A survey of 1,000 adults by the National Association of Realtors found some interesting results about Americans’ attitudes towards smart growth. Here are some highlights, which I put into a bulleted list.
OCTOBER 25, 2007
- Nearly nine in ten believe that new communities should be built so people can walk more and drive less; cars, homes and buildings should be required to be more energy efficient; and public transportation should be improved and made more available.
- Three-fourths of Americans believe that being smarter about development and improving public transportation are better long-term solutions for reducing traffic congestion than building new roads.
- More than half of those surveyed believe that businesses and homes should be built closer together to shorten commutes, limit traffic congestion and allow residents to walk to stores and shops instead of using their cars.
- Eight in 10 respondents prefer redeveloping older urban and suburban areas rather than build new housing and commercial development on the edge of existing suburbs.
- Six in 10 also agree that new-home construction should be limited in outlying areas and encouraged in inner urban areas to shorten commutes and prevent more traffic congestion.
- More than 70 percent of respondents are concerned about how growth and development affects global warming.
Let’s start positive.
Ninety percent of people surveyed say they want more walkable communities. That is amazing, and should be a mandate to elected leaders, planning departments, and developers to start building them. If you’re a developer, wouldn’t you want to market a product that 90% of the people say they prefer? If you’re a city, don’t you think your land use policies should reflect the desires of your constituents?
And the negative…
Although I think this survey indicates some willingness to change development patterns, there still seems to be some resistance. For example, ninety percent of respondents said they want more walkable communities, but only slightly more than 50% want businesses and homes closer together (essentially density). I’m not sure people realize they can’t really have one without the other, unless they just want sidewalks with no real destinations to which they can walk. We need to find a way to convince people that density and mixed-use development isn’t so scary.
There were also some discouraging results in the transportation policy area:
- Americans strongly disapprove of increasing gasoline taxes as a way to discourage driving and reduce energy use, with 84 percent rejecting the idea.
- Six in 10 are opposed to charging tolls on freeways during rush hour to reduce congestion.
So it seems that we’re sick of congestion, scared of global warming, and willing to support transit, but not willing to pay tolls or fuel taxes, things that affect people on the most individual level. This reminds me of the Onion article titled 98 Percent Of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others. “It’s about time somebody did something to get some of these other cars off the road.”
Despite my skepticism, I encourage anyone in the the land development industry, whether it be developer, planner, architect, or engineer to use this stated-preference survey as ammunition to fight for smart, dense, mixed-use growth. I know it’s hard to change the status quo, but if we try, we might win a few battles.