Custodians of Place: Governing the Growth and Development of Cities

Custodians of Place: Governing the Growth and Development of Cities

Custodians of Place: Governing the Growth and Development of Cities

Custodians of Place: Governing the Growth and Development of Cities


Custodians of Place provides a new theoretical framework that accounts for how different types of cities arrive at decisions about residential growth and economic development. Lewis and Neiman surveyed officials in hundreds of California cities of all sizes and socioeconomic characteristics to account for differences in local development policies. This book shows city governments at the center of the action in shaping their destinies, frequently acting as far-sighted trustees of their communities.

They explain how city governments often can insulate themselves for the better from short-term political pressures and craft policy that builds on past growth experiences and future vision. Findings also include how conditions on the ground -- local commute times, housing affordability, composition of the local labor force -- play an important role in determining the approach a city takes toward growth and land use. What types of cities tend to aggressively pursue industrial or retail firms? What types of cities tend to favor housing over business development? What motivates cities to try to slow residential growth? Custodians of Place answers these and many other questions.


This book might carry the alternate title, Against Single-Mindedness. Our project was born in part of our frustration with the instinct that we perceived, among both scholars and popular observers, to reduce local government policymaking—particularly with respect to urban growth—to a set of heuristics or rules of thumb. Discussion of cities has not lacked for metaphors and simple story lines. In the 1960s and 1970s, cities were in crisis, in a race with time, unheavenly, ungovernable sandboxes, or reservations of the unwanted. By the 1980s and 1990s, cities were growth machines, dependents (of the market or of the state and federal governments) incapable of making autonomous choices, or alternatively, were on the comeback trail. Suburbs have been seen as sorting devices, as bastions of privilege or of conformity, as being engaged in an environmental protection “hustle,” as revenue maximizers, and as “privatopias.”

Even regime theory, an effort that helped to humanize the study of urban political economy, reintroducing the importance of political relationships and coalition building in local affairs, has tended to see a dominant inclination in American cities toward corporate regimes. In this view, mayors and other top elected officials are driven to form enduring alliances with major downtown business interests in order to get things done.

Aside from the small problem that some of these images and shorthand understandings of growth policy contradict one another, we also have a broader concern: Existing theories and concepts seem geared primarily at emphasizing commonalities among the thousands of municipalities in the United States. Our view is that although social science theory must indeed simplify reality in order to make sense of the world, to make progress it must also be centrally concerned with explaining variation. For urban politics, this means helping to account for why all cities do not, in fact, take the . . .

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