Too much democracy is bad

Image by: Herbert Wang

The conventional community input process is broken. 

These processes typically involve residents expressing their opinions on proposed local construction projects in front of an elected municipal body. Many have heralded them as an exemplar of democracy, but really, they’re anything but democratic. Excessive community input has exacerbated a range of issues, from climate change to rising housing costs. 

It’s no secret Canada is experiencing a crippling duo of housing and climate crises. Across the country, the housing supply is nowhere close to meeting demand. At the root of both crises is an excess of democracy. 

Residents seeking to cement a status quo that’s mainly favourable to them now dominate the community input process. Sure, these residents, often called Not in my Backyard (NIMBYs), may support affordable housing projects—just not in their neighborhood. 

It’s all too common a story. Take the St. Andrew-Windfields neighbourhood in Toronto, for example. In 2021, a couple proposed the construction of a housing project in the neighborhood. In response, its residents took to the municipal body with an abundance of complaints. 

No, the idea was not to build a high-rise apartment. The couple actually proposed a house much smaller than most other houses in the neighborhood. Instead of focusing on more pertinent local issues, the municipal government had to devote time to pacifying wealthy suburbanites. 

St. Andrew-Windsfields’ NIMBYs had an outsized voice in the decision-making process over the couple’s proposal, which highlights the faults of the traditional community input process. At a time when housing costs are out of control, we must not let concerns over neighborhood aesthetics get in the way of growing the housing supply.

Regarding renewable energy, the track record of community input is no better. Given the urgency of addressing the climate crisis, there’s no time to waste when it comes to expanding renewable energy infrastructure.

Just last year in Nova Scotia, community opposition contributed to the rejection of a wind project. The project would not only have reduced carbon emissions, but it would also have generated thousands of jobs and saved Nova Scotians over a hundred million dollars in energy costs over the next quarter century. 

If we’re serious about transitioning to renewable energy, the infrastructure needed to make that transition cannot constantly be blocked by a defective community input process.

All community members deserve a say in the approval of proposed projects in their neighborhoods. Whether by scheduling meetings at more convenient times or actively seeking out people who are less likely to participate, the community input process must be made more accessible to people of all backgrounds and perspectives.

If we want to tackle the rise in housing prices, we must reimagine the community input process. No more endless red tape. No more placating the NIMBYs. 

Let’s move beyond the relic that’s the conventional community input process to meet the housing and renewable energy demands of the twenty-first century.

Vineeth is a second-year Health Sciences student and one of The Journal’s Copy Editors.


affordable housing, community, democracy, housing, NIMBY

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