Strategies and Constraints of Growth Elites
by Harvey Molotch
In Scott Cummings, ed., Business Elites and Urban Development: Case Studies and Critical Perspectives. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988, pp. 25-47.
I have argued that virtually all U.S. cities are dominated by a small, parochial elite whose members have business or professional interests that are linked to local development and growth. These elites use public authority and private power as a means to stimulate economic development and thus enhance their own local business interests. They turn their cities, as active, dynamic units, into instruments for accomplishing the growth goals that will enhance their fortunes. The city becomes, for all intents and purposes, a "growth machine."' The operation of cities as growth machines has an impact on the quality and distribution of growth within and among urban areas (Molotch, 1976).
After spelling out this growth machine perspective in more detail, I will identify five alternative analytic approaches to understanding the development of U.S. cities. I will argue that rather than being in necessary opposition to the growth machine perspective or to one another, each approach can help explain how urban growth machines operate and how they come to differ from one another. My overall aim is to use the growth machine analysis to arrive at a comprehensive view of the urban system and thus provide a framework for explaining differences among urban areas.
The Growth Machine Argument
In capitalist societies, particularly those such as the U.S., in which land and buildings can be bought and sold as though they were simple commodities, urban areas become the arena in which property entrepreneurs use government and other civic institutions to maximize returns on their investments. The best way to make money from such places is to increase the intensity of economic activity occurring within one's turf. It is better to have a thousand apartment units on a given acre of residential land than a single-family house. It is better to have a bank's world headquarters located on one's commercial parcel than Joe's Hot Dog Stand. High levels of economic activity provide high "rents," whether in the form of monthly payments by tenants to landlords or, what is essentially rent in a different form, higher sales prices paid by the buyer of property to the previous owner.
While property entrepreneurs within a locality compete with one another to push development in the direction of their own property instead of someone else's, all such actors stand to gain in common if activity levels increase in the locality as a whole. Area-wide intensification, ordinarily in the form of increments to the basic economy which, in turn, generate labor in-migration and other economic growth (e.g., wholesale and retail trade), benefits the investments of all local property entrepreneurs. Local real estate investors thus make up a reliable core for the growth machine elite. Their common urban program is to attract more jobs, people, and thus rents. Furthermore, just as entrepreneurs within an urban area try to affect the local distribution of growth, unified city elites compete against their counterparts throughout the country, and even the world, for a maximum share of the spoils of development for their town, city, or region. There is a sort of "nested" hierarchy of growth machines in which elites at each geographical system-level compete for growth among themselves, but then unify when competing with the larger-scale units that they have a common interest in overtaking.
The people who make up growth machines are not just the owners of land and buildings, but include others who have their fortunes tied to a specific area's growth. Local financial institutions, because they often extend loans to property purchasers and businesses within a given geographic region, develop such a vested interest in local turf. To the degree that area activity intensifies, their borrowers will be better able to pay back the loans extended to them. Growth will also provide more depositors and customers to pay interest on future loans. Similarly, the local newspaper can prosper only to the degree that there are additional subscribers who in turn will attract more advertising. Various people whose livelihood involves serving the needs of any of these entrepreneurs-real estate lawyers, accountants, property management firms, advertising agencies, construction supply houses, title companies, and so forth-have a similar vested interest in the success of the local growth machine. Even museums, universities, and social service organizations may come to support the growth goal, either to increase patronage or to curry favor from the elites who give money and serve on their boards of directors.
Often playing only a subsidiary role in growth machine maneuvers are corporations that, while perhaps operating locally, can generate their investment return anywhere. McDonald's can franchise its burger shops wherever people end up locating, and General Motors has no principled interest in increasing the number of people who may come to live in the city in which it has built a branch plant. To be sure, elements of cosmopolitan capital that happen to be on the local scene are always sympathetic to the agenda of the local growth machine. The domination of localities by growth interests is completely harmonious with corporate executives' "free enterprise" ideology and helps provide local governments that will honor the wishes of nationwide (and multinational) industry. But corporate capital has no interest in local intensification per se.
