Saturday, June 16, 2012

Beverly Hills and NIMBYism

There's a nice piece in Salon's Dream City blog about the controversy surrounding Los Angeles's West Side Subway Extension. To make a long story short, Beverly Hills is trying to derail a planned alignment under Beverly Hills High School. Their argument is that as planned, the subway could ignite pockets of methane gas located under the school and basically blow it up. Their proposed alternative is to run it under Santa Monica Boulevard, which planners criticize for being too close to a fault line. Dream City implies that this is a classic NIMBYist plot (which it probably is), but the article also looks at NIMBYism more broadly, looking at how DISCRETIONARY REVIEW, CITIZEN ADVISORY COMMITTEES, California's ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY ACT and other post-urban renewal mechanisms meant to give localities more decision-making power facilitate NIMBYism (something we have written about here, here, and here. The article also alerted us to two very interesting studies on the psychology of NIMBYism: Toby Ord's “The Reversal Test: Eliminating Status Quo Bias in Applied Ethics,” which introduces "status quo bias" as "an irrational desire for things to stay exactly as they are, even when change would be beneficial," and David Ropeik's “How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match the Facts,” which deals with “prospect theory,” or the theory that the sting of losing something is more intensely felt than the pleasure felt from some gain. Combine these with good old fashioned racism and you have a recipe for our built environment.