More than NIMBY: The Not-In-My-Backyard syndrome and community responses to controversial and opposed scientific and technological (COST) facility siting attempts in New York State

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


W. Henry Lambright


Not-In-My-Backyard syndrome, Community, Controversial and opposed scientific and technological, Environmental policy, Radioactive waste

Subject Categories

Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration


How do communities respond to the proposed placement of controversial facilities in their backyards? Environmentally sensitive and technically complex projects have increasingly fostered opposition from areas targeted for the facility site selection process.

Governments and private siting proponents contend that these responses are narrow, self-interested, and emotionally charged reactions consistent with the definition of the Not-In-My-Backyard (NIMBY) syndrome used to describe negative participation in local politics. New scholarly research and recent New York State cases, however, suggest that the traditionally used syndrome-based regulatory and market approaches are flawed. The NIMBY definition does not explain all community siting responses.

Discrepancies in the definition occur when: (1) levels of siter mistrust vary in degree of dislike; (2) broadly defined and policy-based opposition postures by communities and groups are prevalent instead of parochial opposition; and (3) organized resistance activities are reinforced with political sophistication and scientific acumen, as opposed to uncoordinated, process-constrained protests.

Three attempted sitings of controversial and opposed scientific and technological facilities in New York State in the late 1980s and 1990s exhibit contrasting community opposition responses. NIMBY syndrome behavior occurred in the proposed placement of the high-technology research project, the Superconducting Super Collider, in Wayne County. However, in the efforts to site low-level radioactive waste facilities in both Cortland and Allegany counties, non-NIMBY behavior took place.

Based upon a comparison of community trust, group goals, and opposition activities among the three targeted counties, three response types are identified: the NIMBY Coopting, and the "More Than NIMBY" Cooperating and Confronting responses. Furthermore, this comparison of local behavior reinforces scholarship calling for more participatory and technically apolitical selection mechanisms. The imminent proliferation of controversial sitings in the areas of environment, science and technology demands agendas providing for both the policy needs of technocrats, and the desire for policy relevance and dialogue by citizens.


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