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Taking a Closer Look

Why is Everybody So Mad About Development?

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In recent months, newspapers around the country have reported about homeowners jamming public hearings to condemn proposed subdivisions and strip centers near their homes; demonstrators shouting down a developer who proposed a new condominium complex; angry neighbors storming onto a local tennis court to berate a development lawyer; and even how the Sierra Club has turned its attention from saving distant wilderness areas to fighting local developers.

A rising tide of hostility is engulfing developers, homebuilders and their representatives from Phoenix to Philadelphia. Growth is a hot political issue for local governments in every region of the country. Snarling traffic, crowded schools and tepid house prices have caused one jurisdiction after another to crack down on “development.”

What’s everybody so mad about? Why has fighting development become a national pastime? And, what, if anything, can builders do to alleviate public opposition to new development?

Developers haven’t always been held in such low regard. In fact, throughout history, some of the America’s most famous and revered figures have been developers. Thomas Jefferson, William Penn, James Oglethorpe and Jim Rouse to name just a few. The University of Virginia, Philadelphia and Savannah’s squares, Charleston’s row houses, Rockefeller Center, Baltimore’s inner harbor, the tree-shaded streets of Coral Gables, Oak Park, Chevy Chase, and many more of America’s most beloved and memorable places have been built by developers. What’s changed? …

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photo of Ed McMahonEd McMahon is one of the country’s most incisive analysts of planning and land use issues and trends. He holds the Charles Fraser Chair on Sustainable Development and is a Senior Resident Fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, DC. McMahon is a frequent speaker at conferences on planning and land development.

Over the past 21 years, we’ve been pleased to have published more than two dozen articles by McMahon in the Planning Commissioners Journal, and now on

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