For anyone who attends public meetings on new development, the stereotype of those who speak against increased density in cities is pretty obvious: old and white. A new survey conducted in Santa Monica, Calif. confirms this stereotype. Commissioned by the city and polling 500 adults in the 90,000-strong independent municipality in Los Angeles County, the survey found that — surprise — old and white residents tend to be the most resistant to development.
But there was one somewhat unexpected twist: Hispanic residents showed themselves to be overwhelmingly in support of new, dense construction. In fact, they were the most ardent supporters of any major ethnic group. With 70 percent of Santa Monica consisting of non-Hispanic whites and only 13 percent self-identifying as Hispanic or Latino, according to the 2010 Census, this doesn’t necessarily bode well for future development. It does, however, point to an interesting trend that could, as Los Angeles (and the rest of the country) becomes more Hispanic and less white, indicate changing attitudes over time among the population at large.
The age divide was perhaps the most obvious factor in the survey. A majority of Santa Monicans between ages 18 and 24 said they strongly supported new hotel development, while a majority of those between 60 and 64 — and nearly a majority above that age range — stated strong opposition. (Among those who wouldn’t give their age, nearly 80 percent said they were strongly opposed. Take a guess at how old those people were.)
When breaking the hotel question down by ethnicity, blacks and Latinos were the strongest supporters, with more than 60 percent either strongly or somewhat in support of proposals for new hotels in the city. Whites were the most opposed, with 42 percent declaring their strong opposition.
The survey also asked about aspects of the Bergamot Area Plan, a somewhat controversial development by Houston-based developer Hines around a future Expo Line light rail station. On this question, the city’s African Americans (a bit less than 4 percent of the population) were the most anti-growth of the major groups, with 36 percent stating their strong opposition (though a bare majority were either somewhat or strongly in favor). Hispanics, on the other hand, supported the plan by an overwhelming margin: 96 percent, with 69 percent strongly in favor. (Asian Americans, who make up 9 percent of the city, also supported the plan by a fairly wide margin, with 75 percent in favor.)
In response to a general question about new development — will it help or hurt the character of the city? — the only major ethnic group to declare itself in favor was Latinos, 70 percent of whom said it would improve the character of Santa Monica.
The Works is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.
Stephen J. Smith is a reporter based in New York. He has written about transportation, infrastructure and real estate for a variety of publications including New York Yimby, where he is currently an editor, Next City, City Lab and the New York Observer.