What Nimbyism says about society

Any measure of liveability applied to land-scarce Singapore would certainly invoke a common readiness to share spaces. Conversely, any opposing attitude would be a recipe for social discord - like a not-in-my-backyard (Nimby) outlook or a drawbridge mentality that seeks to keep some things or some people at a distance.

Instances of the latter are deeply troubling because they betray a social backwardness that is at odds with the forward-looking spirit of development that characterises the Republic.

The latest Nimby controversy over a planned columbarium in Sengkang brings to mind the negative trait. But some unhappy buyers of new flats at Fernvale Lea say the issue is the proper disclosure of planned uses of adjacent spaces. Government agencies have a duty to inform existing and prospective residents about uses that may affect their living environment and home resale values. That argument is sound in principle. Alongside it, one must also weigh other considerations like larger imperatives, practicality and cost.

Once associated with the hazardous waste industry, Nimbyism has come to describe a certain pickiness of people in urban settings. Facilities such as train stations, malls and parks are welcomed. But care facilities for recovering addicts, former offenders and the elderly are resented. The Nimby pack might question the rationale of urban planners or point to alternative locations, but that would be missing the larger point.

A mature society must show a willingness to accommodate all infrastructure that is deemed a social good - for example, developments for the elderly (like nursing homes and studio apartments); housing for foreigners working in critical areas; an international school; and, yes, resting places for the dead (like the funeral parlour in Sin Ming).

The authorities have shown a willingness to accommodate residents' concerns but, rightly, not to cancel development plans. In some instances, new roads and parking lots have been built to address congestion concerns. In others, the timing and scale of planned developments have been adjusted. Such moves should be embedded in planning software.

There is no room for a win-lose attitude in resolving disputes of this nature. To be a citizen of a tiny, densely populated city state is to accept accommodation of competing needs for space.

It would be regressive if individual interests are increasingly placed over communal interests and, worse, if these are politicised. In an ageing society, it would be truly sad for all if young and old live segregated lives. This was not how Singapore was conceived by pioneers; this is not what it should evolve into.