Monday, October 17, 2011

Eye-Popping Survey on Attitudes Toward Development

The Saint Index, a recent survey of attitudes about development, provides some incredible insights about the politics of land use. I found it especially interesting that the study attempts to measure how the "Tea Party" movement views development. No word on how "Occupy Wall Street" feels though. The study is worth reading in full, but here are some findings that stood out to me:

  • NIMBY opposition to development is "stronger than ever," despite the economic downturn. Respondents were exceptionally cynical about local government land use decisionmaking, and believe local governments have too close a relationship with developers. These findings are nothing really new, although it is nice to see them quantified. The benefits of new development are spread widely, whereas the costs are concentrated locally, so it makes sense that people have a generally negative view of development.


  • Now this is interesting: those most likely to have actively opposed a real estate development self-identified as either liberals or members of the Tea Party movement. The most likely to have actively supported a real estate development are -- also, self-identified liberals and members of the Tea Party. This seemingly unusual finding may mean nothing more than that individuals who self identify as lying on the more extreme ends of the political spectrum are also more likely to be politically active. But it may also signify that land use politics defy traditional partisan lines.


  • 24% of respondents gave "protecting the environment" as their reasons for opposing a project, while only 14% said "protecting the value of their homes." The study authors state that, according to their previous survey results, these numbers are "not an accurate gauge" of the importance of home values as a motive for opposition. In other words, NIMBYS are liars!


  • Here's an interesting finding that the authors pay little attention to: the majority of respondents were favorably disposed (56 to 41) toward apartment buildings/condos. This is in contrast to extreme hostility toward landfills, casinos, quarries and powerplants. These findings suggest that, at least in a survey, respondents are less concerned about revenue than more tangible impacts.


  • Here's a noodle-scratcher for you: Self-identifying "Tea Party" members were most likely to support a Wal-mart, but most likely to oppose a Target or K-mart!


  • The vast majority of respondents favor a rail line going through their community if there is a rail stop in their community. A slight majority opposes such a rail line if it does not stop in their community.


  • Self-identifying Tea Party members were far more likely than the average respondent to oppose apartment/condo development and to favor landfills, quarries, and powerplants.


Ken Stahl

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