Growth Machine

The city as a growth machine.

You can take this as a perspective on economic theory, but as much as anything, this is really about the connections between the urban economy and urban politics. 

This interpretation, originally proposed by Harvey Molotch two decades ago, focuses attention on the role of elites and entrepreneurs in creating the growth of a city.  Growth and development are seen as necessary for the economic health of the city.  Creating the conditions for growth is a matter of politics. The success of a city is a product of its competition with other cities, not just in the marketplace, but in the corridors of power.  The local elite has to be able to attract national government investments and to persuade the national government to adopt policy which favours the city.  Maybe it can get a major airport or defence contracting.  Within the city, the leadership must be effective in creating the political conditions necessary for the success of the city's economy.  Maybe the city council can be persuaded to relax restrictions on building heights downtown, or perhaps it could release its land holdings for industrial development, or change the property tax structure to favour business.  Perhaps it is just a case of making sure that a pro-business mayor gets elected at city hall.  Success for the elites, of course, is not necessarily success for the ordinary citizen.

Chapter 10 of Fainstein & Campbell talks about the growth machine perspective which can be taken on the US city.

Recently, in Toronto, there has been concern that the city has been losing its standing and economic power, especially within the province of Ontario.  The Toronto Star, and other parties have taken steps to try and mobilise the city's elite leadership to regain the losses.

In favour of the perspective: it seems to be a useful way of looking at city politics, but it suggests that if we want growth, we have to let the important economic leaders of the city take all of the important decisions for us, and we ought not to obstruct them.  It isn't a very democratic approach.


Portland Oregon as a Growth Machine click here

Challenging the growth machine in Chicago and Pittsburgh click here