on Pro-Sprawl Players and Messages
Review of Recent Public Opinion Research on Sprawl and Land Use Issues, September 1999
in Tucson finds that traffic is the number one concern among residents,
and that they are willing to pay to fix the problem but there is no clear
is Funding Priority for Virginia: 05/14/01
PPIC Statewide Special Survey on Growth the first in a new series of surveys that will focus on population growth, land use, and the environment in California: 5/01
Report Finds Travelers Want More Travel Options: 4/01
Association of Realtors Survey Documents Support for Open Space 4/01
percent of Minnesotans say that reducing traffic congestion should be a
Detroiters support better public transit, new tax to fund it: 3/01
Philadelphia Poll: 3/01
Jerseyans Committed to War on Sprawl :1/01
is the issue on which Colorado voters most want their political leaders
to take action: 9/00
and Mortgage Bankers Poll Shows Support for Urban Revitalization: 10/00
Poll Shows Americans Support Efforts to Stop Sprawl: 9/00
Voters Favor Spending On Existing Communities Over New Development 6/00
Estate Investors Acknowledge Trend Away From Traditional Suburbs
on Message: Making the Biodiversity-Sprawl Connection
Finds Americans Most Concerned With Local Problems:
Opposition to smart growth efforts comes from a small number of vocal critics affiliated with private "property rights" organizations, free market think tanks and home builder and development interests. In brief, "property rights" advocates claim that controls on growth trample individual property rights, free enterprise advocates say smart growth efforts tamper with free market mechanisms, and building and real estate development interests claim it is consumer preferences that determine sprawl-type development patterns, not builders.
of the critics of smart growth have appeared before in attacks against
global warming, the Endangered Species Act, and other issues. Many of the
players simply rehash arguments provided by the anti-science or "junk science
movement". Some of the critics of smart growth such as the Heritage
Foundation and the National Center for Public Policy Research promote some
of the same viewpoints espoused by the "wise use movement" namely, they
oppose most government efforts to maintain environmental quality in the
belief that environmental
While it assumes a variety of forms, the anti-smart growth critics, like the anti-science movement, funnels its claims through seemingly authoritative opinions in books, articles, and media appearances that distort what is or isn't known by scholars, experts and scientists. In an effort to appear credible, they cite one another, especially those with Ph.D's. They use the internet effectively by using listserves and "fax backs" to inform subscribers of upcoming legislation at the state and national level.
Through a well-honed campaign, these critics twist facts through well-practiced rhetoric to support a political agenda intent on maintaining short-term economic interests. The campaign has several features:
Anti-smart growth sentiment is endlessly repeated and flooded over media outlets to give it the aura of credibility.
Critics rally support against growth measures by playing to the public's general lack of knowledge about land use issues, development patterns, costs of growth, zoning, subsidies of sprawl, and other aspects of growth and development.
Critics of smart growth play on the public's inability to appreciate complex changes that occur to the environment over a long period of time. People have difficulty grasping national and regional problems versus instant, specific changes to their immediate environment. Traffic congestion or school overcrowding is a choice soundbite over, say, the effects of sprawling development on biodiversity and ecosystem health.
Critics play into the public's fear of change and the kind of efforts needed to manage growth. Critics play into resentments of some of the rules, regulations, and recommendations designed to enhance human well-being.
Critics have defined public interest groups such as preservationists, public transportation activists, environmentalists and citizen groups as "special interests" not any different than say the American Tobacco Institute or other groups that represent narrow economic interests.
While not claiming to be an exhaustive catalogue of players and institutions (along with some of their affiliations and products) opposed to smart growth, the following does offer background to the vocal minority attacking smart growth efforts:
Wendell Cox has written attacks on mass transit for the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, where he was a visiting fellow. He lives in St. Louis and has recently written an op-ed for the Washington Times entitled "A Strait Jacket on Growth," saying smart growth policies will slow economic growth. See Cox's website at http://www.publicpurpose.com.
Gregg Easterbrook gained attention with his "environmental optimism" perspective in his recent book, A Moment on Earth: The Coming Age of Environmental Optimism published in 1995. Libertarians loved it and scientists bashed it. He recently authored the article "Suburban Myth," in the New Republic, March 15, 1999.
Peter Gordon and Harry W. Richardson authored "Prove It: The Costs and Benefits of Sprawl" in which the writers support junk scientist Julian Simon's statement that loss of prime farmland is "the most conclusively discredited environmental-political fraud of recent times." Both Gordon and Richardson are professors in the University of Southern California's School of Policy, Planning and Development, as well as the USC Department of Economics.
Steven Hayward was a senior fellow at the Foundation for Research on the Environment and Economics (FREE), in Bozeman, MT. He is now with the conservative Pacific Research Institute. Hayward's most recent article "Suburban Legends" was published in the National Review on March 22, 1999. Hayward dismisses concern about growth and sprawl in as "merely the latest repackaging of liberal disdain for the suburban way of life." In the same article, Hayward states "the amount of land developed each year in the continental United States is a mere .0006 percent." The actual number presented by the U.S. Geological survey is .06 percent, a 100 times greater than he reported.
