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

By Marion Clawson | Go to book overview

12
DECISION MAKING IN SUBURBANIZATION OF THE THREE STUDY AREAS

One major purpose of this book is to explore the decision-making process in suburban growth and development. Only by better understanding of the process as it has worked and as it currently operates, can one seek to change and hopefully to improve it.

This chapter attempts to review, and to a degree to interpret, the findings of the three case studies as regards the decision-making mechanisms in suburban growth and development. Thus it complements Chapters 5 and 6, where the decisionmaking process and the actors were considered in general.

Part of the decision-making process is public; part is private. Each part is divided among a number of actors -- government agencies, industry groups, and the like -- and many individuals within each group. While each actor plays a role, it is their interaction which is most important. None operates in isolation, but rather each takes his cues from others and in turn provides them with cues to their roles. The multiplicity of decision-making units and the fragmentation of the process are its most striking aspects.

Expositional necessity requires the description of the role of each unit in turn; but, wherever one starts, he comes back at the end to the group with which he began. The role of the public agencies is perhaps the most obvious, and there is more -- but still not enough -- information about them than about the other units. Their actions are subject to a greater degree of public scrutiny, supervision, and reporting than those of various private groups. Hence, the discussion here starts with the public agencies, not because they are in any sense more important. In a process where many actors are essential to the final result, it is difficult indeed to single out any as more important than any other.

A major hypothesis emerges from these three case studies: The nature of the decision-making process in suburban growth and development depends to a considerable extent upon the rate of that growth and development. Where growth is very rapid, as in Fairfax County, the process takes on certain characteristics; where growth is slow, as in Springfield, the process is quite different. This is not to deny the importance of local governmental and private institutions but merely to say that their effects are subordinate to larger economic and demographic forces. An interesting intellectual exercise, in its nature inconclusive and unsolvable, is to

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