Because cities take so much of their form from the striving of competing growth elites, they show little evidence of having been planned by experts, or even of resulting from "free market" competition among entrepreneurs competing to provide the best local products? Instead, the commonplace inefficiency of cities stands as evidence that the local development agenda is, in fact, organized by elites who manipulate land and buildings to enhance rents and profits. Because neither a rational bureaucracy nor a rational market organizes what happens, cities can be overdeveloped, deserted, or inconveniently arranged. Cities are "designed" primarily to maximize returns for the organizationally successful entrepreneurs.
Although growth may increase rents for those situated to collect them, many local citizens are left out of the growth benefits, although they do share-disproportionately in some cases-in growth costs. Tenants often end up paying more rent, not less, when their city grows. Job expansion provides the economically marginal little chance of bettering their employment opportunities, because the plums tend to go to migrants with better qualifications. Environmental degradation affects everyone, particularly the poor, who tend to live and work nearest the pollution and congestion. And as the local political system strives to provide infrastructure to meet increased demand for public services, citizens are threatened by a choice of higher taxes or lower-quality services.
City building through growth machine manipulation has a long tradition. Mayor Ogden of Chicago made sure that his city (and the extensive real estate investments he had in it) would benefit from the railroad boom of the mid-nineteenth century. He did this by securing as many rail routes as possible through his turf (he was also president of several railroads). Chicago grew dramatically from the four thousand people it had when Ogden arrived in 1835, helping him turn an $8,000 land investment into a $3 million fortune within a single eight-year period. The city of Houston beat out Galveston to become the great port of Texas after its elites convinced the federal government to allocate one million dollars (not a small sum at the turn of the century) to build a canal connecting it to the Gulf of Mexico. Millions of dollars more, to deepen and improve the canal, followed.
In a more subtle case, the elites of San Francisco, using their power in Congress, made sure that the southern route of the transcontinental railroad would not terminate in San Diego. They feared that this would make San Diego, with its excellent natural port, a threat to the economic dominance of San Francisco and erode their investments in the Bay Area. They successfully pushed for Los Angeles (with no port at all) to be the southern terminus. In an ironic twist, Los Angeles did eventually overtake San Francisco, but only because later federal grants gave it the world's largest artificial harbor.
Local elites continue to mobilize outside government and private investments to secure their areas' futures. Political parties, elected officials at the local, state, and congressional levels, and business trade and development associations are intrinsic components of the growth machine. The elites of each city and region fight for airport and harbor funding, canals and freeways, defense contracts and subsidies for downtown redevelopment projects, convention centers, sport stadia, university campuses, and even arts organizations. By the time the list of participants and strategies has been completed, a very wide array of organizations and institutions are implicated in the growth machine system.
The precise dynamic of how the growth machine operates undergoes continuous change. Thus, for example, local media (as with other types of firms) have increasingly been absorbed by national corporations, eroding to some degree the effectiveness of the city newspaper in unifying parochial elites. More profoundly, the transnationalization of production in the form of a new "international division of labor" has altered the types of constraints under which any given growth elite must operate. Real estate itself, the commodity at the heart of the growth machine system, has been increasingly absorbed into the international system as foreign entrepreneurs buy up significant blocks of U.S. land and buildings. These changes inevitably alter how growth elites operate.
I see local growth elites as having a certain degree of discretion that can only be exercised within a set of constraints. Local elites must either adapt to these limitations or take pains to overcome them. The specific efforts at adaptation and control over unique conditions give each local growth machine its particular texture and are crucial in making cities different from one another. While virtually all localities may be run by growth machine elites, there are differences in the quality and quantity of growth that each urban area can plausibly attract. If this were not the case, we would have to argue that the relative size of cities is simply a result of the energy and cunning of their property entrepreneurs viz-viz their counterparts elsewhere. Although such factors are no doubt important, there are other things that matter in the urban world besides the efficiency of growth elites in implementing their development agenda. These other factors are at least partial determinants of the urban system: (1) geographical features, (2) level of unity among civic leaders, (3) patterns of investment by outside corporate capital, (4) skills of local political leaders, and (5) urban social movements. I will indicate how and why growth machines take their specific forms in response to these factors.
