NIMBY solutions – Part two

Examples of effective communication tools for risk reduction

A Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project along Michigan Avenue in Mid-Michigan has been in the planning stages since 2008 and is scheduled to begin construction in 2017. In early 2016, opposition from business owners along a portion of the route expressed strong objection. Three approaches for reducing risk perceptions identified in NIMBY Part One are put in context of the Mid-Michigan BRT case. Increase familiarity, build consensus, and use of the pillars of fair process can help to gain acceptance and move forward.

  • Make the project “familiar” and “uninteresting and forgettable” by explaining the project clearly, consistently and with repetition. Provide access to the details and allowing access to the plans. For example, the details are online,  public presentations are offered regularly, the media broadcasts the news regularly. Familiarity with the details can help to take something that was once novel and different and make it ordinary and common. However, confusing people is not helpful. Concrete and consistent messaging builds trust.
  • How can the BRT effort incorporate voluntary elements? One way is by including affected residents as early as possible in the planning process. Ideally, inviting property managers and owners early and seeking consensus regarding the development before proceeding ensures a smooth path forward but may not be attainable where trust is low or relationships aren’t established. For consensus, “Can I live with it?” is a better measure for large heterogeneous groups than “do I want it?” Alternatively, they could allow individuals to serve on committees so they can shape the project in order to offer them some control for example, helping to design the stations.
  • To support a sense that the project is fair, decision-makers should:
    • Involve those effected by soliciting input and allowing them to refute the other’s ideas. Comments such as “CATA is open to hearing the perspectives of all community members" reflect such an approach (Lansing State Journal, March 23, 2016). 
    • Ensure that everyone understands why final decisions are made and provide explanation. Improvements could be made to the CATA-BRT public website to offer additional clarity on who decides.
    • Make sure that the rules governing how decisions are made are clear. These could be posted on the website so the process is known by everyone.   

When opposition appears unexpectedly, such as was the case in the Mid-Michigan BRT case, it will pay off to regroup and embrace some aspect of the criticism. Strong opposition comes from individuals who want to protect their investments and maintain their quality of life. It is possible to show respect for those who don’t welcome the change even if the facts suggest that quality of life will be improved. Change itself, even when it’s positive, can be stressful. Avoid deepening divisions by forcing the project, abandoning the effort so as to avoid the conflict or arguing the benefits of the project without planning a communication response. Instead take time to embrace divergent perspectives. You can maintain the integrity of the project and make progress towards implementation by:

  • listening patiently
  • maintaining transparency
  • taking care to be conscientious in how you present your case
  • sharing control or offering compensation
  • using fair processes

While not expedient, these are actions that embody good public process and ultimately more progress. Everyone will want to attend the celebration when the day finally comes to break ground.  

Early planning efforts can reduce the likelihood that conflict resolution will be needed at all.  An MSU Extension Article Planning Commissions Can turn Opposition Into Support provides guidance.

“Getting to yes” references the modern classic negotiation text by William Ury.    

Part one – specific techniques to navigate conflict and achieve the outcomes your community needs based.

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