Upping the Anti-


Many Americans are fighting against commercial development

If you could choose between having a dump or a casino in your backyard, which would it be?

It didn’t take me but about a half-second to answer “neither,” and I’m feeling pretty comfortable that you’re in agreement. And a whole lot of Americans are with us.

The most recent Saint Index survey of Americans’ attitudes toward development revealed that casinos are now tied with landfills as the most-opposed type of local real estate project. The 2007 report, created by New York City-based Saint Consulting Group with the University of Massachusetts’ Center for Economic and Civic Opinion, polled 1,000 respondents in the third quarter of 2007.

The index found that 76% of American adults oppose a casino development in their hometowns, an increase from 67% a year ago. In Canada, casinos are also vehemently opposed—85% of Canadian adults say they would fight one in their communities.

And, yet, these same people who hate casinos and despise landfills and wail against Wal-Mart also crave convenience and desire increased services. Or do they really? Nationwide, 78% of Americans say they believe there should be no new development in their hometowns, claiming their communities are just fine the way they are—or are already overdeveloped. This is up from 73% a year ago.

Maybe it’s because I live in a Smart Growth community that I can’t say I oppose development of all kinds. Growth in Lincoln, Neb., is so carefully controlled that I feel shopping-strangled and entertainment-deprived. While a casino wouldn’t excite me, news of an upscale center or desirable retail arrival would set my heart to hammering. Clearly I am in the minority, as the survey found most Americans are far more willing to fight local development projects than support them. Why? Thirty-one percent said that, by opposing development, they are protecting community character, 22% said they are protecting the environment and 21% claim their motivations are in deterring increased traffic. Ten percent say they are protecting their own real estate values—but the Saint Consulting Group doesn’t buy it.

“We’ve come to the conclusion that the real reason Americans oppose development is self interest,” said Patrick Fox, president. “They are protecting their own real estate values.” Fox felt the 10% of respondents who admitted to protecting their own interests was not an accurate gauge of how Americans really feel.

Fox recommended that developers look beyond what opponents to development say and instead look for an underlying truth. “Responding to the perceived concerns of residents, instead of the actual reasons for opposition, can waste an incredible amount of time, effort and expense,” he said. “And ultimately doom a truly good project.”

Developers are going to have to look far and deep for the truth and for strategies to overcome objection. Because Americans are strenuously oppositional. Other key findings of the 2007 Saint Index include: One in three Americans answered “none” when asked what type of new development they’d like to see in their communities, and one in three also answered “none” when asked what national retailer they’d most like to see in their communities.

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