NIMBY is an acronym for Not-in-my-backyard, a noun to describe the opposition to the locating of something considered undesirable (as a prison or incinerator) in one's neighborhood. (Adapted from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary). While one may object to the siting of the project in his neighborhood, he usually does not object to the siting of the particular project being sited elsewhere.

Recently, a number of cases of Singaporeans petitioning against the construction of elderly-care facilities near their apartments have caught the nation's attention, with the most talk-about case being the construction of a nursing home at Bishan Street 13.

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The Ministry of Health announced plans to build a 260-bed nursing home on a plot of land in Bishan Street 13. The Lions Home for the Elders will be a six to eight storeys tall, and will serve the needs of elderly residents in one of Singapore's most established living estate. With a rising elderly population in Singapore, it is understandable that more facilities will now be required to cater to the elderly. Such nursing homes - which provide 24-hour care as well as programmes to keep the elderly entertained - have hence become more relevant.

Reasons FOR building more nursing homes for the elderly in Singapore
  1. Singapore faces an ageing population. A 2012 study by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) projected that a third of Singapore's population will be aged 65 and above by the year 2050. A fall in the number of younger, more able-bodied people will mean that a larger burden will be placed on them to take care and support the elderly. There is hence a need for facilities such as nursing homes where the elderly can be taken care of.
  2. Many children of the elderly work regular office hours, and do not have sufficient time to take care of their elders. If the elderly suffers from age-related afflictions such as Dementia, Alzheimer's or Parkinson's Disease, such that he may not be in a position to take proper care of himself, his basic needs ranging from meals to hygiene may not be properly met. Not only so, a large number of injuries sustained by the elderly were due to accidental falls in their homes, causing soft tissue injuries and fractures. If the children are not around to help them, complications due to lack of immediate care could arise. Nursing homes with round-the-clock care facilities and services provided by nursing homes can help to meet the needs and reduce the risks faced by lonely elders. [sources:]
  3. Activities for elderly at the nursing homes value-add to the quality of life. Programmes such as morning exercises, excursions, and even karaoke sessions can help to forge friendships between the elderly, removing the boredom associated with solitude.

In land-scarce Singapore, the soccer field at Bishan Street 13 has been selected to house the next nursing home. Reasons:
  1. Bishan has one of the highest proportion of elderly residents.Bishan East is a middle-aged town, with 2,700 residents, or 11.3 per cent of its population, above the age of 65 - higher than the national average of 9.3 per cent. It makes sense to have the nursing home situated there, to cater to the needs of the growing elderly population.
  2. A well-established town, Bishan is close to many facilities (such as a public transport interchange, a community centre, a park, and a mall). Good accessibility and proximity to houses will encourage family members to visit their loved ones at the nursing home.
  3. The soccer field at Street 13 was chosen to accomodate the nursing home, even though there is a greater piece of land down the street, as the latter is slated for housing development. Land-scarce Singapore needs to optimise the use of their land by exploiting the potential of every piece of land as much as possible. The soccer court is a more appropriate size for the construction of a nursing home.

However, the plan to build this nursing home has faced quite a few objections. At a dialogue with Bishan residents held on 27 May 2012 (Sunday), a petition signed by about 40 people was submitted to the Ministry of Health, raising concerns about the construction of said nursing home. About 20 residents have also voiced their unhappiness of the issue during the dialogue.

Here is a list of some of the concerns against building the nursing home at Bishan:
  1. Congestion along Street 13 is already a major issue, with many new developments such as a children's day-care centre already in place.
  2. Constructing the nursing home at the field means that there will be less space available for the younger generation to play and exercise.
  3. The nursing home is rather tall, and this could block the airflow through the houses
  4. Noise and obstruction from the sick and frail may affect residents of the area
  5. The above reasons could contribute to a fall in property prices in Bishan
  6. There is a greater plot of land near the proposed site which is quieter, and which environment is more suitable for a nursing home.

While there were objections targeted at the construction of nursing homes, there were criticisms regarding how the government has managed the issue.
  • Some residents only knew of the plan to build the nursing home through the news, or when they were invited to a dialogue regarding the home. The dialogue was also said to be "pro forma: (held for the sake of formality; implies that there is a lack of sincerity by the organisers in gaining residents' feedback) and too "ad hoc" (too sudden; implies that it was held at too short a notice, and citizens do not have ample time to react). They felt that there was a lack of consultation of stakeholders involved, and even when plans are deferred due to strong objection, they will eventually materialise. Such a resentment of the government can also translate to an opposition of the nursing home plans.

