The complexity of public attitudes toward compact development

Paul Lewis, Mark Baldassare

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Problem: The future of compact development depends in part on understanding and shaping the public's attitudes toward it. Previous studies have suggested life cycle, socioeconomic, attitudinal, and ideological dimensions to preferences regarding development patterns, but rarely have all of these factors been examined systematically across a broad, generalizable sample of respondents. Purpose: To examine public attitudes toward compact development, we asked survey respondents to weigh four important tradeoffs between compact and sprawling growth. We assess the relative influence of a variety of individual characteristics on these attitudes. Methods: We use results from two large-scale, randomized telephone surveys, one conducted in California in 2002 and the other in four other southwestern states in 2007. Using logistic regression, we assess which personal characteristics are associated with stated preferences regarding compact development, and illustrate their degree of influence. Results and conclusions: Support for the compact development alternatives is significant, in some cases exceeding support for traditional, decentralized suburban patterns. However, question wording appears to matter considerably, and individuals' beliefs about different facets of compact development are often inconsistent. Although race, income, age, and the presence of children in the household are strongly associated with some views on the four tradeoffs, only political ideology is consistently associated with opposition to compact development. Takeaway for practice: The significant support evident for compact development may not translate into actual housing choices unless local governments and lenders do more to support the production of such housing and neighborhood environments. If, as our results suggest, a major constituency for transit-oriented and mixed-use projects is low income residents, renters, and minorities, then well crafted urban infill projects that take into account the needs of these groups will help fulfill the potential of smart growth. Advocates might also frame compact development to appeal more to political conservatives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-237
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the American Planning Association
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2010


  • Compact development
  • Ideology
  • Mixed use
  • Public opinion
  • Smart growth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Urban Studies


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