Suburban Land Conversion in the United States: An Economic and Governmental Process

By Marion Clawson | Go to book overview

6
THE CHIEF ACTORS IN URBAN EXPANSION

The purpose of this chapter is to examine, as actors in the process of urban expansion, those groups whose roles in the decision-making process were identified in Chapter 5. A basic assumption is that the personal characteristics of decision makers influence the decisions made. Each reacts to certain objective or measurable aspects of a situation, but the reaction of each is partly conditioned or influenced by personal characteristics. The decisions reached may, in turn, influence the character or nature of the decision maker, at least over the long run.

The fact which dominates this chapter is how little we know about the various actors in the decision-making process. Ideally, one should have information on the personal profiles of the individuals concerned -- their age, education, income and wealth, status, and other measurable socioeconomic characteristics. Still more useful would be information on their mental and emotional processes-on what "makes them tick" as far as decisions about urban land use are concerned. There must be many variations among the many thousands of persons who make important land use decisions. Actually, almost no information is available about them. From what does exist, one can draw inferences about the actors themselves but only within wide limits, and one cannot be sure that all important characteristics of decision makers are revealed.

In the process of building new residential suburbs, the various actors work both in cooperation and in rivalry. They must cooperate to some degree, if only unconsciously. To use a simplified example, the home buyer cannot have a home without the builder, who is dependent upon the local planning agency, which in turn is governed by the home buyers. The efforts of many groups and persons interweave in numerous complex and variable ways to produce economic outputs of value to each. But there is also rivalry, since each wishes to gain as much as he can, at the expense of the others if necessary. The owner of undeveloped land seeks to get as high a price as he possibly can; the developer, on the other hand, wants to buy it as cheaply as he can. A tug-of-war ensues over division of the anticipated returns from the residential development; but, if either gets too greedy or if they cannot agree, then the enterprise does not go forward, and each seeks gain somewhere else or in another deal.

In this sort of process, each actor looks at the objective or measurable aspects of the situation, but each also seeks to understand his competitor-rival, and the

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