Ontological Security

Ontological security: it's a term that only a sociologist could love, but it's useful to know.

Ontological is about how we construct and maintain a sense of identity, and give meaning to our lives. Security means having sense of continuity and order; avoidance of chaos and uncertainty, and our experience of positive emotions that come from having that security.

It's what gives rise to NIMBYism - a sometimes ferocious resistance to change in the way our communities and suburbs are shaped.

The NIMBY label has very negative connotations - of petty self-interest, obstinate resistance to change, failure to respect the greater good.  And ontological security is not directly considered by the Resource Management Act, and therefore the town planning process.  You are allowed to heritage, character and amenity value, but not the deeper feelings.

Threats to ontological security can, however, be expressed at the ballot box and in the court of public opinion.

And that has to be considered by the proponents of intensification in Auckland.  It is frustrating for them, dealing with NIMBYs, but there are a few matters they should consider:
  • Do not disrespect the NIMBY.  They are motivated by profound and authentic feelings about their houses and homes, their memories of the past and their future aspirations, their sense of place in the world, the community in which they live, and their perceived social status.

  • Assume that the NIMBY is smart and resourceful, willing and able to acquire professional assistance, and is politically and socially well-connected.

  • The battle for intensification will be fought and won (or lost) at the ballot box.  The will of the people always trumps the process of law (as it should in a democracy).  But local body elections typically have a low voter turnout, and the people most motivated to vote are home-owners. To overcome their self-interest and resistance to change, you will need to engage and activate a broader constituency of young people and tenanted households.

  • The NIMBY is not entirely unreasonable.  The Auckland Council has manifestly failed to convince home-owners, in the leafy isthmus suburbs, that intensification will bring some benefits - such as better public transport, more community facilities and parks and other lifestyle improvements. And the council has failed to provide them with active, meaningful, input into the development and redesign of their suburbs.
I say those things because, I have to admit, I am a NIMBY too.

I don't want the Penlink Bridge to be built over the Weite River (north of Auckland) because I'm afraid it would destroy the tranquility and beauty of an area I love: my extended family and our forebears have owned some traditional Kiwi baches up there since about 1948.

I suppose the Penlink bridge must eventually be built. But I want to see the cost-benefit analysis or business case for the bridge; because I want to be assured that it is being built for genuinely good reasons.

And I don’t want an ugly, noisy, stinking four-lane highway across the river. I would like to see Penlink built as a graceful arch, providing walking and cycling access to the Whangaparaoa, with the roadway restricted to use by public transport and emergency services.

And, even if I did not ultimately get what I want, I would insist on my right to have a say on such matters, and to have them respectfully heard.

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