Physical determinants have long been recognized in urban social science as a force in determining how humans use space. Using the metaphor of biological ecology, the human ecologists emphasized the overwhelming significance of physical factors. In the ecologists' view, all urban actors, including local entrepreneurs, end up making their investments in the same way as other animal species. Individuals and groups engage in an adaptive struggle, the results of which are determined by the nature of the physical habitat. Guided by an essentially free property market, entrepreneurs allocate land and buildings in such a way that each type of land user ends up in the spot to which it is best fitted, and the places that grow the most do so because their physical nature most efficiently maximizes the survival of the largest numbers. The system always tends toward an efficiency equilibrium, and local elites are nothing more, if they are anything at all, than the passive intermediaries through which the system operates. A city grows larger than other places, for example, because it has the advantage of geographic centrality (which minimizes travel costs to peripheral points) or because of special access to natural harbors, which similarly maximizes efficiency.
Physical determinism has an obvious plausibility in explaining why certain kinds of economic development occur in one city but not in another. Cities on the water, like Baltimore, have an advantage over land-locked places in competition for port development; places with warm climates, like Southern Florida, have a better chance of attracting tourists than regions that are cold in winter. The geographic center of the city at any given moment has a special edge compared to outlying points. But attempts to build a location science on the basis of topography, physical resources, or a "spatial geometry" are doomed to fail. They ignore the human factor of social organization in determining land use, and the politics of land-use profiteering in particular. The fact that Baltimore had a natural port may have helped make that place into a significant city, but San Diego's possession of the same "asset" retarded its development as a major metropolis, for political reasons. "Geography matters," but only by looking at geography in social terms can we learn the way in which geography matters. It figures in local elites' considerations, but does not determine the outcome of those considerations.
Growth elites have the job of making the most out of the physical turf they control. Las Vegas became a major tourist and convention center without benefit of geographical centrality, access to any natural port, or even very significant advantages of climate or physical beauty. It simply enacted permissive gambling laws, and thereby made the inhospitable desert bloom with crap tables, high-rise hotels, and strips of bright neon. By embracing an activity beneath the moral contempt of people in other areas, Nevada's growth elites were able to reap their bonanza. It may not be possible to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but elites with enough power or cunning can utterly transform the meaning of physical place. The crucial point, once again, is that outcomes derive from the interaction of the physical and the social, and the social is the dynamic driving force in leading from one formation to another.
Some urban theorists have stressed variation in the degree that civic leadership can crystallize and thus pursue its "rightful" role in acting on behalf of citizens' goals. Some people, particularly the higher social classes, are allegedly more likely than others to be "public regarding," and the trick is to have such types in control of local policy agendas and decision-making structures. A shortage of persons with this civic duty altruism, their passivity, or a leadership structure that inhibits their cohesion, leads to frustration of their efforts on behalf of city betterment.
One indirect measure of leadership effectiveness is the ability of local governments to produce "policy outputs." According to this view, a city with a relatively small proportion of its work force with upper-tier occupations (managers, proprietors, and officials) should be able to operate cohesively and thus bring about policies that boost worthy civic programs." Concentration of power in a relatively few economic hands presumably means there is less capacity for competing groups to frustrate leadership action. At least implicitly, the public goal that can benefit from such cohesion is local urban growth.
