

Except to say that we had a lovely pancake breakfast this morning (responding to advice from American planning theorist, John Forester, that we spend more time together socially and eating together).

 

So this morning before the mediation, I served pancakes for breakfast in the community centre (after Shirley and I scrubbed it within an inch of its life last night).

 

And tonight it’s pizza on our deck.

 

It’s raining softly in Paradise this afternoon. It’s very peaceful.

 

After a four-hour+ mediation, the local residents have gone home to their families and their gardens.

 

I hear Gaia, the living Earth, breathe a sigh of relief.

 

Is she thinking: Hopefully, those pesky humans will relax and simply love what they love.

 

The Radio Hashbrown Blog

Radio Hashbrown Blog copy

 

Community pressure resulted in the closure of the antecedent of the Radio Hashbrown Blog.

 

However, the archives remain.

 

To read them, click here:

 

https://radiohaajblarnblog.wordpress.com

 

One Sleep ’til the Windows Arrive: The joys of owner building

August 2, 2009 – 9:52 pm
The Guest Bedroom, August 2009


We’ve been living in our shed for three and a half years. House under construction for two and a half”¦

 

And on Friday the windows arrived for the guest bedroom in our house-under-construction project. It has walls, doors, a roof, a floor and almost windows.

 

Tomorrow morning at 9 am Ken is coming to help Karl install them.

 

I’ve been reflecting about how much this means to me. It’s so marvellous here these sparking winter days.

 

It’s absolutely freezing at night as we huddle around a fire on the deck in our Mexican chiminea. Then it’s up to 30 during the day.

 

Many blessings

 

I’m blessed to be living in a rural paradise, awakened by the raucous laughter of a dozen kookaburras in a nearby tree.

 

Spending late winter afternoons watching a family of five wallabies relaxing and eating the new grass shoots on the lawn.

 

I WANT TO SHARE THIS. But it’s not much of an offering to urban people who have baths and toilets and kitchens when I say I can offer a tent or a rat-infested shed. A wash under the hose.

 

A lovely prospect

 

But the prospect of putting a bouquet of fresh flowers in a vase in the guest bedroom, hanging ironed curtains on the new screened louvered windows, setting out a few good books on the bedside table, a candle, incense”¦ that is such a delightful imagining.

 

It brings a great yearning to my heart. Many dear friends have visited us in our chaotic circumstances.

 

We’ve trudged them around the muddy building site, stumbling over piles of timber and peering into unfinished rooms, gesturing where rooms could be, how the roof could go”¦

 

“I couldn’t live like this.”

 

One, appalled, could only say, “I couldn’t live like this.” Others have hugged us and offered all means of encouragement. Very great encouragement. Everyone marvels at the beauty of the place.

 

Tonight I was sharing my enthusiasm for the guest bedroom by phone with Leonie, twelve thousand miles away.

 

Maybe she’ll come to visit after Christmas. We might have the box gutter sorted out by then. I reassured her that her room is rat- and python-proof, fully mossie-proof.

 

It has a great view of the escarpment.

 

Great ventilation.

 

A private verandah. It’s very quiet. We even plan to have key locks on the guest bedroom doors so that guests can leave valuables and not be worried by our relaxed rural attitude to security.

 

So, one more sleep to an almost-ready guest bedroom. One more step toward the hospitality I dream of.

 

Feels like Christmas Eve.

 

Sad postscript the next day: The windows were too big for the spaces. It was the Builders Picinc Day in NSW (a holiday I had not heard of!) so could not sort it out.

 

Much disappointment. (Watch this space”¦)

 

A day later: Ordered new windows. We’d apparently violated some window-measuring protocol. Supposed to call it “make size” to include the window reveals (whatever that means”¦)

 

Our fault.

 

But they fit in the living room. Still, it’s not the same.

 

Ken did a great job of brushcutting instead”¦

 

Sept. 7th, 2009: The windows are in. At last! It’s gorgeous. It’s ready for guests. Cosy and homey. Not exactly “finished” but filled with love.

