One of the most frequent dynamics in developer-community interactions is “David versus Goliath”. Like developers who wheel out the same old transparent tactics, local opponents have a wealth of well-worn strategies at their disposal, most revolving around the notion that they are small, weak and righteous while developers are big, rich and sneaky.
That script gets stretched to its limits when the project is a city sanitation project intended to serve the public good with no profit motive, planned for a chic SoHo neighborhood, with the role of David played by an A-list TV star. ::continue::
That has not stopped Mad Men star John Slattery from reading his lines in an unfolding NIMBY drama that is pitting Slattery and his neighbors against New York City’s sanitation department. City government is proposing to build a parking structure to help get garbage vehicles off of the street and allow easier access to the West Side Highway. The $350 million project would have obvious job creation implications in these tough times and the city is doing the right thing by proposing to mitigate the project’s legitimate community impact by converting an existing sanitation-used space into a public park.
Slattery’s concern? “Pedestrian safety,” a risk he says would be elevated by the increase in vehicle visits to the neighborhood each day. But, are Slattery’s concerns legit? Or, would he and his neighbors just really rather not host a garbage truck depot?
Manageable or Manufactured?
When engaging community concerns on your project, it is critical to engage concerns openly. If they are legitimate, are tied to your project and can be mitigated without fatal modification to your project, then a responsible developer should engage in that conversation. But, if the concerns are manufactured to conceal NIMBY motives, you have to call that out.
Experienced strategic communications management should allow you to do that in a way that is professional, respectful of the process, and effective. One of the primary techniques in a case like this would be the use of “consensus-first” thinking.
Consensus NOT Contentious
Do not begin by trying to wade through the contentious elements of the project, where experts are squaring off over truck trips, traffic light timing cycles and new curb-cutting and crosswalk configurations. It may be necessary to undertake those debates at some point based on administrative procedural requirements, but in a communications context – there is NO WAY TO WIN them. Even if your expert is more convincing, you have reinforced the “us versus them” dynamic and calcified the conflict.
Instead, start with a conversation toward consensus. Presumably, the good citizens of SoHo appreciate the city’s continued management of sanitation and disposal:
– Is everyone around the table agreed on the need for the service?
– If so, does everyone agree that there need to be facilities in the city to support the trucks, workers and equipment?
– Does everyone agree that those facilities have to sit somewhere?
– Finally, does everyone agree that given the need for the city to maximize the efficient use of taxpayer dollars, it makes the most sense to use a building or land that is already under city ownership and control?
Even if you cannot get those tenets as firmly established as the above makes it sound, you should begin to pull apart legitimate opposition from NIMBYs. Just as you go into your public meeting with a message, well-organized opponents want to be “on message.” If you can make that script less organic and more argumentative, it undermines their effectiveness and may marginalize the actors. Although – in most cases – they probably won’t REALLY BE actors.