We must say no to the NIMBY mentality

May 09, 2018 11:28
The 'not-in-my-backyard' mentality among the public has led to Hong Kong authorities facing obstacles on matters such as putting up facilities for disabled or mentally ill people, or establishing infrastructure such as waste dumps. Image: EJI

Recently, we had news that a real-estate developer had turned down a request made by the Social Welfare Department to provide space for building a community support center for autistic patients, among other care facilities, in a redevelopment project in Cheung Sha Wan.

The developer refused to build the support center on the grounds that the government’s initiative to provide support centers for autistic patients still remains a pilot scheme at this stage, and hence there is no justification for earmarking any land for building the facility, etc.

The truth, however, is that the full-scale regularization of the “Pilot Project on Strengthening Support for Persons with Autism and their Parents/Carers” launched by the Social Welfare Department has already been scheduled for October this year.

As such, the developer was just pulling an excuse for not building the support center.

And the reason for that couldn’t be clearer: autistic patients are still very much stigmatized in our society, and therefore care and support facilities for them just aren’t welcome in any "normal" neighborhood.

It is in fact another typical example of how the prevailing “not-in-my-backyard” mentality, or more often known as the “NIMBY” mentality, among the public is depriving people with mental disabilities of their rights for integration into mainstream society.

The term “NIMBY” was coined by the then minister of environmental affairs Nicholas Ridley of the British government back in the 1980s, which refers to the kind of collective mentality behind public resistance towards plans to build “unpleasant” public facilities within or near their neighborhoods.

In many cases, these “unpleasant” facilities are often necessary amenities that may have long-term benefits for the community.

However, since their existence might have negative implications for the nearby neighborhoods in the short run, local residents would therefore tend to oppose any plan to build such facilities near where they live.

These “unwelcome” facilities may include waste incinerators, dump stations, wastewater treatment plants, power stations, or even schools, wet markets, public housing estates, or in this case, support centers for autistic patients.

As a matter of fact, any kind of public fear for autistic patients is unwarranted. It is because they are very much the same as other average individuals like us. The only difference is that autistic persons often have difficulty interacting with others in their daily lives.

The key to helping them to recover is to facilitate their integration, not segregation.

Sadly, over the years there has been no shortage of examples in our city in which the NIMBY mentality among the local public reared its ugly head.

For example, in 1992, a plan to build a nursing home for the mentally disabled met with fierce opposition from residents of the Tong Tau Estate in Wong Tai Sin.

Then four years later, residents of Richland Gardens in San Po Kong staged a sit-in to protest against the government’s proposal to build a therapy center for HIV-positive patients nearby.

And another more recent example was the opposition of the local residents in Mui Wo, Lantau Island, against a plan to relocate Zheng Sheng College, a special school that looks after juvenile delinquents, in their neighborhood in 2009.

It is important to note that in most cases, even local residents who are against plans to build these facilities in their neighborhoods don’t deny the necessity to have such facilities. However, their point is, just build them somewhere else!

According to a study compiled by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) in 2016, 9 out of 19 proposals to build community psychiatric rehabilitation centers in recent years have met with substantial opposition from local residents during public consultations, not least because many people often associate mental patients with violence.

As a result, among the existing 24 community psychiatric rehabilitation centers across the city, only 15 of them have a permanent address, while the rest of them have to operate on temporary locations, thereby taking a heavy toll on the quality of their service.

Fighting for resources to build a new care center is already an uphill battle in itself. Unfortunately, what is truly frustrating is that even if you have secured the money and the manpower from the government, in many cases you just can’t find a place to build the facility due to people’s ignorance.

I firmly believe that we must not allow the “Not-In-My-Back-Yard" phantom to dominate our society. It is because, in my opinion, even one more NIMBY case is one too many.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 12

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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RC

Legislative Council member