Study Examines the Politics of Land Use and Development

Jan. 13, 2006
National survey reveals Americans attitudes about land-use development

Americans are twice as likely to oppose new real estate development projects as support them. They are more likely to oppose quarries, casinos, landfills, and big-box retail than single family homes and groceries. They say they are most often opposed because of concerns over traffic and quality of life issues.  They will use the political process to protect their neighborhoods from unwanted development - and virtually all development is unwanted.

These insights surfaced in a first-ever nationwide poll on land-use issues conducted for the Hingham, MA-based Saint Consulting Group, which specializes in the politics of contested neighborhood projects ( The survey, called The Saint Index©, reflects interviews of 1,000 people across the entire United States. It was performed during October and November 2005 by the Center for Economic and Civic Opinion, University of Massachusetts/Lowell.

“Rather than seeing growth and development as the time-honored stimulus to local and regional economies, the 21st-century issue is about who controls growth and development,” said Patrick Fox, president of The Saint Consulting Group. “Our survey shows that the American public is far more sophisticated about planning and zoning than we thought,” Fox reports. “The most staggering number to me is that one in five families has actively opposed a project.”

According to Fox, “The question that developers will need to address in 2006 is: Where are businesses to locate and build the structures for future jobs, if 83 percent of citizens like their neighborhoods exactly as they are?”

The Saint Index forecasts growing grassroots fights against growth and development. “By inference, competitive opposition to other developers’ projects will be contested in far more sophisticated ways in the future,” Fox comments.

“If ‘all politics is local,’ The Saint Index confirms that all land use has become political,” observes Fox. “It has become an adversarial system being played out. What this means to developers is that traditionally business-oriented political leaders may no longer automatically favor all development projects.”

Toplines from The Saint Index include:

  • A vast majority of Americans oppose new development in their communities.
  • One out of five American families, a significant number, has opposed new development projects.
  • Americans believe the planning system is failing them.
  • Wal-Mart’s okay, just not in my back yard.
  • Housing? Grocery stores? That’s fine.
  • Candidates for office in the United States had better pay attention to land-use issues.
  • Americans’ opposition to the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision is strong and growing.

The Saint Index will be conducted annually in both the United States and the U.K., allowing The Saint Consulting Group to build a cumulative database that will identify and track trends over an extended period.

Fox says that TSCG undertook The Saint Index in the belief that these findings will benefit companies that want to understand from where their active opposition is coming, and what they can do to get more projects approved. Reflecting on the assessment that “By 2030, half of the buildings in which Americans live, work, and shop will get rebuilt over the next 25 years” [Brooking Institution Metropolitan Policy Report], Fox sees the landscape of future development strewn with omnipresent business battles.

Findings include:

  • A vast majority of Americans oppose new development in their communities. Some 73 percent of Americans said their community was fine the way it is or was over-developed. Some 83 percent of suburban Americans do not want new development in their communities.
  • Americans are fighting back in land-use battles across the nation. They are educating themselves about how local planning and zoning decisions are made, and how they can make their own impact on these decisions. One out of five American families, a significant number, has opposed new development projects by forming neighborhood groups, calling and writing elected officials, signing or gathering petitions, attending and speaking out at local hearings, fundraising, and hiring attorneys and engineering experts.
  • Americans believe the planning system is failing them. Over 60 percent believe their local government does a fair-to-poor job on planning and zoning issues. Seventy (70) percent believe that relationships between elected officials and developers render the approval process unfair.
  • Wal-Mart’s okay, just not in my back yard. A majority of Americans are happy to shop at Wal-Mart but do not want to be affected by the many impacts commonly associated with the superstores. While neighborhood groups may fight Wal-Mart, some real estate projects generate even more vehement opposition.
  • Housing? That’s fine. Supporters outnumber opponents only for single-family housing (75-percent support) and grocery stores (63-percent support).
  • Candidates for office in the United States had better pay attention to land-deployment issues, since 93 percent of Americans indicated a candidate’s position on new development is an important factor in their deciding for whom to vote. The level of importance placed on a candidate’s position on growth rises with age, as does the propensity of a person to vote. This correlation dramatically increases the political importance of growth and development as a key political issue.
  • Americans’ opposition to the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision is strong and growing.  The Saint Index shows opposition to allow the taking of private property by eminent domain growing to 81 percent in November, up from 68 percent in the July 2005 American Survey.

This information was reprinted with permission from The Saint Consulting Group. Considered the premier political analyst in U.S. land-use and zoning conflict resolution, The Saint Consulting Group began operations in 1983 and today has offices around the US and in the UK. TSCG operates its own computerized land-use project tracking system, capable of monitoring development trends and projects throughout the United States. Among the industries that use TSCG’s services are aggregates, casinos, grocery and retail, mixed-use developments, housing, and utilities. To find out more about The Saint Consulting Group, visit (

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Buildings, create an account today!

Sponsored Recommendations

Building Better Schools

Download this digital resource to better understand the challenges and opportunities in designing and operating educational facilities for safety, sustainability, and performance...

Tips to Keep Facility Management on Track

How do you plan to fill the knowledge gap as seasoned facility managers retire or leave for new opportunities? Learn about the latest strategies including FM tech innovations ...

The Beauty & Benefits of Biophilic Design in the Built Environment

Biophilic design is a hot trend in design, but what is it and how can building professionals incorporate these strategies for the benefits of occupants? This eHandbook offers ...

The Benefits of Migrating from Analog to DMR Two-Way Radios

Are you still using analog two-way radios? Download this white paper and discover the simple and cost-effective migration path to digital DMR radios that deliver improved audio...