Quality of Life Amenities as Contributors to Local Economies: Views of City Managers

This study asks whether municipal leaders consider quality of life amenities as potential contributors to a local economy.
April 12, 2017

James M. Vanderleeuw and Jason C. Sides
Journal of Urban Affairs
Volume 38, Issue 5, December 2016


This study asks whether municipal leaders consider quality of life amenities as potential contributors to a local economy. Specifically, the authors are interested in these questions: Does the importance placed on such amenities as parks, arts and cultural institutions, and recreational services by city leaders depend upon which economic objectives they are prioritizing? Two objectives core to economic development are considered: job creation and increasing city revenue. The study delves deeper in an effort to determine whether these leaders differentiate between specific amenities when viewed through the lens of their economic objectives.

The authors start by providing a historical overview of the influence of cultural issues in local politics, writing that the result of the increased wealth and educational levels that came after World War II is a “modern public that wants both economic growth and quality of life, not a trade-off between the two.” These preferences can be expressed through the public’s electoral decisions about city leaders. The authors predict that community amenities, despite the cost of providing them, will be part of an economic-development strategy when revenue is most desired.


The study’s findings were generated using original survey data gathered in 2011 from the city managers of 133 Texas cities with populations of more than 5,000. The authors studied seven quality of life amenities and found that officials utilized them selectively as part of their economic-development efforts. Specifically, the study confirms that the city managers surveyed view community amenities as driving revenue gains more than job creation.

Why this matters to practitioners:

This finding can be considered particularly compelling as the study was conducted in Texas, a pro-business state where one might predict a strong preference for strategies “that focus on attracting business by reducing the cost of doing business rather than through amenities.” City leaders may want to read this study to learn how peers are weighing specific economic-development strategies and what variables affect their decision-making. Further, this study has implications for municipal leaders not currently prioritizing the public’s desire for quality of life amenities or aware of the strong potential for these amenities to drive revenue and citizen satisfaction.