This focus upon urban leadership tends to occur in a theoretical vacuum, with little attention to such factors as conflicts within elites for the spoils of growth or the differential impact of growth upon specific social classes. Leaders are presumed to come rightfully from the higher social circles, and their specific personal or group or class interests in fortune building in the locality are left unexamined. In my analysis, the overwhelmingly significant local "leadership" is the growth elite, which is devoted to its own particular good, often at the expense of other local interests. These elites are not, in principle, concerned with the public welfare but are, as an empirical matter, adept at using public institutions on behalf of private goals. So crude a measure as the proportion of a city's population engaged in high-level occupations indicates little about policy dynamics, although the proportion of people involved in growth machine occupations, like land development, might well be of significance.
The grain of truth in the emphasis on these leaders is that elites do vary in their ability to function effectively, and these variations may affect urban outcomes. As with other groups, growth elites can be ridden with internal dissension, weighted down by incompetent leaders, or afflicted with diversionary agendas. Besides these idiosyncratic differences, the "sediment" of past historic conditions" can have an impact on the effectiveness of a given growth elite. A long history of economic prosperity can mean that a given area has in place a well-worked-out system of intra-elite communication, including perhaps university-based expertise upon which to draw in shaping growth strategies. There may exist highly developed networks and connections with political leaders at all levels of government. In other instances, a conservative patrician past may hinder development, as old families with social pedigrees suffocate dynamic growth initiatives. This sort of situation, quite unusual in the U.S., seems to have characterized New Orleans up to the 1970s.
For growth activists, backward or incompetent brethren are, in a sense, external constraints on their ability to pursue development. All local people of wealth and status are useful adjuncts to growth machine functioning; significant degrees of passivity or even defection create difficulties. In places where overall elite mobilization is problematic, the growth activists may have to divert resources away from campaigns for specific projects in favor of internal organizational development. This does not, I caution, make the state of the elites synonymous with the state of their cities. But the attitudes and organizational structures of the local wealthy do enter into the lives of growth activists as a real force and make a difference in growth elites' ability to achieve their development goals.
Capital Flight and Capital Investment
Some constraints upon local elites' discretion come from organizational dynamics well beyond the local level. The system through which national firms and financiers allocate investment resources within and among localities influences all growth possibilities. As cosmopolitan capitalists go about their business of accumulating wealth, rents in various places rise and fall as places' utility to capital accumulation undergoes change. When capitalists were investing in heavy manufacture in the U.S., areas with conditions suitable to such enterprise had a potential edge; proximity to raw materials, water transportation, and a blue-collar labor force were assets.
But for the scholars who study capital as a means of understanding the city -- the neo-Marxian school of urban political economy -- such ecological factors are secondary. Instead of natural forces guiding capitalists' decisions, the changing pattern of development is dictated by capitalists' drive for profits -- the "logic of accumulation." And maximizing profits and maximizing efficiency are not necessarily the same thing. Thus, to use a modem illustration, firms may "run away" from cities where workers are unionized not because they will gain cheaper labor costs, but because they will achieve better control over the labor process. Even if the product can be made more cheaply and efficiently in the "old" city, militant labor may threaten the basis of class relations through which the fruits of efficiency are exploited by the capitalist group. This is a difference between "capitalist efficiency" versus "technical efficiency." Places that are capitalist efficient are not necessarily technically efficient.
The Marxian analysis does share one thing in common with geographical determinism: the city unfolds according to a dynamic beyond the realm of human choice or the capacity of social organization to intervene. If anyone matters at all for urban outcomes, it is the capitalists who make the investments, although they too follow the dictates of capitalism's internal logic. Although there is a proletariat that may protest against low wages and poor work conditions, in Marxian analysis there are no significant local actors in the place allocation process. There are no neighborhood associations, environmentalists, nor -- most critical for my purposes -- no property entrepreneurs or growth machine activists. But as various Marxian writers modify their earlier formulations, it becomes increasingly clear that they too recognize the salience of human organization in the making and unmaking of places. We need to agree that while transformations in the overall productive sphere set the terms of local adaptation, they do not simply determine it.
