Voting on open space: What explains the appearance and support of municipal-level open space conservation referenda in the United States?

Erik Nelson, Michinori Uwasu, Stephen Polasky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations

Abstract

Numerous communities in the United States have been willing to use public funds to protect open space. The amount of money allocated for open space protection by local and state governments exceeds the budget of the largest federal land protection program in the U.S., the Conservation Reserve Program. This paper analyzes what types of municipalities hold open-space referenda and the level of support for these referenda. Factors that increased the probability of a municipality holding an open space referendum from 2000 to 2004 were large population, low population density, rapid growth of the surrounding area, and highly educated and environmentally-concerned residents. Increases in median household income up to $100,000 increased the likelihood of a vote, but further increases in income beyond $100,000 decreased the likelihood. For municipalities holding an open space referendum, factors that increased support for passage of the referendum were rapid growth, low unemployment rates, highly educated residents, and no new taxes. Given high levels of support for open space referenda (76% of municipal-level referenda held from 2000 through 2004 passed) the spatial pattern of locally-managed open space will be largely determined by the factors that affect referenda appearance on a municipal ballot. This conclusion suggests that locally-managed conservation hotspots will cluster around fast-growing affluent communities with highly educated residents. Such hotspots may or may not align with overall conservation priorities. Non-governmental and environmental organizations should focus efforts on helping communities in locally-managed conservation coldspots secure open space.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)580-593
Number of pages14
JournalEcological Economics
Volume62
Issue number3-4
DOIs
StatePublished - May 15 2007

Keywords

  • Open space
  • Referenda
  • Sprawl

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