Dreier, Mollenkopf, and Swanstrom “Metropolitics for the Twenty-First Century”

Dreier, Mollenkopf, and Swanstrom reiterate the importance of place and the impact on life outcomes. Their focus is on urban sprawl and its negative effects on the inner city, primarily through metropolitan fragmentation. As Squires also mentioned, Dreier et al., note that America experienced an “urban exodus” thanks in part to governmental subsidies on interstate construction as well as subsidies on housing making suburban home ownership an option to the middle class urbanites. In fact, the authors argue that “federal and state policies have biased metropolitan development in favor of of economic segregation, concentrated urban poverty, and suburban sprawl.” Rather than beneficial growth of the urban area, urban sprawl has drastically divided the city center and the suburbs.

Where we live impacts many aspects of our lives for a variety of reasons. The authors point to not only quality of the area in which one lives, but also how the area functions, i.e., functioning of the social and political systems. Access to jobs, public services and even shopping are affected by place of residence, and access to quality services is commensurate with one’s socioeconomic status. As a consequence of governmental policies enacted in the mid to late 20th century, intended to stimulate economic growth in the central city, instead cities have seen an increase in concentrated poverty and inefficient political function and public services in the metropolitan area that exacerbate poverty.

Metropolitan political fragmentation is the term used to describe dysfunction of spatial boundaries and the proliferation of local governmental agencies that resulted from the public-private partnerships popularized in the 1980s. The consequence of this fragmentation is poorly planned locales with inefficient public structures that subverts the economic competitiveness of cities.

Dreier et al., point out that many groups, including the Sierra Club, argue in support of “smart growth” and “new regionalism” and two states, Oregon and Maryland, have even instituted legislature. The new regionalists are interested in correcting the effects of long term segregation and the concentrated poverty of the inner city, by increasing economic efficiency and social equity in such a way that the central city remains competitive without sprawling. The smart growth concept, contrary to the “growth machines” discussed by Logan and Molotch, focuses on collaborative efforts between residents, private companies and public offices to grow efficient, equitable and competitive urban areas. One example provided by the authors include, collaborative efforts of the high-tech companies in Silicon Valley in supporting solutions to urban problems such as housing and transportation, made that a more successful technological area than its counterpart “America’s Technology Highway” in Boston, MA.


Gregory Squires “Partnership and the Pursuit of the Private City”

Gregory Squires focuses on the public-private partnership and privatism as it relates to the quest to grow cities. Similar to Logan and Molotch’s notion of the growth machine, the author discusses ways in which public agencies provide subsidies to private companies in an effort to grow the cities, primarily through urban revitalization policies. But instead of growing cities and collecting wealth for all, only the partners with vested interests, such as the private companies completing the renovations, the landowners and the politicians brokering the deals, reap the rewards.

Squires states that the ideology of privatism, which is defined as the relationship between the public and private sectors (not to be confused with privatization as the transference of ownership from public sector to the private sector), has really led the push for urban redevelopment that was quite popular  in the 1960s. The public-private relationships are touted as cost saving mechanisms necessary to revitalize the city centers of America in order for them to grow economically, economic growth that is presumed will serve both public interests. Privatism is based on policy that affords private companies incentives if their company helps the economy of downtown in some way. Incentives include tax breaks, low interest loans, even a reduction in regulatory oversight at times. As stated earlier, the governmental subsidization of private investment creates economic growth for the private industry, without addressing the needs of the public sector.

Following World War II, cities became the central location for manufacturers. However, by the late 1960s, the manufacturing industry did not keep pace with other countries, and many companies began to outsource their production and manufacturing jobs to other countries, subsequently there was a move from manufacturing to service jobs. The author notes that instead of honing the production skills and machinery, the US began to focus on “paper entrepreneurialism”, the accumulation of wealth through paper contracts associated with the acquisition of fixed assets, benefiting real estate brokers and investors. The draw to the short-term profits was a little short sighted and exacerbated many of the social problems in existence.

Rather than improving housing conditions and poverty stricken areas, as originally planned, the majority of urban development initiatives in the 1950s and 60s were focused on growing the retail and service industry. As Park and Burgess argued, land located in the center city was more valuable, thus private companies wanted to acquire it. The public subsidization of this land for commercial development and highway construction, created negative effects for residents. As many housing units were razed, residents were relocated to less desirable areas, and residents that were able to do so, moved to the suburbs, leaving behind homogeneous zones of poverty. Redlining and other governmental practices borne out of this public-private partnership, driven by accumulation of wealth and capital, have been challenging to reverse its effects.

In recent years, policies have been enacted to counter the effects and some areas have been successful. Just like a cancer that goes untreated, repairing the damage done to urban communities as a result of public-private partnerships is not guaranteed and will be challenging to say the least. As Dreier, Mollenkopf and Swanstrom point out, collaboration between residents, private companies and public offices is key to growing efficient, equitable and  competitive urban areas.

John Logan and Harvey Molotch “The City as a Growth Machine”

John Logan and Harvey Molotch are concerned with the way in which land values impact city growth as well as the way in which the pursuit of profiting from land values influences life chances. Their view is that commodification of places and the political economy have great influence over city growth. An  “urban phenomena” exists in the city land market which stimulates a desire on the part of growth entrepreneurs to acquire more and more places. This desire fuels the “growth machine”. Through land monopolies and collective action, growth entrepreneurs secure control of property for profit through exchange values. Their goal is to mask the negative consequences the growth machine has on society and urban development.

Houses are not just places where we live, housing is viewed as a commodity that can be bought and exchanged, creating value; value that Logan and Molotch term as special use values and special exchange value. Places hold special use value as they are not disposable and are available for continued use, and unlike other commodities, their price does not decrease following use. The authors assert that all interactions must happen in a place and therefore places are indispensable, as they are essential to conduct interactions. But different from other indispensable commodities such as food, places are a unique commodity in that places afford access other use values, such as work, friends, or schools. Similar to Dreier, Mollenkopf, and Swanstrom, Logan and Molotch go on to state that places “organize life chances in the same sense as do the more familiar dimensions of class and caste”. This is an interesting concept, and considering mobility options, the place one lives impacts what other use values one has access to, and essentially place impacts life outcomes. Though this fact is not often considered when the focus is on places as commodities.

Special exchange values from place are described as the form of payment for places, such as direct purchase, mortgage, and rent. Places are created on land, and land cannot be produced like other commodities, therefore the quantity is fixed leading some sociologist to label land as “fictitious” and a “pseudocommodity” because labor is not used to produce it. For this reason, the land market is monopolistic in that once owned no other person can own it or reproduce it. It is in the best interest of the entrepreneur to acquire more places to increase profit for the exchange value, spurring further growth.

Politics plays a major role in the growth machine. Town leaders were also seen as growth entrepreneurs and sought to increase exchange value for their places. They fought to attract colleges, federal branches as well as prisons, in hopes of growing the value of their places.These civic leaders used their political authority to develop transportation infrastructure, on their land that would ultimately increase their profits, through rents as well as through the growth of businesses. Logan and Molotch provided the example of Chicago’s Mayor Ogden, who was also president of Union Pacific Railroad, and owned prime real estate as well, he was able to make the railroad run exactly where he wanted.

In a capitalistic society, commodification of place is quite apropo, this however does not benefit society. It important for cities to grow in order to generate revenue, but if that revenue was put back into the community rather than in ot the pockets of proponents of the growth machine, life chances of residents could be improved.