Join Now

APA Utah News & Events

Quality of Life – A Dishonest Approach to Change in Neighborhood Character

April 6, 2022 by admin

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of APAUT.

The most abused phrase in city hall is “quality of life.” Inherently ambiguous and subjective, quality of life has become the dog whistle phrase for the NIMBY movement. No one can tell you what it means, but they’re sure that growth and progress will destroy theirs. City leaders need to stop using “quality of life” as their inability to accept and adapt to growth in their communities.

What is Quality of Life?

According to , the measure of quality of life began in the following context.

Academic interest in quality of life grew after World War II, when there was increasing awareness and recognition of social inequalities. This provided the impetus for social indicators research and subsequently for research on subjective well-being and quality of life. The patient’s view of his or her own health had long played some role in medical consultation; however, in terms of the health care literature, researchers did not begin collecting and reporting such data systematically until the 1960s.

The same webpage defined “quality of life” as the following.

Quality of life, the degree to which an individual is healthy, comfortable, and able to participate in or enjoy life events. The term quality of life is inherently ambiguous, as it can refer both to the experience an individual has of his or her own life and to the living conditions in which individuals find themselves. Hence, quality of life is highly subjective. Whereas one person may define quality of life according to wealth or satisfaction with life, another person may define it in terms of capabilities (e.g., having the ability to live a good life in terms of emotional and physical well-being). A disabled person may report a high quality of life, whereas a healthy person who recently lost a job may report a low quality of life. Within the arena of health care, quality of life is viewed as multidimensional, encompassing emotional, physical, material, and social well-being.

The website “Notes on Quality of Life” ( ) had this thought as a working definition of quality of life from a scientific perspective.

The purpose of the Quality of Life Index (QOLI) is to provide a tool for community development which can be used to monitor key indicators that encompass the social, health, environmental and economic dimensions of the quality of life in the community. The QLI can be used to comment frequently on key issues that affect people and contribute to the public debate about how to improve the quality of life in the community. It is intended to monitor conditions which affect the living and working conditions of people and focus community action on ways to improve health.

Quality of Life is the product of the interplay among social, health, economic and environmental conditions which affect human and social development.

Quality of life started first as an assessment of an individual’s health and second as an indicator of “increasing awareness and recognition of social inequalities.”

What is NIMBYism?

NIMBYism (or Not in My Back Yard) first began to be used in the mid-1970s to describe the protest of people living in communities where nuclear power plants were being proposed. NIMBYism started as a legitimate concern about quality of life. You can’t argue that a nuclear power plant near your home could affect your quality of life. In the event of a leak or a more severe accident, nuclear power plants could kill you.

Overtime, NIMBYism has grown as a general term for any protest against the physical changes associated with growth. Today, NIMBYism is more closely defined as neighbors fighting development such as new high-density housing or socially unacceptable land use such as a prison. Again, with its roots in a legitimate concern about health and loss of life, NIMBYism has evolved into a more general fear of unknown changes in a community or neighborhood that have nothing to do with health. NIMBYism today sometimes has to do with a quantifiable change like increased traffic. Still, it is generally more concerned with socio-economic change from perceived fears of different families – racial, ethnic and economic status — moving into a neighborhood.

Is Using the Phrase Quality of Life a Problem?

If Quality of Life is used to show voters that you support slow growth or no high-density growth, then yes, it’s a problem because it’s dishonest. It’s a dog whistle phrase to show you don’t support growth, or more so, high-density growth, without actually saying that. If you are against growth because you believe you will change the rural history of your city, then say that. If you are against high-density growth because it will adversely affect the neighborhood character of single-family detached neighborhoods, then say that. Be less of a politician and be more of a city resident who represents other city residents as an elected city council member or an appointed planning commissioner.

Be Concerned with Neighborhood Character and Not Quality of Life

We should be concerned with stabilizing and supporting neighborhood character. If the character of a neighborhood is a large lot single-family detached homes, then a multi-story, multi-family project is inappropriate. Would a smaller lot single-family detached home development be inappropriate? No, just different and diversified. Would townhomes built as an endcap or on a corner vacant lot in an area of smaller lot single-family detached homes? No, just different and diversified.

Neighborhood character is different from quality of life because it is an honest assessment that some differences between lots and homes will not detract from neighborhood character and likely add to it.

Written by: Stephen G. McCutchan

As a land planner for 46 years, 26 in Utah, I’ve negotiated a lot of developments.  Even after 46 years, entitlements that make a real bump in affordable housing and generate a celebratory ROI are harder than ever to negotiate.  To make a real difference, I’ve expanded my work into a team-driven approach to negotiating entitlements.  I hope that you will give me the opportunity to negotiate and design a development that makes a real difference.

Stephen G. McCutchan

Winning Strategies, LLC

Email –

APA Utah is Powered by

Platinum Sponsors

Gold Sponsors

Silver Sponsors

Bronze Sponsors