Understanding the Growth Machine From the Inside Out

The new issue of City and Community has a nice manuscript by Sharon Kimelberg:

Kimelberg, S. M. (2011), Inside the Growth Machine: Real Estate Professionals on the Perceived Challenges of Urban Development. City & Community, 10: 76–99. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-6040.2010.01351.x

The abstract:

The growth machine framework maintains that coalitions of elites work together to promote and adopt policies and practices that best serve their economic interests and propel cities toward growth. While numerous scholars have subjected the growth machine to theoretical and empirical tests, we know little about the beliefs and perspectives of individual actors within the growth machine. To address this gap in the literature, the present research uses in-depth interviews to examine the subjective views of one segment of the growth machine—real estate professionals. The findings demonstrate that these practitioners see the exercise of power at the local level to be less coordinated, consensus-driven, and growth-oriented than the growth machine thesis suggests. Specifically, they see their own power and capacity to act to be constrained by four factors: the (re)-election interests of politicians; the professional interests of municipal economic development staff; bureaucratic procedures and zoning regulations; and mobilized community members and groups. I conclude with a discussion of the implications for urban political theory and suggestions for future research.

Two things: perhaps it is my time as a practitioner, but these results are hardly startling, even though it’s a nice idea to try to get an in-depth perspective from real estate professionals and b) one of the weird, and unfortunate, things about power is that people seldom recognize what they have of it. So we wouldn’t necessarily expect real estate professionals to think any other way than as they appear to.

One thing that might have been useful here would have been to sample some of the other groups: the bureaucratic staff (oh, the power there! not) and the community members to see what and whom they think the constraints and barriers are. I suspect that you would see exactly the same listing as the real estate professionals’, only with whatever referent group taken out an real estate professionals swapped in for it!