A reader earlier this year asked The Saint Report: “When are we going to hear something about ‘good’ or ‘appropriate’ development from Saint? As much as you all rail against NIMBYism, it is typically conservative interests (not the elusive ‘suburban liberals’ – a group that any pollster will tell you doesn’t exist) that block development in and around our communities.
“What I think most in the planning and design communities would like to hear from Saint is some discussion of appropriate or contextual development and infill, versus sprawl. How ’bout it?”
The two most senior managers of Saint Consulting, Patrick Fox and Mike Saint, reply below: opposition in fact cuts across all political persuasions; and developers need to build and leverage community support for their projects
Thanks for your post.
Good or appropriate development is highly subjective. What is good for one community is a disaster for another. One community needs a grocery store while another would be destroyed by one. Successful developers today are working with neighbors and local activists before filing a plan. They are asking about how they can ensure that their project benefits and enhances a community and not just pushing through a cookie cutter plan.
The problem is this. There is now opposition to everything. Good projects die every day. Being good, smart, green or needed is not enough. Angry and scared neighbors are coming out to oppose you regardless of community benefit and your supporters (regardless of how many there are even if they represent the vast majority of residents) are not giving up their Tuesday night to sit in Town Hall and speak for the project. Meanwhile all of the opponents are coming. They are terrified that you are about to destroy their real estate values, double their commute to work and change forever the character of their community. Local officials who look out at an audience packed with opponents are highly unlikely to commit political suicide for any development project.
Thirty years ago people said “You can’t fight City Hall.” They thought progress and development were inevitable and they were powerless to fight it. Since then we have seen 30 years of Wal-Mart fights all across America where citizens have fought back and won. These highly publicized fights have changed things. People now know that they can fight and win, and this has dramatically changed development in the US. This Wal-Mart Effect has changed the political dynamic that determines what gets built. It is no longer sound political strategy for elected or appointed officials to support new development. The jobs and tax revenue arguments have been completely overshadowed by the specter of neighborhood opposition. It is now more politically expedient for politicians to stand with the angry, passionate and motivated neighbors in opposition to development. We have seen local governments completely turnover due to development issues voting out their entire local government and replacing them with no-growth anti-development candidates.
Having a good or appropriate development isn’t enough. All land use is political, and developers who cannot build and leverage political support for a project are more and more likely to lose.
Patrick Fox email@example.com
Saint Consulting Group