Week 6

“Cities and the Geographies of ‘Actually Existing Neoliberalism’” [Neil Brenner & Theodore Nik]

In “Cities and the Geographies of ‘Actually Existing Neoliberalism’” Brenner and Nik discuss a failing system of neoliberal policy implementations on what appears to be the perfect canvas: a city. Brenner and Nik explore the path to neoliberal politics and policies by highlighting the evolution of the U.S. economy; they show a progression from 1970s politics and the influence of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek (139) to the end of “Keynesian welfare policies”, and the beginning of “neoliberal doctrines” (139) that essentially lead to what is currently the economic and political landscape. Within that landscape there is the belief that the market should determine the availability of goods and services, and that there should be limited intervention by the government in the function of this market. How the neoliberalist ideal applies to city planning and functioning, and why cities seemed to be the ideal platform in which to show the ‘success’ of neoliberal policies, is the focus of Brenner and Nik’s discussion.

Ultimately, Brenner and Nik determine that neoliberal policies implemented on the city landscape is a continued failure—in fact, they referred to these implemented neoliberal policies as “creative destruction” (139). Specifically, two primary points were made in terms of the application of such an extreme ideological model on such a diverse and fluid landscape:

First, neoliberal doctrine represents states and markets as if they were diametrically opposed principles of social organization, rather than recognizing the politically constructed character of all economic relations. Second, neoliberal doctrine is premised upon a “one size fits all” model of policy implementation that assumes that identical results will follow the imposition of market-oriented reforms, rather than recognizing the extraordinary variations that arise as neoliberal reform initiatives are imposed within contextually specific institutional landscapes and policy environments (141).

Essentially, for neoliberal doctrine to be applied to city planning is a lofty goal at its core. There is the suggestion that the market should then be allowed to determine the aspects of a neighborhood based upon the availability of those goods and the means to attain them; this is dangerous territory when one looks to actually responding to the needs of specific neighborhoods and to encouraging social cohesion.

“The City as A Growth Machine” [John Logan & Harvey Molotch]

In Logan and Molotch’s “The City as A Growth Machine” the idea of land as a commodity is introduced. More specifically, Molotch and Logan focus on the market’s place in the structuring, and growth of a city. Not only do Logan and Molotch recognize land as a commodity, but they also recognize its unique characteristic as being a limited commodity. Once purchased land is not duplicated, or multiplied for more purchases. Ways to make land more profitable come out of the creative uses of that land. In terms of ownership and city planning the following is applied:

Homeownership gives some residents exchange value interests along with use value goals. Their houses are the basis of a lifetime wealth strategy. For those who pay rent to landlords, use values are the only values at issue. Owners and tenants can thus sometimes have divergent interests. When rising property values portend neighborhood transformation, tenants and owners may adopt different community roles; but ordinarily, the exchange interests of owners are not sufficiently significant to divide them from other residents.

Several ideas are introduced in the above quote; one, owning land –or a house—is, or can be, a ‘lifetime wealth strategy’; two, use value is a unique application to a commodity like land—it is the ‘creative use’ for land in which more money can be made from a limited commodity. And finally, the relationship between owner and renter is twofold: it is economic and social, especially in a city.
Molotch and Logan recognize that the growth of a city under the neoliberal strategy changes not only the physical landscape of cities but the social landscape as well. Land is wealth, wealth is to be had and manipulated within the market, availability of goods and production usually grows into more wealth, and the whole idea behind capitalism, and thus the basis of neoliberalism, is to allow wealth to grow. How then does wealth growth with such a limited commodity such as land? Namely within a city, and concerning the development of a city? Through city development of course! In this instance the development of the city is not done for society’s sake, not for social cohesion and development, and not even in response to industrial growth—in this case the growth of the city is happening because city development itself is the market.

“Partnership and the Pursuit of the Private City” [Gregory Squires] & “Metropolitics for the Twenty-First Century” [Peter Dreier, John Mollenkopf, and Todd Swanstrom]

In “Partnership and the Pursuit of the Private City”, Squires points out that while the city is encouraged to develop via predominately the private sector—per the neoliberalist city planning agenda—the government is still being called upon to be a type of ‘private partner’: “The continuity reflected by the public-private partnerships, despite some new formulations in recent years, is revealed by the persistence in the corporate sector’s efforts to utilize government to protect private wealth, and primarily on its terms (119).” Meaning, while neoliberalism claims that the market works, it also believes that the government should help it work. Neoliberalism professes that the market ‘fixes itself’, but encourages the regulatory nature of the government to regulate to benefit the market’s goals, not to prevent any undue harm caused by the market.

In “Metropolitics for the Twenty-First Century”, Dreier, Mollenkopf, and Swanstrom apply the idea of government regulation in favor or neoliberal politics in terms of city planning. The situation described by Dreier et al. appears to be the height of functional neoliberalism—where policy implementations are not failing per se; rather, neoliberalism is doing what it does best in terms of city planning—it is growing wealth with the social expense being paid by those the government was established to protect—its citizens. More specifically, the goal of neoliberalism is to harness the regulatory nature of the government in its favor. Under the argument of local governing and control, and ‘fixes itself’ market predictions, the growth of cities and their surrounding suburbs will occur. However, the growth of these cities, with the express purposes of growing and attracting more wealth results in a radical restructuring of the social landscapes of the typical cities affected. As quoted by Dreier et al. , “The competition among metropolitan jurisdictions to attract higher-income residents and exclude the less well-off has been a powerful factor promoting the concentration of poor people in central cities (151)”; in short, if money is being attracted to, made in, and encouraged to move to the city then those working for, and living in, the city should definitely be a part of this established wealth…or move.

Lin, Jan and Mele, Christopher (Eds.) (2013). The Urban Sociology Reader (2nd ed).

One thought on “Week 6”

  1. Good job. Just some additional things to think about:
    “The City as a Growth Machine”
    Like Harvey they view real estate, built environment as a second circuit of capital. Where we live connects us to other possible resources such as access to jobs, social networks, schools, highways, etc. 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 (Jane Jacobs).
    We can find a monopoly of space by place entrepreneurs if they are able to utilize restrictive zoning and price out other potential competitors. Space matters in relation to rents e.g. condos on top level cost more than those on the second floor, etc. New construction increase land values not decreases as some may assume even when demand is low. Growth machine activist are not concerned about how the new construction will impact the area and oppose regulations that will impede their growth process with no concern for environmental or local cost for products.
    The growth machine idea is not new in the U.S. as it has been taking place since the country was founded. Historically, capitalist have fought to have railroads or canals developed in their area to generate more capital in the form of rent. Communities competed for federal funds by way of colleges, prisons, railroads, etc. City competition has been going on since the founding of the U.S. 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.
    “Partnership and the Pursuit of the Private City”
    During the Reagan administration federal spending directed towards states and cities was decreased and states/cities found they had more autonomy in development. 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. Cities had to begin to work closely with private industry to help redevelop/develop areas within the city. Investors want to invest in areas that will generate the most capital in the shortest amount of time.
    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 homeownership, 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 remain 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.
    “Metropolitics for the Twenty-First Century”
    The reintroduce the idea of regionalism in regards to planning and sprawl. The authors discuss the exodus of many to suburban rings around the city, which was assisted by the federal government, and the fact that many residents have no desire to pay into urban services. Space (location, location, location) is a big factor in life chances (networks, education, employment, etc).

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