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[Op-Ed] Special Anti-NIMBY Law

Posted July. 09, 2009 07:39,   


Byeokje Crematorium is located in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, but is for Seoul residents and managed by the Seoul city government. It had been in Seoul’s Seodaemun district from the 1930s but was moved to its present location in 1970, land owned by the Korea Forest Service. The relocation incurred no problems since few residents were in the vicinity and local autonomous entities had yet to be established. Things have changed, however. Due to the so-called NIMBY (Not in My Backyard), or a term used pejoratively to describe a new development’s opposition by residents in its vicinity, work to elevate the first floor, add windows to the ceiling of the second floor, and building a waiting room for bereaved families have been delayed for four months.

Crematoriums, charnel houses, waste disposal sites and nuclear waste dumps are necessary facilities. Provincial governments sough to accommodate such facilities but faced high prices due to vehement opposition from residents. For instance, the mayor of Hanam, Gyeonggi Province, was on the brink of losing his post after residents demanded a recall election after he sought to build a crematorium in Hanam. The government’s plan to set up a nuclear waste disposal site also led to clashes with residents in Anmyeon, South Chungcheong Province, in 1990 and those in Buan, North Jeolla Province, in 2003. The facility was finally built in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, in 2007 after 21 years of hassle. This was only possible, however, after the government offered 300 billion won (235 million U.S. dollars) Gyeongju in subsidies.

The term NIMBY was coined in the late 1980s by then British Secretary of State for the Environment Nicholas Ridley. Given that the term is widely used around the world, residents’ hostility to dangerous or unpleasant facilities seems universal. That said, it is undesirable to oppose even military facilities needed for national security and schools for the disabled on the grounds that such facilities will cause housing prices to drop. The reality is, however, that the government must provide compensation and other benefits for residents living near such facilities.

Under such circumstances, Gyeonggi Province has drafted a law to legally resolve such problems. The law requires research on the condition, establishment of a joint committee for compensation, and funds to support residents. Compensation for residents is inevitable though the building of unpleasant facilities increases the burden on their beneficiaries. In a country where laws are frequently ignored, however, it is questionable whether enacting such a law is an effective way to resolve conflict stemming from NIMBY sentiment.

Editorial Writer Kwon Sun-taek (maypole@donga.com)