More specifically, Chicago was not destined to be the location of the meat industry, the U.S. convention business, or a great deal of heavy manufacturing in steel and consumer goods. There were many spots on the U.S. map that were potential Chicago's (e.g., Gary, Indiana, or Toledo, Ohio). Neither were Los Angeles nor Houston necessarily destined to be the specific sites of later growth booms. It was up to each city's growth elites, in complex interaction with their counterparts elsewhere, to make the organizational manipulations that would secure their city's future, Physical geography also played a role, as did capital forces beyond the city's boundaries. But the limits imposed by the capital accumulation process, like those provided by the physical ecology, do not entail the growth of a specific place for a given purpose.
In recent years, dramatic changes in the mode of production (i.e., the new international division of labor) have changed the kinds of local conditions that best serve capital's needs. The sort of manufacturing that used to dominate places like Chicago and other regions of the U.S. "Frost Belt" either no longer exists or has moved to the Third World. The elites of U.S. cities respond by adapting their places for new roles appropriate for this changing geographical organization of capital. Some cities have become headquarters from which these far-flung operations are managed, or innovation centers where new products and procedures are invented and eventually exported elsewhere. Less happily, some are now relegated to routine production-city "modules" that can easily be replaced by substitute cities in the U.S. or abroad.
Growth elites shape their strategies around these changes over which they have little control. Some hire expensive consultants to tell them what economic sectors will be likely to grow and which, among these, the locality has the best chance to keep or attract. It may be necessary to overcome local resistance to effect the changes. Atlantic City, New Jersey, a decaying tourist town of a bygone era, had to counter citizen resistance to gambling in order to usher in a new boom as a Las Vegas-style resort city. In other instances, elites must phase out a given industrial sector to protect one to which they have given higher priority. The New York City garment industry was sacrificed earlier in this century, in part because the space it needed was more important for the expansion of the nascent Manhattan corporate headquarters economy and its upscale retailing component.
The different capacities of localities to attract particular kinds of investment cause growth elites to search a list of options for those with good chances of success. Sometimes this is done ineptly without regard to the real world of ecological impediments and economic transformation. Millions were wasted constructing Detroit's Renaissance Center in a quixotic effort to build a headquarters -- and convention -- oriented milieu amidst the economic decline of the motor city. Flint, Michigan, lost millions on a city-subsidized redevelopment project that was designed to attract tourists to its declining downtown.
More realistically, Omaha, Nebraska, taking advantage of the neutral diction of its residents and excess capacity of its phone trunklines, has become the "800" toll-free phone center of the country. Three amenity-poor California towns, Adelanto, Avenal, and Blythe, competed with one another for designation as the site of a new state penitentiary." Hanford, Washington, "the city that loves nukes," makes a specialty of receiving toxic wastes."
Growth elites must squarely face the constraints that nature and the world economy hand them, but then move heaven and earth to maximize the possibilities that are nevertheless possible. Local growth elites help determine just where economic activities are to be situated, and what social and environmental conditions accompany such activities. Their participation, whether successful or not for their own growth goals, is the link between the local community and cosmopolitan capital.
The Talent of Political Entrepreneurs
A longstanding argument has held that, among the forces shaping U.S. urban development, the crucial actors are politicians who have the special skills to mobilize local resources and lead a city into growth and prosperity. From the "city booster" tradition of urban historians and the biographical profiles written by political scientists come images of "great men of vision." In Mollenkopf's (1983) more sophisticated terminology, history is now made by local "political entrepreneurs." The elected officials of this new breed have personality and managerial skills that enable them to mobilize various elite groups, popular opinion and crucially-the complex provisions of urban aid programs to make development occur. Local political actors are seen as more important than geographical constraints, economic elites (local as well as cosmopolitan), or the quality of non-governmental civic leadership. Mollenkopf wants to make sure that "in contrast to much of Marxist analysis, the political receives its due" (Mollenkopf, 1983, p. 10). By "the political," Mollenkopf means the role of talented elected officials who use that talent to get elected and to advance urban projects.