 

March 2010: The exterior walls are insulated and clad, two new windows added above the original ones, an internal screen door to allow for more cross-ventilation and we’ve had our first proper guest.

 

Now that we can offer the convenience of a beautiful composting toilet next door, it’s even more inviting.

 

Come to visit!

The Guest Bedroom March 2010

 

 

Knispering: Are Rats Smarter than Humans?

Jarlanbah Eco-village, Nimbin, NSW, 17 June 2009

 

Karl in the Shed

 

The Introduction to Kitchen Table Sustainability starts the book off on a bucolic, if pessimistic, note.

 

Three of the authors are sitting around the tables on the porch of our shed here in Nimbin and speculating about the future and the future of all generations – of all beings.

 

So far, so good.

 

All beings

 

All beings. Good Deep Ecology thinking for a woman with a PhD in environmental ethics.

 

Right?

 

May all beings be happy and free from suffering.

 

All beings. Hmmm.

 

Karl in the shed

 

For the past week or more, my husband Karl has been up a ladder in the shed with me acting as the trades assistant, that is, holding the ladder.

 

And what are we doing, two ageing humans with six university degrees between us? We’re trying to rat-proof our 6 metre by 6 metre shed.

 

So far the little suckers have eaten everything in sight. I mean everything: lids to glass jars, lids to boxes, boxes of files, toiletries, creams and lotions and vitamins and calcium tablets,aspirin, the plastic water filter cartridge AND the carbon pellet contents.

 

The only thing that dissuades them is a locked metal filing cabinet, which now holds cereal, nuts, and other treasures I’m trying to rescue from the chaos.

 

Messy eaters

 

They’re very messy eaters so the floor is littered with their droppings, washed with their urine and blanketed with a multicoloured carpet of half-chewed plastic, cardboard, paper, cellophane, food, vitamins…

 

The rats came in when the floods came and the winds blew the iron off the roof.

 

The python followed them, but it got too crowded in the roof space for everyone. So the python (we dreamed he’d evict them) departed after knocking everything off the tops of the bookcases.

 

He was a messy worker, too.

 

We’d had lots of rats and marsupial mice before.

 

But now, apparently sensing that Karl (with a stern countenance, rolls of vermin mesh, a drill and metal rods to attach the mesh to the walls) means business, they are redoubling their efforts to chew up and through everything not locked in a metal box.

 

Local remedies

 

All the local remedies are futile: scattering chilli powder where they go, various humane and not-so-humane traps, ratsack, traps camouflaged in potato crisp bags…

 

Nothing works.

 

Fortunately, we’re not sleeping in the shed any longer… because the night-time antics of one small mouse can drive an adult human berserk. And quickly.

 

Tearing out the door and baying at the moon seems a perfectly reasonable response when you have been wakened a dozen times by what German-speaking Karl calls “knispering”. “Knisper! Knasper! Knusper!”

 

 

Knisper away

 

Well, knisper they may. But not for long. We’re coming to the end of the job of securing the downstairs of the shed so that they will have to knisper only in the roof space and not in my cherished envelopes of chocolate pudding or my treasured antique fan.

 

They’re smart, these little creatures. They’re persistent and wily. They make plans for their future.

 

They take care of their family’s needs. So they should be worthy of consideration as part of our ethical community. (See chapter 3 of Kitchen Table Sustainability.)

 

They’ve outsmarted us for years. We may be bigger and have bigger brains, but, trust me, rats are not to be underestimated.

 

I definitely don’t think we humans are the pinnacle of creation or the top of the evolutionary pyramid when I’m standing holding the ladder for hours on end, ankle-deep in rat mess.

 

And I wonder: what will happen when Karl is too old to climb up the ladder and manage a drill and I am too frail to hold the ladder?

 

Will rats rule then?

 

All beings!

 

Hah!