To Stop Housing, Mass Transit, Green Energy? Just Yell

5% pie chart photo by Hari Seldon is licensed under the public domain
Pie chart of a community's population. Current public participation rules amplify the voices of local neighbours (smaller wedge). The rest don't get a chance to speak.

Who knew that democracy could be so easily subverted by a few angry, determined voices? A recent article in The Atlantic explores in depth how America’s democratic system can be held hostage to handfuls of people voicing neighbourhood concerns.

As The Atlantic explains it, democracy is supposed to allow each individual to join in choosing representatives via elections that reflect majority opinion. But at the local level in particular, the actual process is fleeting and dysfunctional.

Without broad guidance that reflects the requirements of the community as a whole, the needs of a single neighbourhood, expressed with noisy vigour by a few citizens, can drive public policy and action or, as is often the case, inaction. And this problem is by no means confined to the United States1.

The losers, among others:

  • Communities and individuals who need housing — a great deal more of it.
  • Communities whose healthy functioning depends of the expansion of mass transit.
  • Communities that wish to shore up their defences against climate change and participate in the ‘greening’ of energy.

Read more about how NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) actions are far more than tiresome and frivolous delays to community initiatives, but an erosion of democracy itself, in The Atlantic: Community Input Is Bad, Actually

For more from Jerusalem Demsas, the author of the article featured in this post, try: Housing & Infrastructure: Big Democrat Cities All Hat And No Cattle?


  1. For a Canadian example try: NIMBY = Who Gets Heard