Politicians who have grace and cunning, energy and wit, information and training, are likely to have a better chance for success than their less gifted counterparts. This may give them, for example, the capacity to go directly to the people or build powerful bureaucracies to somewhat insulate themselves from the agendas of growth elites. But more commonly, the talent of politicians is discovered, nurtured, and mobilized by growth elites themselves for their own purposes. It thus may matter that New Haven, Connecticut, had its Mayor Richard C. Lee, but its stunning ability to attract urban renewal funds would have existed even without him. (Domhoff, 1978). The individual qualities of Chicago's Mayor Ogden may have helped in making his city the crossroads of America. But in each case, the primary attribute these people had was their commitment to local growth. Their personal skills would have meant nothing if they had not been able to be mobilized for growth goals.
Those who stress the relative autonomy of elected officials pay very little attention to how politicians get nominated, elected, appointed, or promoted in the electoral, government agency, and business systems. Campaign contributions remain the mother's milk of U.S. politics, and these funds, especially at the local level, come overwhelmingly from growth machine sectors. Politicians do not even begin to mount a campaign until their "soundings" of large-scale contributors indicate that it might be a viable effort. Whether liberal or conservative on other issues, candidates tend to be dependent on growth coalition support. Sometimes all major candidates in local elections receive their largest contributors from property entrepreneurs," and such interests certainly tend to dominate the winning side.
Even the old political machines, presumably powerful enough to exercise a high degree of autonomy, were more intimately involved in the growth machines dynamic than is usually supposed. Serious studies of city founding and early development make clear the intimacy of the connection. Commentaries on the classic urban machines intimate that at the core of the political machine was the growth coalition's investments in it. Perhaps this is why the urban political machines supported federal housing programs and urban construction -- not just because of "pressure" from the working class in need of housing and jobs, but through responsiveness to the development interests both within and outside their own ranks. Under the congressional log-rolling system, the southerners got military bases and agricultural subsidies and the ethnic machines received subsidies for city infrastructure (Domhoff, 1972, pp. 97-103; Domhoff, 1990, Chapter 9) This was an important part of the unity of a national Democratic Party otherwise deeply divided on ideological grounds.
The old urban governments, whether in Boston or Chicago, were even willing to destroy neighborhoods of their ethnic constituencies on behalf of downtown growth goals. Thus the "urban villagers" of Boston's West End were sacrificed" as were the Italian residents of what is now the University of Illinois campus adjacent to the Chicago Loop. Mayor Coleman Young of Detroit, liberal on all social issues, nonetheless helped quell popular opposition to the leveling of the Poletown area to make way for a new General Motors plant. And in the case of contemporary Hawaii, the Democratic Party officials that have dominated local, county, and state government for the past 30 years are so intimately tied to development interests that it is difficult to distinguish between the two groups.
More convincing than Mollenkopf's stress on the politicians' autonomy is Stone's (1989) characterization of elected officials as subordinate to a well-organized business community with plenty of deployable resources and the inclination to act on behalf of tangible plans that are mutually beneficial to its own members. In the Atlanta urban renewal case investigated by Stone, politicians had little autonomous power. Peterson (1981, p. 132), who unlike Stone finds nothing objectionable in this business dominance, applauds the fact that development policies "are often promulgated through a highly centralized decision-making process involving prestigious businessmen and professionals. Conflict within the city tends to be minimal, decision-making processes tend to be closed."
Given the dynamic of campaign contributions, the participation of elected officials themselves in real estate deals, and the generalized social prestige and political muscle of mobilized business elites, such joining of politicians and growth activists becomes a common and formidable force across a wide range of urban issues. Politicians' autonomy is severely constrained by knowledge of where their bread and butter comes from and of the pervasive influence of the growth elite on local culture and ideology. This means, I would argue, that the number one entrepreneurial skill needed by politicians is the capacity to formulate schemes that benefit growth. I can think of no viable U.S. politicians who have managed it any differently. Politicians, like geography, do matter. But at least at the local level, it is the growth machine system that determines how they matter.
