Smart Growth Debate Strategies
by Charles Bevier

To combat the hysterical cry of ‘sprawl is coming, sprawl is coming,’ builders need to build a coalition with other businesses—especially the agricultural community.

The debate over smart growth is coming to the forefront of the political landscape in both small and large communities across the United States. If home builders are to educate consumers, lawmakers and opinion leaders about the complexity of the problem, then each of us needs to get involved and stay involved, warn media consultants Ken Fairchild and Bob Moomey, who counsel builders on smart growth debate strategies.

“Don’t wait to be attacked to get involved. The key is to get ahead of the wave, instead of getting crushed by it later,â€? says Moomey.

Whether your market is modular, log or panelized homes, you need to be involved in defining the problem and searching for solutions. “If you don’t start now, you’re likely to lose the debate. If you wait until there’s a no-growth city council elected, you’re likely to lose. If you don’t work to ally yourself with others in the community that have a stake in this, you’re likely to lose. The time is now. Start today,â€? he says.

It’s Quality of Life, Stupid
Much like Clinton’s election theme of “It’s the economy, stupid!â€? you need to stay on message about the quality of life being linked to economic opportunity and housing. Don’t define growth as being linked to your livelihood, but rather from a community-wide perspective.

“It’s important for communities to realize that the debate over growth is not an either-or issue,â€? says Fairchild. “Affordable housing is part of that quality of life. As a builder, you are an integral part of the community. You’ve made the community so attractive, they don’t want to let anyone else in. Are builders for unbridled, unplanned growth? Of course not, since this affects the overall quality of life. If people didn’t want to live there, you’d be out of business. And so would a lot of other businesses.

“Home builders are for reasonable, environmentally friendly growth. Point that out. Make them aware that any no-growth policy is a threat to all businesses—and ultimately to their quality of life. Why? Because if housing prices skyrocket, businesses will pull out of the community because they can’t house their workers there. Thus begins a slow economic decline that can be very difficult to reverse.â€?

Moomey and Fairchild recommend builders reach out to editorial boards of newspapers and the producers of local broadcast news. Alert them that you are willing to put a face on the need for affordable housing by providing stories of your clients who are realizing the American dream.