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.

One thought on “Gregory Squires “Partnership and the Pursuit of the Private City”

  • September 27, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    Awesome job Samantha!

    During the Reagan administration federal spending directed towards cities was decreased and cities found they had to find innovative ways to develop revenue. While focusing on the era after WWII Squires focuses on the ideology of privatism and how it influenced city redevelopment. Uneven development became obvious in urban development where we see areas prosper and other areas decline.
    Investors want to invest in areas that will generate the most capital in the shortest amount of time. Ideally, more money invested in areas generate more people living (land values go up), shopping, working and utilizing the space with an ideology of a trickle-down effect of capital. With urban renewal grants highways were constructed which assisted with White flight from the urban area and restrictive housing (redlining) left many minority groups out in the cold. The Federal Housing Authority made opportunities available for home ownership, which previous was unobtainable by many due to the hefty price of down payments required to purchase homes. Financial assistance was provided to the banking industry, real estate agents and contractors which assisted with the grand exodus of many urban dwellers to the suburbs’. Due to redlining minorities were not able to take advantage of the housing opportunities in the suburbs and remained in the urban area.
    Some city governments have recognized that development was uneven and have allowed community members to be active participates on development boards in an effort to reduce uneven development and address issues of inequality. He cites Chicago, Boston and Milwaukee efforts by their mayors have bought neighborhood groups and residents into the planning process.

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