She said she asked the contractor who was working on the parking lot if he was fixing the problem or making it worse. “He was nice as could be, and said they would fix the problem of the water runoff from the existing parking lot… And now, they’re making a new parking lot on the property they bought next door,” she said.
I talked with neighbors who’ve been in the neighborhood for decades. “We get the water bad, but it runs off of our property down onto the others' yards,” they told me. Another neighbor complained that the church folks let their kids run in his yard.
* * *
I never expected it to happen, but apparently I’ve become one of those characters who have annoyed me. I’ve become a NIMBY.
NIMBY stands for “not in my back yard,” and refers to outspoken residents who come out to council meetings when they are confronted with a development they dislike. As a freelance journalist, NIMBYs have been my bread and butter. I’ve quoted them extensively. But I never saw myself becoming one of “them.” Still, I realized I was a NIMBY through my overreaction to the church’s actions.
I was raised in the Presbyterian Church, where my father was an Elder. I grew up attending First Presbyterian Church in downtown Pittsburgh and became a member there. We kids who grew up there referred to the place fondly as “First Church.” It was our church—a place where we worshipped, and met for youth groups, musical theatrical productions, and even sleepovers.
I no longer regularly attend church. If I make it to Easter service and Christmas service, I expect my wife to be happy. But that’s not how I grew up. From the moment of my birth, I had the Bible quoted around me.
Growing up in our family of twelve kids, we had Devotions after dinner on weekdays. We would read from a book of illustrated Bible stories for kids, or from the King James Bible, reciting verses so they still echo in my head at the thought:
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly
Nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful
For his delight is in the law of the Lord
I mention this to establish my religious pedigree, and also to explain that it pained me to be griping about the actions of a church. I wasn’t raised to talk dirt on churches, and I wasn’t sure how I’d gotten to this point of resenting my neighbor. It was an unsettling feeling.
* * *
After making fruitless calls about the project and learning little about the borough’s involvement in it, I spoke with the contractor, who told me his company wasn’t responsible and that I should talk to the church. So I called the church, and reached the minister. I asked him if they were building a new parking lot in the back yard of the property they bought next door, and he said they were.
“Did you think your neighbors would appreciate that parking lot, or didn’t you care?” I asked as evenly as I could. He didn't respond.
“Would you like it if someone put in a parking lot next to your house?” I asked. "Or wouldn't you mind?"
“No, I don’t think I’d mind,” the reverend said. “O.K.?”
“O.K.” I said.
I felt exhausted by the anger that was raging inside me. I was worn out. I felt powerless—like no matter what I did, it was all a done deal.
I thought of what the minister said, and again I wondered if I was making a suburban mall out of a few parking spaces. Was I overreacting, I wondered. It dawned on me that we are all at the mercy of our neighbors. How tenuous are our loyalties, if the addition of something as fleeting as a parking lot can set neighbor against neighbor? Since I've passed into NIMBYhood, things feel more uncertain.
As I get older, I sometimes find myself doing things I never thought I’d do. I can remember feeling superior to some of the NIMBYs I encountered many years ago, thinking that they ought to just buy all of the property around, if they wanted to dictate what other property owners would do with their acreage. Since the construction equipment recently jarred me from my naïve state, I feel differently. But I know, here in Pittsburgh, I can count on things changing, and NIMBYs complaining.