Randall G. Holcombe, Professor of Economics at Florida State University and Chairman of the Research Advisory Council of the James Madison Institute. Author of Public Policy and the Quality of Life, Greenwood Press.
O'Toole is the executive director of the Thoreau Institute located
in Bandon, Oregon. O'Toole has attacked growth management, mass transit
and other controls of growth and congestion through publications, articles,
op-eds and the Thoreau Institute website located at
David Ridenour is the author of "Clinton's Urban Sprawl Program Threatens Freedom and the Environment," and is the vice-president of the National Center for Public Policy Research. Ridenour is a property rights advocate, frequenting the Alliance for America's (a grassroots property rights group) annual "Fly-In for Freedom" in Washington, D.C. Ridenour's NCPPR uses the latest Internet technology to alert membership of pending legislation, conferences, and rapid response to media stories.
Charles Ruma, 1999 President of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), has been in real estate development for over 30 years. As president of the NAHB, Ruma has consistently espoused that development patterns are dictated by consumers. He has also stated that agricultural land loss has not been significant, and that new agricultural land is being tilled each year in the southwest. Under his leadership, the NAHB has developed a Smart Growth Working Group and released a report "Smart Growth: Building Better Places to Live, Work and Play."
after the Vice President Gore announced the Clinton Administration's Livability
Agenda, George Will authored a widely disseminated Newsweek article "Al
Gore Has A New Worry". Among some of its items, the article
blamed working mothers for adding to traffic congestion. (Interestingly,
Fred Smith, Jr. president and founder of Competitive Enterprise Institute,
repeated Will's statement nearly verbatim in a debate with Jonathan
Weiss, policy advisor to the Vice President, at the National Press Club
in March of this year.) In Betrayal of Science and Reason, author
Paul Ehrlich notes an article Will wrote in 1992. In his Washington Post
column, Will wrote a piece titled "Al Gore's Green Guilt," attacking then-Senator
Gore for his concern about the state of the environment. He wrote
that Gore's former mentor, Roger Revelle, who died in 1991, had concluded:
" The scientific base for greenhouse warming is too uncertain to
justify drastic action at this time. There is little risk in delaying
policy responses." But Ehrlich notes "Revelle had a long history
of concern about greenhouse gases; indeed, he had been instrumental in
getting measurement of atmospheric CO2 under way as early as 1959."
(Betrayal, page 193)
American Legislative Exchange Council is a conservative association that exchanges information research and ideas advocating "free enterprise". One of it's "issue analysis" publications is titled "The American Dream Under Fire-Part I: The Impact of Growth Boundaries on Affordable Housing (January 1999)".
ALEC’s alumni include 83 members of Congress and 13 sitting or former Governors. ALEC drafts model legislation that promotes free market ideas and policies. At its most recent Annual Meeting, touted as the “largest gathering of conservatives held each year” nearly 3,000 state legislators, business leaders, association executives and public policy experts met. One of the sessions held was called Growth Boundaries: The Dark Side of “Smart Growth”. On March 22, ALEC held an issues briefing on urban growth in Philadelphia. Co-sponsored with the Commonwealth Foundation of Pennsylvania, the program included ALEC’s Pennsylvania State Chair, Rep. Robert Flick, Sean Duffy of the Commonwealth Foundation, Dr. Steven Hayward of the Pacific Research Institute, John Charles of the Cascade Policy Institute, and Task Force Director Christopher Doss. ALEC has received some of its funding from ALCOA, the American Automobile Association, Associated Builders and Contractors, ASARCO and the National Association of Home Builders. Website: http://www.alec.org
Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) was founded in 1984. The Washington-based conservative policy groups is "dedicated to the principles of free enterprise, individual liberty and limited government." CEI is a member of ECO and the Heritage Foundation network. Its website devotes a space to property rights, "takings" and "growth controls". CEI published "A Free-Market Guide to Suburban Development & Urban 'Sprawl' " in March 1999.
CEI publishes CEI Update, Competitive Enterprise Index (Annual Analyses of Congressional Voting Records on Free Enterprise Issues), and Free Market Environmentalism. Its press Laissez Faire published Public Policy and the Quality of Life, by Randall G. Holcome, Professor of Economics at Florida State University and Chairman of the Research Advisory Council of the James Madison Institute. Contact: 1001 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 1250, Washington, D.C. 20036, Phone 202.547.1010 Website: http://www.cei.org
Heartland Institute is a nonprofit, conservative Chicago-area think tank, also known as an activist group. The Institute distributes publications that claim that global warming, ozone depletion, dioxin, chlorine and other environmental issues are not problems and that too much is being spent on recycling and other attempts to reduce pollution. Regulatory-free society is the best way to protect the environment. Heartland is a member of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO) network, a wise use umbrella group founded by the Land Improvement Contractors Association in 1990. Heartland president Joseph Bast is the co-author of the Eco-Sanity: A Common Sense Guide to Environmentalism. Link to the Heartland Insitute's March 2001 Special Report on Sprawl.
Foundation is a conservative think tank based in Washington, DC.
