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.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Minneapolis growth machine

Graphic of a construction crane from the Raleigh News & Observer.  Construction cranes are the "trees" of large scale real estate projects built upon concrete foundations.

This blog has mentioned the Growth Machine thesis of Harvey Molotch ("City as a Growth Machine: Toward a Political Economy of Place" and Urban Fortunes: Towards a Political Economy of Place) many many times over the years.  The thesis, from the original article, is pretty clear:
A city and, more generally, any locality, is conceived as the areal expression of the interests of some land-based elite. Such an elite is seen to profit through the increasing intensification of the land use of the area in which its members hold a common interest. An elite competes with other land-based elites in an effort to have growth-inducing resources invested within its own area as opposed to that of another. Governmental authority, at the local and nonlocal levels, is utilized to assist in achieving this growth at the expense of competing localities. Conditions of community life are largely a consequence of the social, economic, and political forces embodied in this growth machine.
I summarize it as "despite seeming intra-elite competition, local political and economic elites are united on a pro-growth, real estate driven agenda."

While the Growth Machine thesis is superior in explaining why the local elites are organized and active in the manner that they are, the Urban Regime theory from political science is useful in describing how the coalition organizes and operates. From "Now What? The continuing evolution of Urban Regime analysis," by Professor Clarence Stone:
An urban regime can be preliminarily defined as the informal arrangements through which a locality is governed (Stone 1989). Because governance is about sustained efforts, it is important to think in agenda terms rather than about stand-alone issues. By agenda I mean the set of challenges which policy makers accord priority. A concern with agendas takes us away from focusing on short-term controversies and instead directs attention to continuing efforts and the level of weight they carry in the political life of a community. Rather than treating issues as if they are disconnected, a governance perspective calls for considering how any given issue fits into a flow of decisions and actions. This approach enlarges the scope of what is being analyzed, looking at the forest not a particular tree here or there. (emphasis added, in this paragraph and below)

In discussing Atlanta, Stone writes: "Land use, transportation, and housing formed an interrelated agenda that the city's major economic interests were keen to advance;" and

By looking closely at the policy role of business leaders and how their position in the civic structure of a community enabled that role, he identified connections between Atlanta's governing coalition and the resources it brought to bear, and on to the scheme of cooperation that made this informal system work. In his own way, Hunter had identified the key elements in an urban regime – governing coalition, agenda, resources, and mode of cooperation. These elements could be brought into the next debate about analyzing local politics, a debate about structural determinism.
Otherwise it fails to properly ascribe motives and purpose, not wanting to state with certainty that the Growth Coalition is primarily driven by economics.

And earlier this week I mentioned Professor G. William Domhoff's paper, "Power at the Local Level: Growth Coalition Theory," where he lodges his support for the Growth Machine thesis.

The Growth Machine in Minneapolis-St. Paul.  These writings allow one to develop context for reading the New York Times article "In the Twin Cities, Local Leaders Wield Influence Behind the Scenes," about the coordinators of the Growth Machine in Minneapolis-St. Paul, the Itasca Project. From the article:
Every Friday morning, 14 men and women who oversee some of the biggest companies, philanthropies and other institutions in Minneapolis, St. Paul and the surrounding area gather here over breakfast to quietly shape the region's economic agenda.

They form the so-called Working Team of the Itasca Project, a private civic initiative by 60 or so local leaders to further growth and development in the Twin Cities.
The article claims the organization is more diverse than such groups in the past, and that they care about more than growth, but also "economic disparities and racial discrimination."

But it doesn't describe a "governing coalition, agenda, resources, and mode of cooperation" fundamentally different from that outlined by Logan and Molotch in Urban Fortunes.

Given how the leaders of the Minneapolis branch of the Growth Machine are painted as particularly enlightened, the article would have been more interesting had the journalist reached out to academics writing on the subject of local economic and political elites and the growth agenda.

Not being familiar enough with the ins and outs of political economy in MSP, I have my doubts that the group is particularly concerned about non-economic issues, unless such issues have the potential to shape negatively the local economy and external perceptions of it.  Plus, it's a way to make the elites control of the local political and economic agenda more palatable and seemingly caring (a form of paternalism).

Black Lives Matter protesters gathered in the passenger drop-off area outside Terminal 2 at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport after their protest moved there from the Mall of America on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015. (Pioneer Press: Nick Woltman).

For example, the local growth machine as represented by the Itasca Project can't be happy about police killings of African-Americans and the response in terms of Black Lives Matter demonstrations at the Mall of America and the local airport, which have received national and international media coverage ("Black Lives Matter protest snarls Minneapolis-St. Paul airport," USA Today; "Black Lives Matter fizzles at Mall of America, causes brief shutdowns at MSP airport," St. Paul Pioneer-Press).

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