Agenda-Building in Local Land-Use Issues: Blacksburg Versus the Big Box

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Virginia Tech

Like other communities across the country, Blacksburg, Virginia, has struggled with land-use policy, planning, and growth issues. This struggle intensified when town residents discovered a Walmart store might be included in a new retail development project. Local interest groups quickly formed, establishing different perspectives concerning the issue, while a Blacksburg Town Council member introduced an ordinance that would give the town the power to halt plans for the store. This measure became the focal point of the conflict, and groups both supporting and opposing it worked aggressively to gain community support for their respective sides of the issue. Using Cobb and Elder's (1983) agenda-building framework, the goal of this thesis is to examine the ways various groups involved in a local land-use conflict defined, and sometimes redefined, their messages to town residents in an effort to expand the issue beyond the core members of the groups to gain more widespread support. The results of these efforts are also evaluated. A case study was conducted incorporating interviews with some of the key members of the interest groups involved in the conflict and discourse analysis to examine group messages generated during the controversy. This study found that the way an issue is defined could influence its progression and play an important role in its resolution. It also highlights definitive times during an issue's evolution that are critical to its progression. These findings demonstrate some of the benefits that can result from integrating effective issue management strategies into a communication program.

Walmart, land-use issues, issue management, public policy, agenda-building