The Washington Post in July 1999, reported that the Heritage Foundation
was found to be the most influential
Liberty Matters is a grassroots property rights organization that gained attention through its opposition to the American Rivers Heritage Act. The group rallied enough grassroots support to cause thirteen states to withdraw from nominating rivers for protection under the act. The group has a large grassroots network via fax, e-mail, website and mailings, as well as visible presence at property rights conferences. Its website links to historic preservation and zoning issues. Website:http://www.libertymatters.org/historic.htm
Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a libertarian think tank that supports "sound economic policies which help citizens prosper" in Michigan. The Center publishes studies and analyses advocating free market policies. In the publication, "Legends of the Sprawl" the authors say "Government should stop subsidizing "urban sprawl," but it should not impose growth controls in response to the dire rhetoric of sprawl alarmists." Website: http://www.mackinac.org/
National Association of Home Builders is a trade service association based in Washington, D.C. Membership to the group includes "a free subscription to NAHB’s monthly BUILDER Magazine," educational opportunities and other benefits. BUILDER produced a special issue on sprawl in July of 1998. Some of the articles included "Sprawl: Will Political Backlash Stunt Your Company's Growth" and "Builders are Using Reason and Sound Statistics to Loosen the Current Stranglehold on Growth." The Association has provided funding for Alliance for a Responsible Atmospheric Policy, American Legislative Exchange Council, Coalition for American Energy, and National Endangered Species Act Reform Coalition which has advocated abolishing the Endangered Species Act.
National Association of Reversionary Property Owners (NARPO) is a far right property rights organization located in several parts of the country, including Kansas. As an activist group, it mainly organizes grassroots opposition to rails to trails conversions. The group helped organize and form the Property Rights Congress, a group of over forty property rights organizations nationwide who draft and introduce resolutions to legislators in Washington, D.C. Website: www.freedom.org/prc
Center for Public Policy Research is a Washington DC-based think tank
partially funded by the Castle Rock Foundation, a re-formed Coors Foundation.
David Ridenour is
Political Economy Research Center (PERC) Based in Bozeman, MT, PERC was formed to promote free market environmentalism. PERC published PERC Reports: Urban Sprawl: Pro and Con, February 1999 which featured essays by Randall G. Holcombe ("In Defense of Urban Sprawl"), Professor of Economics at Florida State University and Chairman of the Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope, ("Americans are Saying No To Sprawl") and Joseph L. Bast ("Town, City, or Suburb?"). The non-profit PERC is a member of the Heritage Foundation network.
Property Rights Congress (PRC). PRC is a group of over forty "property rights" organizations, some of them far-right spinners of UN conspiracy theories. According to the group, "private property rights activists experienced a growing awareness in 1998 that past efforts to protect property rights were not sufficiently slowing the expansion of federal land acquisition or reversing the trend toward ever-tightening land use regulations." As a result, the first annual Property Rights Congress in Washington, DC was organized. Members of the organizing committee include Tom DeWeese of the American Policy Center, Myron Ebell of Frontiers of Freedom, David Ridenour of the National Center for Public Policy Research, R.J. Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Joanna Waugh of Stop Taking Our Property, Bob Voight of the Maine Conservation Rights Institute, and Henry Lamb of Environmental Conservation Organization.
The PRC organized its first event March 18-21 at the National Center for Public Policy Research's building in Washington, DC. The new organization is modeled after the 105th Congress and is meant to be a swift method of introducing property rights legislation and issues nation-wide. The congress is designed to bring "a strong, renewed property rights force to all levels of government," with an apparent focus on Washington. It places all action at the grassroots level, and at the same time provides a fast mechanism for property rights issues to be raised to the national level. Website: http://www.freedom.org/prc
Regulatory Policy Center is run by James Delong, author of free market publications such as "PROPERTY MATTERS: How Property Rights Are Under Assault -- And Why You Should Care (Free Press, 1997). The Washington, DC-based Regulatory Policy Center focuses on government regulation of the economy and society. It advocates for "the personal right to own and use property and examines the growing power and punitiveness of the Regulatory State." Website: http://www.regpolicy.com/
Los Angeles-based Reason Foundation is a conservative, libertarian
national research and educational organization that advocates public policies
based upon a free-market approach. The Reason Public Policy Institute
(RPPI) publishes anti-sprawl reports such as "The Sprawling of America:
In Defense of the Dynamic City," by Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D, which seeks
to challenge the need for Clinton/Gore smart growth policies. Website:
Members of the Partnership for Quality Growth will conduct legislative and media briefings as well as public outreach programs on "Building Better Communities" throughout the country. The toolkit is available on the Partnership's website at http://www.qualitygrowth.org.
The Partnership for Quality Growth is an ad-hoc coalition of trade associations. These associations include the American Consulting Engineers Council, American Highway Users Alliance, American Road and Transportation Builders Association, Associated Equipment Distributors, Associated General Contractors of America, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Construction Industry Manufacturers Association, Equipment Manufacturers Institute, Laborers Employers Cooperation and Education Trust, National Asphalt Pavement Association, National Stone Association, National Utility Contractors Association, The Road Information Program, and the Transportation Construction Coalition.