Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The More Things Change

One of the more interesting (and readable) books on the urban environment is Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place by John Logan (currently at Brown University, formerly at SUNY-Albany) and Harvey Molotch (currently at NYU). I was reminded because of this article on Atlantic Yards Report about the New York Times' inconsistency between its "tough analysis of the post-Katrina recovery" versus that covering the Atlantic Yards Project. As Logan and Molotch note in their introduction, the ideas in Urban Fortunes are the combination of Logan's ideas on social stratification in the urban sphere and Molotch's ideas of power and politics in urban development. The latter's ideas on the growth machine politics are particularly instrumental to the AYR article.

Molotch argues that the goal of "growth machine politics" is to increase the size of cities through strategic alliances and contests between different actors so that each can try and capitalize on the maximum exchange value for their land over the use value of current residents. The "growth machine" is particularly powerful because it often contains some of the most powerful political actors: developers, real estate agents, building trades unions, etc. Those opposing the "growth machine" (i.e. those whose use value is greater than their exchange value) are only successful through the organizing necessary to oppose the growth machine coalitions.

But, for Molotch, newspapers play a particularly important role in the development of the growth machine. For them, the ultimate goal is to increase the size of the entire metropolitan area (thus, increasing both readership and the importance of the city to gain more national prestige) and they arbitrate disputes between actors at the local level to encourage the best plan for the development of the entire area. Thus, Logan and Molotch write:

Although newspapers may express concern for "the ecology," this does not prevent them from supporting growth-inducing investments for their regions. The New York Times likes office towers and additional industrial installations in the city even more than it loves "the environment." Even when historically significant districts are threatened, the Times editorializes in favor of intensification. Thus, the Times recently admonished opponents to "get out of the way" of the Times Square renewal, which would replace landmark structures (including its own former headquarters at 1 Times Square) with huge office structures (New York Times, May 24, 1984, p.18). Similarly, the Los Angeles Times editorializes against narrow-minded profiteering that increases pollution or aesthetic blight—in other cities. The newspaper featured criticizm, for example, of the Times Square renewal plan (Kaplan, 1984:1), but had enthusiastically supported development of the environmentally devastating supersonic transport (SST) for the jobs it would presumably lure to Southern California. [pp. 72-3]

Logan and Molotch go on to talk about how the two papers then fired two columnists that were too critical of interests in their own cities.

Maybe it would be better to direct the information to the Los Angeles Times to try and get critical information of the Atlantic Yards project published!


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