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Blog: NIMBYs' Objections Sometimes Have a Darker Side

When your career involves sports and fitness facilities, it's always kind of a buzz when you see a new field, court or pool going in.

Sometimes, though, it makes you want to slap people upside the head.

Recently, a park in my neck of the woods announced plans to add a regulation-size cricket pitch. Make no mistake - it's necessary. You can't drive by many of our public parks without seeing cricket being played, and there are a lot of active leagues, as well as pickup games. So I was pretty happy about the concept of a new sports field, until it was replaced by annoyance at how much resistance the facility was getting from many neighborhood residents. In particular, I was annoyed to see someone say they thought 'incumbent users of the park' (their words) should have been asked for permission before the field construction was announced. Some questioned the importance of a field they thought everyone couldn't relate to.

Despite the county's assurance that the field also would be available for field hockey, football and soccer, one resident was quoted as saying he was concerned the field would be primarily used for cricket, and (a direct quote) "can't imagine the kind of traffic the park will see."

Um, let me guess. Cars driven by cricket players? Oh, yeah. There's a scary thought. But it doesn't take much to see what is going on here. The demographics of just about every city these days, particularly those where there is a diversifying ethnic population, are in flux. With those changes come new businesses, restaurants - and demand for different sports facilities.

It goes without saying the so-called incumbent users were upset about the presence of a field for a sport they consider outside the mainstream. But let's remember that not so very long ago in the U.S., soccer was similarly outside the mainstream. In fact, soccer was brought to this country (and kept alive here) by immigrants. And those who can remember this far back (I'm one of them) will know that one of the American public's early heroes of soccer wasn't American, but Brazilian: Pelé. Yet today, soccer is wildly popular. We can't imagine a park without soccer fields, let alone a school without a team.

So the problem becomes encouraging people to accept the presence of a sport they aren't familiar with (yet). At its worst, it increases demands on fields. At its best, it encourages officials to build new facilities and expand their use. It keeps people healthy, and it keeps parks busy, meaning safer for everyone and less prone to vandalism. How is any of this bad?

With new sports come new opportunities. Let's all remember that, and encourage their growth. Because ultimately, it's how we as communities grow as well.

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