Thursday, March 15, 2007

Bruegmann on developers' attitudes towards land-use regulations

Recently I received one of those forwarded emails with a long, embedded conversation thread, and one email below from Professor Robert Bruegmann of "Sprawl - A Compact History" fame caught my eye. After securing his permission, I'm passing it along today. I think it's very insightful on the topic of big vs. small developers and their attitudes towards land-use regulations. One of the reasons I often hear for comprehensive urban planning is that "developers want more predictability," yet few local developers seem to support it. I believe this email gets to the essential difference between supporting and opposing developers, and the last paragraph is a particularly pointed zinger:
I hadn't heard about "Regulatory Capture" mentioned by BD but it does seem to be a good phrase to explain an interesting split in the real estate and development community. Many of the major players in the real estate game, in the US represented by large development industry organizations, might have been expected to fight the proliferation of land use regulations, particularly growth management schemes, that have driven up land prices so dramatically in recent years. But instead they have jumped on the "Smart Growth" bandwagon in a big way.

At first glance this seems hard to understand. But really it's exactly as BD says: because members of major development industry organizations tend to work on really big projects, often at the high end of the market and they have lawyers and political clout, they are less affected by the regulatory hurdles than the smaller operators. The most important result for them is the effect that this massive set of regulations has in effectively raising the bar to entry into the development field (Tory: i.e. less competition).

One of the things that doesn't seem to be much remarked on is the class distinction involved here. The heads of most large development organizations share a set of distinctly upper middle class aesthetic and other biases with many land use "reformers." It is easy for them to imagine the good city as having a vibrant and upscale core, a pristine, gentrified countryside in easy driving distance, and all of the less attractive aspects of urban living - notably families of modest means - accommodated out of sight on as little land as possible."

Robert Bruegmann
Professor of Art History, Architecture, Urban Planning
University of Illinois at Chicago


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