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.


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

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  • September 27, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    Good post!
    Recall Harvey referenced real estate (the built environment) as the second circuit of capital. Space is so important that people will ban together to protest potentially new developments within their area if they feel/think it will be detrimental to their currently living situation e.g. protest against Wal-Mart opening, gentrification, housing projects, etc. Neighborhoods are segregated based on social class thus richer areas can generate more power to stop potential development (think about Jane Jacobs). ). “Contrary to much academic debate on the subject, we hold that the material use of place cannot be separated from psychological use: the daily round that makes physical survival possible takes on emotional meanings through that very capacity to fulfill life’s crucial goals (p. 112).
    In today’s society we see a focus on economic development in many cities where they are competing with other cities for business location. Also, due to globalization we are not only seeing competition between cities but also between nations to draw business opportunities into their location by offering tax breaks, cheap water supplies, no labor unions, right to work states, etc. The culture and climate of the city is of interest to potential businesses as they do not want to contend with racial violence, unions or environmental regulations.

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