Research on Pro-Sprawl Players and Messages

Backgrounder on Pro-Sprawl Players and Messages

Myth & Fact Soundbites

Research Behind Myth & Fact Soundbites

Review of Recent Public Opinion Research on Sprawl and Land Use Issues,  September 1999 

Sprawl Related Surveys 1990-1999

Polls- "20 Questions A Journalist Should Ask About Poll Results"

Poll 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 solution: 6/01 

Conservation is Funding Priority for Virginia: 05/14/01
A poll conducted for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Nature Conservancy Action Fund, and TPL found that Virginia voters think funding for conservation efforts should be considered as important as funding transportation needs and public schools.

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

FHWA Report Finds Travelers Want More Travel Options: 4/01
A new survey by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) finds that a majority of the public favors expanding public transportation and building bikeways and sidewalks, while new roads are much less popular. Respondents to the "Moving Ahead" survey favored transit, bikeways and sidewalks by over 60 percent. Less than 40 percent favored building more roads. About 60 percent of respondents rated their transportation system fair to poor in meeting the needs of most people. Just 11 percent of respondents said the transportation system is 'excellent' at meeting these needs. 
To read "Moving Ahead: The American Public Speaks on Roadways and Transportation in Communities," visit

National Association of Realtors Survey Documents Support for Open Space 4/01
Voters’ support for preserving open space in their communities depends upon the costs taxpayers would bear for local governments to acquire land and the uses to which the land would be put, according to a national survey released by the National Association of Realtors.  The survey found that voters are more likely to support creating new open space when it will be used for neighborhood parks, playgrounds, playing fields and walking trails rather than golf courses. 

89 percent of Minnesotans say that reducing traffic congestion should be a top priority
In a statewide survey released 4/12/01 by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT), 89 percent of Minnesotans said that reducing traffic congestion should be a top priority for the Minnesota Legislature.

Metro Detroiters support better public transit, new tax to fund it: 3/01
A survey released by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments found that nearly 60 percent of respondents supported more money for transit. It also showed 77 percent of metro Detroiters would likely use a transit system that's safe, clean, convenient and reliable.For complete survey results, visit the SEMCOG web site.

Metropolitan Philadelphia Poll: 3/01 
Residents want state government to stop funding sprawl and start revitalizing our cities and towns.

New Jerseyans Committed to War on Sprawl :1/01
The vast majority of New Jerseyans are committed to the war on sprawling growth, and they agree with the goals of New Jersey's State Plan, according to a poll conducted jointly by the Star-Ledger and Eagleton-Rutgers. 

Growth is the issue on which Colorado voters most want their political leaders to take action: 9/00
Nearly half (45%) of Coloradans say growth (sprawl, development, crowding) and transportation (traffic, roads, transit) are the state’s most severe problems. 

Mayors and Mortgage Bankers Poll Shows Support for Urban Revitalization: 10/00
The US Conference of Mayors and the Mortgage Bankers Association of America released a poll showing that both city and suburban residents support using tax dollars to revitalize central cities.  Typical of the findings, 68 percent of city residents and 66 percent of suburbanites say rebuilding cities and relying more on public transportation is the most effective way to reduce sprawl and traffic congestion. Additionally, 81 percent of city and 73 percent of suburban residents support using tax dollars for both public transportation improvements in their community.  More than half of both groups support discouraging overdevelopment of suburban areas.

New Poll Shows Americans Support Efforts to Stop Sprawl: 9/00
Fed up with traffic gridlock worsened by runaway sprawl, Americans favor “smart growth” to reduce traffic congestion, preserve existing communities and protect the environment and open space, according to a new national poll. Commissioned by Smart Growth America the poll shows that 78 percent of Americans support policies to curb sprawl. Over 80 percent of respondents think government should give priority to maintaining services and infrastructure in established communities before subsidizing sprawl. 

NJ Voters Favor Spending On Existing Communities Over New Development 6/00
Eight in 10 New Jersey voters feel the state is running out of land, and more than three-quarters say the state should give spending priority to existing communities over new development.

National Poll Shows Strong Public Support for Parks and Open Spaces 7/99

Real Estate Investors Acknowledge Trend Away From Traditional Suburbs 
Land Lease Real Estate Investments, a highly respected financial services company focused exclusively on real estate, each year releases its Emerging Trends in Real Estate report which advises investors on the direction of the real estate marketplace.  Continuing on a theme prevalent throughout much of the real estate literature over the last decade, the Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2000 report repeatedly notes the frustration and emerging disinterest with traditional suburban development.  It goes on to list mass transportation as a "definite edge" for cities, and notes that "political tides are finally turning against sprawl, as quality-of-life issues force government officials to look at smart-growth controls and put the brakes on development." 

Getting on Message: Making the Biodiversity-Sprawl Connection
Need a fresh approach to your outreach on sprawl and smart growth? The Biodiversity Project’s recently published Getting on Message: Making the Biodiversity-Sprawl Connection can help. The kit contains: 1) fact sheets on biodiversity and sprawl that can be distributed to journalists, public leaders and others for concise background information on these issues; 2) communications tip sheets on sprawl, designed for internal use by smart growth advocates, to help you develop more powerful communications strategies and messages; 3) sample smart growth and biodiversity advertisements and logos that advocates can adapt and use in their local campaigns. For a copy of the kit (at $15 each), contact the Biodiversity Project: or visit their website:

Survey Finds Americans Most Concerned With Local Problems:
Sprawl and Traffic 
For all the attention given global issues like foreign affairs and the environment, Americans say they are most concerned with local problems such as traffic congestion and crime.  Asked about the most important issues facing their communities, 18 percent of those questioned in a poll [sponsored by Pew Center for Civic Journalism] said they were worried about sprawl, traffic and overdevelopment driven by the country's sizzling economy. Another 18 percent said they were most concerned about crime and violence. (AP, 2/15) 

Backgrounder on Pro-Sprawl Players and Messages

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. 

Some 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
regulations create unnecessary and burdensome bureaucratic hurdles, which stifle economic growth.  "Wise-use" advocates see little or no need for constraints on the exploitation of resources for short-term economic benefits and argue that such exploitation can be accelerated
with no adverse long-term consequences.  "Property rights" advocates espouse, for example, full compensation for any loss of actual or potential property value resulting from land use restrictions. 

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

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. 

Randal 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  His articles include "ISTEA: A Poisonous Brew for America's Cities," and the "Coming War with the Automobile." 

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." 

Shortly 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:

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:

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.

Heritage 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
think tank in Washington, as reflected in a survey of congressional staff and journalists conducted in 1997.  Heritage's Environment Program focuses on "defending property rights" and attacking government regulation.  Writing for Heritage is Wendell Cox, author of "The President's New Sprawl Initiative: A  Program in Search of a Problem" (Backgrounder #1263, March 18, 1999)".  Heritage Foundation funding includes grants from General Motors. 

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:

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:

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:

National 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
vice-president of the Center and author of several articles critical of smart growth, including "Clinton's Urban Sprawl Program Threatens Freedom and the Environment". 

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:

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: 

The 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: and  The Partnership for Quality Growth, a nationwide group of business and  industry, announced the launch of a national public education campaign. 

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

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.