Is the City Really a Growth Machine? A Case Study of Forestville, Alabama
Andrew A. Zekeri
In a provocative discussion of the relationship of power holders to economic development and population growth that has attracted much attention among sociologists, Molotch argues that the key to understanding local politics is to conceptualize the city as a growth machine, proposing that the "political and economic essence of virtually any given locality, in the present American context, is growth" ( 1976, 309-310). Thus, the city may be viewed as a "growth machine" which reflects an overriding common interest among some local residents, especially those active or influential in local politics, in development and expansion.
Molotch ( 1976) uses the concept of a "growth machine" to describe the process whereby local power elites actively promote and directly benefit from local economic development. Land is considered the basic market commodity that provides wealth and power to those controlling it. He asserts that local elites with vested interests in the use of land and buildings, such as developers, landlords, and savings and loan officials, build their own fortunes by managing urban governments and cultural institutions and promoting growth. The positive impact of intensive land use on land values and property rents provides incentives for these elites to promote economic growth and development. While this group of local elites may remain divided on other local issues, economic growth is the main issue that binds them into a coalition ( Molotch 1976, 314-315). In other words, Molotch is arguing that the desire for growth creates consensus among a wide range of elite groups, no matter how split they might be on other issues. Therefore, disagreement on some public issues does not necessarily indicate any fundamental disunity, nor does change in the number of actors on the scene affect the basic matter.