Americans frequently form voluntary associations to advance common goals. Scholars who take special notice of this fact are prone to attribute much power to these organizations, and think they are decisive in shaping the city system and determining the quality of urban life. In a recent formulation of such a populist view, Castells (1983, p. 72) argues that in the United States (and indeed throughout much of the world) "people produce cities as they make history." Particularly as urban services such as recreation, medical care and welfare become an increasingly significant component of a decent life, citizens find themselves all in the same boat viz-a-viz the bureaucracies that serve them. This means that to better themselves, ordinary people's struggles shift away from the workplace and the labor struggle and into the neighborhood where so much of this "collective consumption" takes place. Along with the concrete aim of bettering urban services, neighborhood activists also seek, according to Castells, the more diffuse goals of neighborhood cultural integrity and community self-determination. Not uncommonly, these ingredients are all present together as effective "urban social movements," and the result, argues Castells, is a great force in making the city.
There are indeed instances in which community organizations have discernable impacts on urban development, or at least upon the distribution of growth and its quality within cities. Rich people have long been able, at least on some occasions, to protect their neighborhoods (whether central city or suburban) from encroachments of the poor, the minorities, or commerce. Even low-income neighborhoods, particularly at incendiary moments in history, can have an impact on the shape of the city. In a commonly cited case, The Woodlawn Organization of Chicago, representing a poor black residential area, was able to block a plan of the city government and the adjacent University of Chicago to run a freeway through its northern border. In still another version, environmental and civic planning groups have forced their local governments to install amenities (parks, architectural controls, height limits) that, while perhaps not limiting growth, shape it and alter the conditions under which it occurs.
All such evidence notwithstanding, the prevalence of popular success in shaping urban development is often exaggerated. I have explained elsewhere the reasons I think Castells, in particular, has failed to provide reasonable evidence for his highly romantic view of the power of the people, or even of the numbers of individuals who participate in any way in community organizations (Molotch, 1984). Neighborhood leaders almost always exaggerate the size of their active constituencies. Their occupational hazard is to make a great deal out of even trivial accomplishments and take credit for gains which would likely have occurred without their efforts. A long and discouraging history of community organization studies indicates the uphill battle that neighborhood groups have to wage against local elites, and the almost hopeless challenge facing organizations of the poor and of racial minorities. Affluent residents can often secure their turf against ravages of growth machine dynamics, but these exceptions do not signify a general capacity of urban masses to determine development patterns. Even the notorious anti-growth movements among the affluent, so prevalent in the U.S. in recent years, have had at best only sporadic and temporary successes. Laws limiting growth tend to occur after the growth has become a fact, rather than as a means of stopping it, and in any event are seldom effective.
But this does not mean that neighborhood organizations can simply be ignored by either growth elites or urban analysts; although not sufficiently important to change the basic course of city growth, they do influence behaviors, including those of important people. When growth elites adjust to the residential needs of their own social class, they are adapting their money-making schemes to pressures from the neighborhood organizations that represent them as consumers. The presence of a few good neighborhoods can itself be valued by the growth elite as attracting additional capital investment by offering executives an attractive place to raise their families. And particularly in areas with privileged populations and with growth trajectories oriented toward innovation and headquarters activities, there must be some concern for the kind of urban amenities important to elite workers. But the environmental needs of mass populations count for little, except perhaps at the rare historic moments when violent insurrections threaten the stability of the entire metropolis.
However much growth elites adapt to neighborhood pressures, in any case they must do nothing that would hinder overall growth strategies. Concessions occur as part of their growth maneuvering, not in opposition to it. Some growth machines are more "liberal" than others,' but this is because their particular growth strategy requires a more long-term, enlightened position on matters of land use, planning, or social issues. Thus, members of some elites may realize that unless professional planners are granted a degree of autonomy, traffic congestion may strangle a city to the point where future growth is choked off. On social issues, a growth elite may come to perceive a reactionary public school curriculum as dangerous to an envisioned growth program of high-tech development. But such social liberalism does not imply that growth elites have less fundamental power, only that they exercise it through a different ideological mode and must contrive policies that keep local conditions consistent with overall development aims.
