Urbis Think Tank
Research shows that conservative politicians and voters are the obstacle to urban development
Yesterday, Urbis highlighted an article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Tarsha Finney (Love thy neighbour. Gen Y embraces closeness of urban living) which advocated in favour of higher density urban living.
In that article, Finney described a conversation with Tony Abbott:
From his living room in Frenchs Forest, deep in the electorate of Manly, over a sociable and civilised glass of wine, he asked with genuine curiosity and confusion ‘But why do people want to live in the middle of cities’?
As it turns out, an American study last year by Paul Lewis and Mark Baldassare (The Complexity of Public Attitudes Toward Compact Development) found that:
Conservatives are significantly less inclined to favor compact development options than liberals and, to a lesser degree, moderates. Moreover, conservatives’ distaste for smart growth goes beyond a potentially interventionist policy (infill) to also include distinctive consumption preferences.
The research shows that Tony Abbott – the conservative politician – is indeed reflective of his conservative constituents; he likes his house on its own land, away from the centre of the city. In contrast, the researchers found that support for the compact development alternatives is significant, in some cases exceeding support for traditional, decentralized suburban patterns.
Why is there such a disagreement?
One finding from the study is that “question wording appears to matter considerably”. While planners, scholars and activists view mixed use, higher density, transit orientation, and infill as being part of a package, the layperson doesn’t see them as closely linked to one another.
As a result, “advocates of land use reforms will still have to do a substantial amount of education if they wish to reshape mass opinion toward what they (but not the general public) view as a coherent cluster of neighborhood characteristics and policy proposals.”
Another recommendation is that “Proponents of smart growth might expand their potential base of support by attempting to reframe the issue.” For example, “advocates might appeal to more economically conservative Americans by highlighting the marketability of infill projects.”
Finally, the authors offer a sobering thought:
In many metropolitan areas, housing and neighborhood options for those who prefer compact development will likely continue to be quite limited by past choices, especially if lenders and local land use regulators create obstacles for compact development.
We know that without the banks and the Councils on board, compact urban development will continue to be challenging. This research simply proves it.
Written by Mark Solonsch Senior Research Manager