Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Another growth machine lesson: the David Wilmot edition

I frequently tout the Growth Machine thesis first discussed by Sociologist Harvey Molotch in a 1976 article in the American Journal of Sociology, "The City as a Growth Machine: Toward a Political Economy of Place." His basic point is that despite seeming intra-elite competition, local political and economic elites are united on a pro-growth, pro-land use intensification agenda.

More to the point, former GWU professor Howard Gillette's book, Between Justice and Beauty describes the tension in the local political economy over "social justice" vs. land use issues. Part of the definition of the social justice argument has to do with the development of a local African-American business elite.

This is also covered in the long out-of-print tome Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C., 1964-1994 (Washington Monthly review), which in chapter 4, brings these threads together over land use and the provision of pieces of the action to local players.

This argument has played forward ever since, as new administrations have their own favored players from their posses (e.g., Fenty vs. Gray and the Council about the lottery, Fenty's buddies getting parks department and other contracts, etc.)

David Wilmot, featured in a piece in the Washington Times yesterday, "A familiar face in D.C. Wal-Mart deal: Company lobbyist has financial interest in land chosen for store," about self-dealing with regard to a tract of land at New Jersey Avenue and H Street NW where a local group received development rights but left the land fallow for 20+ years, is perhaps the king of the kind of dealing described in Dream City.

He is a lobbyist, a lawyer representing clients with tough issues they need to express, he is a government contractor (his group homes have come under attack for poor service, but he gets big income as president of the organization and so do his friends, "Nickles Drags Wilmot Back to Court" from the Washington City Paper), he has a small piece of the predominately Hispanic owned Marriott Courtyard hotel next to the New York Avenue Metro Station (D.C.’s first Hispanic-owned Marriott set to open" from the Washington Business Journal ), etc.

There is another Washington Times piece today about the DC Government response to yesterday's reporting, "D.C. officials declare end to ‘land bank’: Developers must build or get out," but the reality is that this purported desire to strengthen procedures will never happen.

The "system" is set up to work the way it does to benefit developers and the well-connected, not to generate better returns for DC Government and the citizens of the city.

If it changes, I'll be incredibly surprised.

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