In Channel News Asia's weekly talk-show Talking Point, Dr Amy Khor, Minister of State of Health, clarified a few perceived misconceptions of a nursing home that could lead to the opposition of plans to build them.
  • there could be a misconception of what a nursing home can provide, causing residents to view them in a negative light. A nursing home is not a hospice, which is a centre which caters to elderly with terminal illneses and who need lifelong care. Nursing homes provides care to the elderly who meet the following criteria: (adapted from the Singapore Silver Pages)
    • Have physical or mental disabilities because of medical conditions like stroke, dementia and other chronic illnesses
    • Semi-mobile, wheelchair or bed-bound and need daily nursing care and help in daily living activities such as toileting, walking, etc
    • Tried all possible care arrangements such as hiring a domestic helper, day care, home care, etc
    • Not able to be cared for at home by other family members or community providers
    • Pass the means-test for long-term care subsidies (means testing is a method to ensure that the lower-income segments of the population receive more subsidies)
  • The location of Bishan was chosen based on the need to optimise the potential of every available piece of land. Even though a larger piece of land exists nearby which is arguably a better location for a nursing home, it is more suitable for housing development to meet Singapore's housing needs.

This is not the first time that Singaporeans are seen as showcasing the NIMBY 'syndrome'. There are many times when a project to construct a facility or a new building met opposition from nearby residents, often due to concerns of inconvenience afflicted should the proposed plan goes through. Some of these projects were delayed while some are even cancelled.
  • In early February, citizens from Woodlands petitioned a plan to construct an elderly-care centre at the void decks of blocks 860 and 860, citing reasons such as overcrowding of facilities, congestion, and that not a lot of elderly stay at the blocks. The Ministry of Health (MOH) later announced that the plans to construct the centre, to be run by Sree Narayana Mission, will proceed. To address their concerns about noise and traffic congestion, the ministry said the centre will be sound-proofed and air-conditioned, its opening hours would be limited, and a transport service would take old people to the centre without adding to traffic or parking woes. (Source: Straits Times)
  • Not long after Woodlands residents petitioning against buildign an elderly-care centre, about 230 residents at Toh Yi petitioned against a proposed plan to construct studio apartments catered for the elderly at Toh Yi Drive. The petitioners argued that the proposed site is the only green space and recreational facility in the 19-block estate, and it is situated on a slope, which would make it difficult for the elderly to climb. A few alternative sites were proposed, but the Housing and Development Board (HDB) rejected them, saying that they were unsuitable as they were too small, were exposed to heavy traffic or impinged on car parking demands. The plan will still go on, with HDB's promise of incorporating community facilities into the studio apartment project and improving amenities elsewhere within the estate (Source: Yahoo! News)
  • Residents from Dairy Farm, Cashew and Chestnut estates at Bukit Timah petitioned against a proposal to build a condominium over a secondary forest on a plot of land around Dairy Farm Estate. Three main concerns were raised: that the condominium developments will block their verdant views and the airflow to their homes; that plant and animal life will be harmed, and that there will be surface runoff as a result of the loss of greens; and that a planned road through the area will cut into a canal-side jogging trail popular with residents. In response to the concerns raised, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) says that current plans will be amended to reduce environmental damage, such as limiting the proposed condominium to a height of 15 storeys, and relocating a proposed commercial property elsewhere. The planned road that cuts through the jogging track will also be removed. (Source: Straits Times)

Some thinking questions:

  1. Imagine that you are a resident of Bishan Street 13, and the nursing home will be built on the area right outside your flat. Will you approve of the nursing home being built in that location? Will your decision be different if you stayed elsewhere?
  2. In many of the NIMBY cases listed above, many residents feel that there was a lack of genuine consultation before the project was announced to them. Is it the responsibility of the government to inform the public of every construction project, and address each and every concern they have? What are your views?
  3. In 2008, residents at Serangoon Gardens protested against the converting of a technical school in their private housing estate into a temporary foreign workers' dormitory, citing concerns such as increased crime rate, congestion, and public eyesore. Based on this example, do you agree that most NIMBY cases are based on unfounded assumptions and stereotypes?