Open Space Neighborhoods: Residents’ Views on New Forms of Development


  • Christine A. Vogt
  • Robert W. Marans


planning, private conservation initiatives, environmental stewardship, land use policy.


This study examined the role and impact of residential development in rapidly growing areas of the Detroit metropolitan area. Specifically, residents who moved to relatively new residential open spacedesigned subdivisions were asked about their perceptions of land use design associated with growth, stakeholders who control land use policy and growth, and management of conserved areas within their subdivisions. Residents were recruited from eighteen neighborhoods in three southeast Michigan counties. Selected neighborhoods contained designated open space or some noteworthy natural resource (e.g., shoreline of a lake, wetland, forest, meadow). Dialogue with 120 residents during 18 focus group sessions and a questionnaire administered in the focus group provided data covering residents’ views on the role of open space and natural resource conservation beyond their own property. Results show residents were most concerned about maintaining quality of life when confronted with the prospects of growth in their county. They were more concerned about the preservation of natural areas near their homes than preserving natural areas in the larger setting. Residents were less concerned about low density home building (less homes per acre) than home building with higher densities (more homes per acre). Views on who controls growth ranged from developers, local government including planners, and local residents. Residents felt they can shape land use policy by attending local planning and zoning board meetings and voting for bond and millage proposals that fund infrastructure development. However, some residents believed that these rights were not always exercised. Focus group participants acknowledged they live in neighborhoods requiring natural resource management and stewardship beyond their own properties. Different care and maintenance arrangements were identified including residents serving on a beautification committee, voluntary neighborhood clean-up days, and maintenance contracts with landscaping firms. Residents may not recognize the significance of their home-purchase decision to living in a sustainable neighborhood development; however, their participation and exposure to resource issues are necessary steps to expanding and enhancing community managed resources according to Agenda 21. Our findings show neighborhoods with shared open space can play a role in conserving natural resources in rapidly growing urban-fringe areas.