June 14, 2012

Results from APA's National Poll

Community Planners Essential to Putting America on Road to Economic Recovery

Americans' Top Priorities: Jobs, Safety, Schools

WASHINGTON, DC — With the U.S. economy struggling, Americans believe community planners should play a major role in helping the nation get back on its feet, according to a national poll released today by the American Planning Association (APA). Two-thirds of Americans believe their community needs more planning to promote economic recovery.

The poll found that Americans want planners to focus most on creating jobs — followed by safety, schools, protecting neighborhoods, and water quality. "Not only do Americans strongly believe community planning is critical to jump starting our nation's economy," said APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer, FAICP, "but a majority want to be personally involved with community planning efforts, whether they live in a city, suburb, small town, or rural America."

Full poll results are available in the report "Planning in America: Perceptions and Priorities."

According to the poll findings, planners are seen by a majority of the public as key leaders in local economic recovery. The poll, which surveyed 1,300 Americans, asked: "Which of the following do you want your local planners to spend their time on?"

The top priorities:

  • Job creation: 70 percent
  • Safety: 69 percent
  • Schools: 67 percent
  • Protecting neighborhoods: 64 percent
  • Water quality: 62 percent

APA President Mitchell Silver, AICP, said the association commissioned the poll to better understand what Americans think planners' priorities should be in light of several trends including local government budget tightening; a decline in private sector investment; significant new federal investment in planning grants to sustain communities; and attempts by a small but vocal minority of the country's electorate to obstruct local planning and community engagement activities.

Silver said that 67 percent of respondents believe that "engaging citizens through local planning is essential to rebuilding local economies, creating jobs, and improving people's lives."

A broad majority of poll respondents — 79 percent — agreed that their community could benefit from a plan. The desire for increased local planning for economic growth runs across the political spectrum with support among two-thirds of Republicans and Independents and three-quarters of Democrats.

Among the poll's other findings:

  • Compared with five years ago, 84 percent of Americans believe their community is getting worse or staying the same. 
  • About two-thirds of respondents (66 percent) say both market forces and community planning are necessary for economic improvement and job creation. Just 14 percent believe that market forces alone will do the job.
  • Asked what makes an ideal community, half or more of respondents said having locally-owned businesses nearby (55 percent); the ability to grow old in the same neighborhood (54 percent); availability of sidewalks (53 percent); energy-efficient homes (52 percent); and availability of transit (50 percent). 
  • The vast majority of Americans — 85 percent — do not know enough about United Nations Agenda 21 to have an opinion about it. Nine percent said they support the document, and 6 percent oppose it.

"Planners are at the forefront of building communities that foster economic growth and create jobs.  We're working to add value to communities around the country, and this poll confirms that our expertise is aligned with the priorities of most Americans," Farmer said.

Silver added, "Communities that plan for the future are stronger and more resilient than those that don't. The country faces significant changes and challenges. Planners stand ready to work with local citizens to build this recovery, and a better future, one neighborhood at a time."

The research study was commissioned to objectively determine what the general public wants from community planning and what perceptions exist. Collective Strength, a firm specializing in outreach and communications, designed the questionnaire and performed the analytics. Harris Interactive reviewed the questionnaire to ensure objectivity and fielded the survey in March. A representative sample of Americans, based on the most recent U.S. Census estimates, was surveyed with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.


Denny Johnson, APA Public Affairs; 202-349-1006; djohnson@planning.org

Jason Jordan, APA Policy and Government Affairs; 202-349-1005; jjordan@planning.org