Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Public opinion survey on development

I wanted to pass along and discuss this short blurb I came across in the Wall Street Journal's real estate section:

Stop Right There

Landfills, casinos and power plants are the most unpopular types of development in the U.S., according to a recent survey conducted by the Center for Economic and Civic Opinion at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.

The first-time survey, commissioned by the Hingham, Mass.-based Saint Consulting Group, which advises developers on local political issues, asked about 1,000 people around the country for their opinions on development and developers.

Landfills elicited the most opposition from those surveyed -- 82% said they would oppose one in their community. Single-family housing had the most support -- 75% were in favor.

About one in five of the people surveyed said he had actively opposed development in his community by signing a petition, attending a local government hearing, or some other form of active opposition.

"[The survey] shows that the American public is far more sophisticated about planning and zoning than we thought," said Patrick F. Fox, president of the Saint Consulting Group. "The most staggering number to me is that one in five people have actively opposed a project. "

In the highly developed Northeast about 29% of those surveyed said they were opposed to new development. About 22% in the West and 20% in the South said they opposed new development.

About 61% of those surveyed said local governments did a fair to poor job on planning and zoning.

My takeaways?
  • The single-family home suburban lifestyle is still far and away the most popular.
  • Yet another reason to be thankful Houston has avoided zoning: more places get it wrong than right.
  • Looking at the trend in those development opposition stats from the new South to middle-aged West to older Northeast, it looks like communities start off more supportive of development but drop-off over time - probably as the hassles of additional population and development start to outstrip the benefits because government can't keep up on infrastructure, especially mobility. There seems to be a tipping point, and while Houston seems to currently be on the "pro-growth" side of that point, I sense that we may be close to the inflection point. That's unfortunate, because growth brings economic opportunity and social mobility - stagnation doesn't. To delay that public opinion tipping point, we have to be aggressive on infrastructure investment ahead of growth - especially mobility and education (quantity and quality).


At 3:24 PM, January 18, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

You did not misread it. It's the classic problem: everybody wants the benefits of landfills and power plants and freeways, but not with the downsides in their own neighborhood. Small benefit for the many, medium-large pain for the few (although trends are toward the equivalent of screaming bloody murder over a paper cut).

A recent example in Houston is the port expansion: great for the region, but a lot of extra truck traffic around Seabrook (which I think they've bent over backwards to mitigate) Fortunately, it was a whole-county election, and not a Seabrook city one.


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