Smart Growth Debate Strategies
by Charles Bevier
To combat the hysterical cry of âsprawl is coming, sprawl is coming,â builders need to build a coalition with other businessesâespecially 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.
âDonât 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. âIf you donât start now, youâre likely to lose the debate. If you wait until thereâs a no-growth city council elected, youâre likely to lose. If you donât work to ally yourself with others in the community that have a stake in this, youâre likely to lose. The time is now. Start today,â? he says.
Itâs Quality of Life, Stupid
Much like Clintonâs election theme of âItâs the economy, stupid!â? you need to stay on message about the quality of life being linked to economic opportunity and housing. Donât define growth as being linked to your livelihood, but rather from a community-wide perspective.
âItâs important for communities to realize that the debate over growth is not an either-or issue,â? says Fairchild. âAffordable housing is part of that quality of life. As a builder, you are an integral part of the community. Youâve made the community so attractive, they donât 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 didnât want to live there, youâd be out of business. And so would a lot of other businesses.
âHome builders are for reasonable, environmentally friendly growth. Point that out. Make them aware that any no-growth policy is a threat to all businessesâand ultimately to their quality of life. Why? Because if housing prices skyrocket, businesses will pull out of the community because they canât 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.