on the city as growth machine and its enablers

A couple of days ago, I mentioned that the New York Times expressed deep confusion that a real estate bubble had taken place. I wondered aloud why the Times didn't see the real estate bubble for what it was when, in contrast, the Economist had expressed concern years earlier? Is it that the Times hires reporters straight out of college or is there something more? Maybe it's that the population of Manhattan has always increased?*

Well, the answer came this week when I gave the students in my spring Network City course Harvey Molotch's seminal essay "The City as Growth Machine." Molotch's analysis is of the way that certain industries—primarily the finance and real estate industries—dominate urban politics with the intention of expanding their businesses. These interests promote a naturalized view of growth in which we are simply not to question that cities will always get bigger or that they should always get bigger.

But Molotch also points out that newspapers encourage the growth machine as a way of expanding their subscription base. Moreover, foreshadowing the argument of the rather naïve creative cities movement, arts organizations such as the symphony, opera, and art museums are also beholden to the model of the city as growth machine. I'll leave it to you to imagine where architects are in all this. 

So much for objectivity then. I suppose that we can forgive the Times for playing its structural role (not having a single urban base, the Economist would find little benefit in playing urban booster) if we really have to, but in rereading Molotch's essay (and it is available at that link above) it seems crucial to me to ask what the broader consequences of such allegiances are and what architects might do to be critical of them. Certainly not things like this (e.g. OMA in Dubai…note that Delirious New York was written at the lowest point in that table below). 

*Heavy sarcasm intended. Sure, Manhattan's population has gone up lately, but like most American cities, this is only a small uptick after a sustained decline. New York City has continually expanded. Not so for Manhattan.

See the following figures, borrowed form Wikipedia. note that Manhattan was 1/3 more populous in 1910! 

 

1890 1,515,301
1900 1,850,093
1910 2,331,542 
1920 2,284,103
1930 1,867,312
1940 1,889,924
1950 1,960,101
1960 1,698,281
1970 1,539,233
1980 1,428,285
1990 1,487,536
2000 1,537,195
 

 

 

 

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[...] the full impact of the housing crash was still hard for newspaper critics to understand, I wrote this piece pointing to Harvey Molotoch's City as Growth Machine (which you can find here). The value of [...]