Fear the growth machine in Flagstaff

One concerned citizen of Flagstaff, Arizona warns of the actions of a local growth machine:

Even though I bought into Flagstaff a scant nine years ago, the town that I bought into is no more. It was a town of vision and limited growth, of respect for nature and dark skies, with a government that deferred to public over narrow corporate interests.

Today it resembles nothing so much as urban sociologist Harvey Molotch’s famed “City as a Growth Machine.”

Our city government has been captured by outside interests and a mayor who promotes the well-discredited, but widely accepted, falsehood that growth is good for a city, that it brings jobs, wealth, and cheaper housing. Whereas the opposite is demonstrably true: Job opportunities bring increased population which increases unemployment and housing shortages with yet more growth as the alleged cure.

The falsehood originated in Chicago School of  sociology, but look at Chicago today, or Los Angeles, or even Santa Barbara. Now think of these ugly monstrosities coming to Flagstaff with ugly names like Standard, Core, and Tank. Envision the Weatherford just down the street from a looming modern hotel and ask yourself if it’s still the Weatherford. Finally, ask yourself how mindless urban development solves the hot social problem of the moment, gridlock traffic.

And if he wants to continue the critique offered by Logan and Molotch, he might add: who profits the most from new growth, particularly new development and infrastructure? It tends to be corporate interests who use their influence and capital to make money off the growth that is supposedly good for everyone.

I’m not sure I quite understand what is going on with this chain of events: “Job opportunities bring increased population which increases unemployment and housing shortages with yet more growth as the alleged cure.” More jobs leads to more unemployment?

Ultimately, using this growth machine concept to fight particular political candidates might be very effective in local elections as it highlights the actions of the politically powerful and questions their motives. In other words, people who are suspicious of leaders could find this theory complementary to their existing feelings. If faced with such criticism, officials and leaders would likely fall back to arguments about how growth is generally good (as Logan and Molotch note, this is not really up for debate in American cities) and that their actions benefit a broad range of residents. To counter, opponents should find significant projects that didn’t help many – like sports stadiums or big corporate developments –  and highlight the ongoing day to day issues that were not addressed like affordable housing and increased congestion.

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