Natural resources and open space in the residential decision process: A study of recent movers to fringe counties in southeast Michigan

Christine A. Vogt, Robert W. Marans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Within many metropolitan areas of the United States, there is great diversity in the type and location of housing available to homebuyers. Of this diversity, new single-family homes built at the urban fringe have become the subject of much criticism in planning circles because of the potential impacts such development can have on agricultural, forest, and other lands valued for their natural resource qualities. To better understand the underlying decisions upon which these prevailing patterns of development are based, we asked new homebuyers about the importance of home, lot, neighborhood, and community features in their recent decision to purchase a home at the urban fringe. Two samples of residents living in fringe areas of the Detroit metropolitan area of southeast Michigan were studied to examine homebuying decision making. A general population mail survey was used to study individuals who purchased a single-family home within the past 7 years, and to contrast them with less recent homebuyers. Focus groups were also used to sample a smaller, more selected group of individuals who purchased homes in open space subdivisions within the same fringe area. Using the general population sample, demographic, geographic, and neighborhood preference variables were analyzed along with homebuying choice factors to identify segments of the population who found natural and openness neighborhood features important in their home purchase decisions. Focus groups were used to further explore how homeowners thought about and valued natural, open characteristics of the landscape. Together, these studies showed that preferences for natural and openness features were not universally important across homeowners in urban fringe areas. While respondents with high household incomes and those living in rural townships tended to rate natural and openness features higher than other income and geographic groups, as a preference factor in homebuying decisions, natural and openness features were generally overshadowed by considerations for neighborhood and housing design, schools, and access. Nor did natural and openness preferences necessarily relate to sprawl-minimizing behaviors, as findings showed that these features tended to be rated as more important by homeowners who also preferred large lot, auto-oriented neighborhoods. While focus group participants living in open space neighborhoods placed great importance on naturalness and openness in their purchase decision, these new homebuyers are a fairly small fraction of all new homebuyers in the metropolitan area. Together, these findings indicate that land use policies in urban fringe areas that attempt to preserve natural and rural features might need further consumer support in order to sustain or expand these housing market segments that aim to preserve the original character of the area. Otherwise, traditional development strategies that market homes based solely on home and neighborhood features, schools, and access to transportation may win out.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-269
Number of pages15
JournalLandscape and Urban Planning
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Aug 15 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Detroit metropolitan area
  • Homebuying decision making
  • Natural environments
  • Open space neighborhoods
  • Quantitative and qualitative methods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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