City Officials' Take on Local Development Trends, Impacts

By Stern, Emily | Nation's Cities Weekly, May 22, 2000 | Go to article overview

City Officials' Take on Local Development Trends, Impacts


Stern, Emily, Nation's Cities Weekly


The following excerpt is from NLC's 1999 "State of America's Cities" survey report. The survey examined city officials' opinions about development patterns and "sprawl." The survey asked city officials across the nation how they view development patterns in their regions, how these development patterns impact their cities, and how they, as city officials, make decisions regarding local development.

Regional growth and development generate a number of benefits for cities, local governments, and residents, not the least of which are economic--business growth, jobs, and tax base. But growth also carries real costs. In the absence of sound planning and wise decision making about how development occurs, unbridled growth and development can breed a host of threats to the quality of community life, municipal resources, and the natural environment.

Overall growth and development patterns. The 1999 State of America's Cities survey report explored how regional growth and development patterns impact cities. While half of all city officials (51%) in all regions say that development has been well-planned, a striking counterpoint exists: four out of ten city officials (40%) believe that development in their region or metropolitan area over the past 5 years has been poorly planned and sprawling.

Significant numbers of city officials from regions with both growing and declining populations and job bases agree that development has been poorly planned and sprawling (40% of city officials in growing regions and 70% of city officials in shrinking regions). In fact, in regions that have been losing population or jobs, more than twice as many city officials criticize development patterns as praise them.

This split view of regional development patterns among city officials reflects the range of development practices across the country and shows how different regions have followed varying development trajectories. Nevertheless, the sizable number of city officials reporting negative regional development patterns suggests that they, like many others, are part of a growing chorus of criticism of "sprawl" conditions with an eye toward fostering more sustainable development practices.

Impacts of regional development patterns on cities.

The survey asked local officials to examine how the pattern of growth and development in their region or metropolitan area has impacted a variety of conditions in their cities. In addition to examining city officials' views on development impacts as a whole, we also looked at how these views varied based on their original characterizations of growth and development trends in their regions.

Local officials generally see economic opportunities as the biggest overall benefits to recent growth and development patterns. Eight out of ten (79%) city officials indicate that recent growth and development patterns have had a positive or very positive effect on business development in their cities. Likewise, one-quarter (74%) of city officials say that these trends have had a positive or very positive effect on job opportunities, and more than two-thirds cite positive impacts on local government-business collaboration (72%) and the local tax base (69%). With the exception of city officials who characterize their regions by both a decline in population/jobs and poor planning/sprawl, most local officials largely agree that their cities reap these economic benefits as a result of the regions' growth and development patterns--whatever their shape and form.

While six out of ten (61%) city officials indicate that recent growth and development trends in their region have had a positive or very positive effect on the quality of community life, it is also interesting to note that one out every five officials (20%) feel that these trends have had a negative or very negative effect on the quality of community life. City officials who characterized their regional development patterns as poorly planned and sprawling are generally more critical of the resulting impacts on community life in their cities than are their counterparts who attest to well-planned development.

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City Officials' Take on Local Development Trends, Impacts
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