Growth elites strive to maximize development of their own turf, but as with all other humans -- including other elites -- they do so under conditions not of their own choosing. Keeping in mind the kind of forces that research by other scholars indicates has impact on the urban system, I have tried to specify the nature of those constraints. Growth elites must manipulate these other forces as best they can and ferret out a way to grow that fits the circumstances. This makes the growth elites the most dynamic, active and deliberate force in shaping local land use and the local policy agenda. But the activities of other groups and the conditions of the physical world intrude on the arena of discretion. The way these constraints intermesh with growth elite strategies determines the shape of cities, their distribution across the landscape, and their differences viz-a-viz one another.
These factors are not equal in the degree that they constrain local elites. The Neo-Marxists are correct in singling out large-scale economic changes, driven by the accumulation dynamic, as the force over which local elites have least control. Thus, for example, without intending to alter cities or the fortunes of their competing growth elites, capital investment in electronics has shifted urban growth outside the borders of the traditional U.S. manufacturing zone, creating new types of development in previously undeveloped regions (e.g., California's Silicon Valley). I call this "structural hegemony." The term "hegemony" implies that domination occurs without necessarily involving direct coercion or even a conscious aim on anyone's part to wield influence. But unlike the way most hegemony theorists use the concept, the basis of dominance is not in the manipulation of symbol systems and deference patterns, but in altering the structure within which others (local elites in this instance) must make their decisions.
For reasons I have tried to specify, the physical world also constrains, but probably in a less coercive way. Elites make tourist meccas out of wastelands and ports out of inland agricultural centers. They fashion instant geographical centers out of former peripheries by installing jetports and freeway crossings. Only in some degree does the physical world establish a structural hegemony over the growth elites. The elites, through their social and physical projects, push the earth around, altering its topography, productivity, climate, and even its long-term capacity to support life. Elite-inspired changes in governmental organizational forms, like the creation of the Army Corps of Engineers and urban redevelopment programs, continuously lessen the relative autonomy of nature to block human schemes.
Even less constraining on elite activity, I would argue, are the other factors of local growth. Civic leaders, even old-line patricians, can be brought to see their material interests in development and their creative role within it. Politicians can be nurtured or extinguished as the changing texture of local growth needs dictate. The rise of almost all politicians, whether local or national, is first screened by local growth elites. Urban popular movements, finally, are overwhelmingly subject to manipulation, cooptation, or simple destruction by development forces.
Within the growth machine perspective, the paramount underlying force operating within the city is the drive for rents and profits that come from place-specific development. I have tried to show how various constraints structure the options available to local elites seeking such gains, thereby affecting the way these elites go about their work of generating growth. By way of a tabular summary, I list these constraints in Table 1, name the school of analysis that emphasizes each, and specify the underlying urban force that each school, at least implicitly, takes to be paramount. I also indicate the degree that, according to my argument, these underlying forces are significant.
From the overall viewpoint that underlies this table, the capitalist productive system is hegemonic over locality, including the growth elites which must adjust to its changing directions, But within the local realm, it is the growth elites who are hegemonic. In both ideological and structural terms, their dominance over the development process is felt across a wide array of political, economic, and cultural institutions. As I have argued elsewhere, this deep and broad permeation of locality allows growth elites to prepare the ground for capital, thus coupling local agendas with national and international systems of production (Molotch, 1979). We have a two-tiered system of hegemony in the U.S., with material interests in locality at the heart of the lower tier.
Social scientists cannot study everything and urban social scientists have their own specialized niche. I offer this local system of hegemony as the central topic of urban analysis.
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