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Mutt & Jeff: Nimbyism — a great American tradition?

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Two recent occasions sparked my interest in the subject of nimbyism.

First was a letter to the editor of a valley newspaper written by no less than a former Aspen mayor decrying the attitude of Crystal Valley residents who oppose the proposed bike path through the valley by calling them nimbys.

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Secondly, a gentleman spoke at a recent public forum held at the Third Street Center conducted by Open Space and Trails. He referred to those who object to the bike path as classic examples of nimbyism. Of course, these gentlemen used these terms in a pejorative and  judgmental sense; but as I have considered the subject I believe they were wrong in doing so.

Maybe nimbyism is instead not necessarily right or wrong, but a great American tradition. Think of the multitude of examples, modern and historical: Early cattleman not wanting sheepmen or sodbusters anywhere near, Native Americans versus European settlers, cross-country skiers vs snowmobilers, hikers vs equestrians or mountain bikers, Glenwood Springs residents not wanting great numbers of huge trucks carrying limestone through their neighborhoods, Pitkin County and many others not wanting natural gas wells in Thompson Divide and on and on.

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I suppose we all have an idyllic picture of the environment in which we would be happiest, or most satisfied or comfortable, and when we attain at least a measure of that condition we are quick to protect it. The great question is: can we justify nimbyism based on one’s preferred and established lifestyle being threatened by someone else’s different preferences?  This seems to be an instinctive talent because we are all probably natural-born nimbys anyway. Even our legislative and judicial systems allow, no they create, a variety of nimbyisms.

Think of zoning laws: someone in authority, or who has the talent and energy to organize a movement, has decided that a certain enterprise isn’t suitable or appropriate in a particular section of town. Thinking locally, it seems that this was the consensus a few years back when the “town mothers” of Carbondale led the successful political charge against a big-box store here in town; or think of Pitkin County which doesn’t allow any new mobile homes but seems to revel in being the most exclusive county in the nation when comparing the richest 1 percent of its population to the lower 99 percent (Source: Aspen Daily News-Aug. 6).

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One of my personal nimbyisms is a resentment of giving up part of the relative peace and quiet of living in the the Crystal River Valley to the, what I would call hordes of Harleys and other super noisy motorcycles that have discovered the West Elk Scenic Byway. In my portion of the valley, the narrowness combined with the cliffs magnifies the sound because it has nowhere to go. Part of my frustration is based on a bumper sticker seen on a pick-up recently. Big bold letters proclaimed Harley Davidson as great – but in smaller print it said: “Too loud? – too bad!”. I wonder if that attitude is worse than the nimbyism it engenders.

The Lord knows it is very difficult to love your neighbor as yourself or to do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

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