Community Resistance and Discretionary Strategies in Planning Sustainable Development: The Case of Colorado Cities

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access

Community Resistance and Discretionary Strategies in Planning Sustainable Development: The Case of Colorado Cities


  • William L. Swann School of Public Affairs, University of Colorado Denver, USA
  • Shelley McMullen School of Public Affairs, University of Colorado Denver, USA / College of Architecture and Planning, University of Colorado Denver, USA
  • Dan Graeve School of Public Affairs, University of Colorado Denver, USA
  • Serena Kim School of Public Affairs, University of Colorado Denver, USA


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Abstract:  How bureaucrats exercise administrative discretion is an enduring question in urban planning and democratic governance. Conflicts between urban planners’ professional recommendations and community stakeholders’ demands play out especially in the sustainable development context, where planners confront value conflicts between environmental, economic, and social goals. This article investigates the sources of community resistance to sustainable development and the discretionary strategies planners employ to persuade communities towards a more sustainable future. Utilizing a descriptive case study design, we examine four Colorado cities experiencing growth and community resistance to sustainable development practices. We find that while planners face community resistance from a multitude of sources, including developer pressures, NIMBYism and density concerns, and distrust of the planning profession, planners also work within their discretionary space using interdepartmental coordination, communication and outreach, data and evidence, rule changes, and neutral stewardship to encourage sustainable development. Implications for planning practice and future research are discussed.

Keywords:  administrative discretion; community resistance; discretionary strategies; local governance; NIMBY; sustainable development

Published:   27 December 2019


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/up.v4i4.2384


© William L. Swann, Shelley McMullen, Dan Graeve, Serena Kim. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.