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The Politics of Downtown Development

The Politics of Downtown Development: Dynamic Political Cultures in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Stephen J. McGovern
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    The Politics of Downtown Development
    Book Description:

    American cities experienced an extraordinary surge in downtown development during the 1970s and 1980s. Pro-growth advocates in urban government and the business community believed that the construction of office buildings, hotels, convention centers, and sports complexes would generate jobs and tax revenue while revitalizing stagnant local economies. But neighborhood groups soon became disgruntled with the unanticipated costs and unfulfilled promises of rapid expansion, and grassroots opposition erupted in cities throughout the United States.

    Through an insightful comparison of effective protest in San Francisco and ineffective protest in Washington, D.C., Stephen McGovern examines how citizens -- even those lacking financial resources -- have sought to control their own urban environments. McGovern interviews nearly one hundred business activists, government officials, and business leaders, exploring the influence of political culture and individual citizens' perceptions of a particular development issue. McGovern offers a compelling explanation of why some battles against city hall succeed while so many others fail.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5682-8
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures, Tables, and Maps
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Part 1: Introduction

    • 1 Interpreting Downtown Development
      (pp. 3-15)

      From the vantage point of city leaders in the middle of the twentieth century, urban America was at risk. Broad societal forces were exerting a powerfully decentralizing influence over life in the metropolis. Changes in lifestyle preferences made millions yearn for single-family homes with spacious yards and two-car garages in tranquil suburbs far from the congested city. Changes in transportation technology enabled first the upper class and then the middle class to act on those yearnings. Perhaps most importantly, changes in the global economy led to a steady decline in manufacturing in U.S. cities as corporations shifted production first to...

    • 2 Political Culture and Political Change
      (pp. 16-40)

      Some of the most provocative research on the relationship between political culture and political behavior during the past two decades has come from Ronald Inglehart and his followers.¹ Inglehart has argued that during the post–World War II era, the citizens of advanced industrial nations have experienced a cultural transformation marked by a move away from materialistic values such as economic and physical security and toward postmaterialistic values such as individual autonomy, self-expression, and quality of life. At a more specific, issue-oriented level, this has meant a departure from the more traditional preoccupation with economic growth, employment, wage levels, and...

    • 3 The Empirical Framework
      (pp. 41-58)

      To evaluate the relationship among grassroots activism, the local political culture, and downtown development policy, I employ a comparative case study method. The politics of downtown development in two major cities during the 1970s and 1980s—San Francisco and Washington, D.C.—are examined. At first glance it might seem that San Francisco and Washington are an odd pairing for a comparative case study. The former is an ethnically diverse city of colorful neighborhoods, quirky charms, and breathtaking natural beauty. San Franciscans are portrayed in the national media as socially offbeat, economically comfortable, and culturally cosmopolitan. They are a contented people...

  6. Part 2: San Francisco

    • 4 The Hegemony of Privatism (1)
      (pp. 61-86)

      Like most large American cities after World War II, San Francisco embarked on a determined campaign to rebuild its downtown business district in anticipation of the rise of a postindustrial economy. The early redevelopment of downtown San Francisco has been well documented by other scholars, notably Frederick Wirt, Chester Hartman, and John Mollenkopf;¹ this chapter begins by briefly recounting that story in a way that highlights the ideas, values, beliefs, and practices that propelled the building boom. It then examines the first outbreak of grassroots opposition to the city’s progrowth policies. The initial battles between the downtown growth coalition and...

    • 5 Progressive Activism: Expanding the Public Sphere
      (pp. 87-118)

      Throughout the 1970s, the one organization devoted to limiting downtown growth was San Francisco Tomorrow (SFT). SFT was composed mainly of white, middle-class professionals concerned about the building boom’s effect on San Francisco’s aesthetic and environmental character. The organization advocated stricter zoning regulation to ensure a more orderly development of the city. It had supported the early Duskin initiatives and then backed George Moscone’s mayoral candidacy in 1975 after Moscone had promised to impose restrictions on highrise construction. As it became clear that the city would maintain its progrowth course, however, especially after Dianne Feinstein became mayor, SFT decided to...

    • 6 Progressive Activism: Promoting Popular Empowerment
      (pp. 119-145)

      During the years following the 1983 citizens initiative campaign, a critical question underlying the ongoing battle waged by growth-control activists was, Who should control downtown development decision making? Most business leaders and city officials believed that land use policy making was properly the domain of the City Planning Department. After all, planners were specifically trained to assume responsibility for a task as complicated as charting the development of the city. It therefore made sense that citizens, interest groups, and other public officials should defer to their experience and skill. But the years of progressive activism were beginning to weaken the...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 7 Cultural Change
      (pp. 146-163)

      The cultural impact of counterhegemonic activism in San Francisco becomes even more apparent by examining how perceptions of downtown development changed during the 1980s. The analysis presented here is structured, again, around the two key dimensions of politics: How did individual groups experience a change of consciousness regarding their involvement in local politics? How did they come to reconceive the role of government with respect to downtown development?

      By the late 1980s, after years of intensive counterhegemonic protest from progressive growth-control activists, the citizens of San Francisco had undergone a profound change in how they conceived of the city’s land...

    • 8 Political Change
      (pp. 164-186)

      The years immediately following Proposition M’s passage were crucial to determining the staying power of a progressive vision of land use politics. Leading scholars of urban politics, especially regime theorists, note that from time to time progressive candidates will get elected and progressive measures will get enacted into law. But whether progressives can hold onto power and govern effectively beyond the short term is another story. This is because downtown business interests use the many resources at their disposal to reward city officials who go along with their agenda and punish those who choose an alternative path. The gravitational forces...

  7. Part 3: Washington, D.C.

    • 9 The Hegemony of Privatism (2)
      (pp. 189-212)

      As in San Francisco, rapid downtown expansion in Washington, D.C., during the 1970s and 1980s sparked neighborhood-based opposition to the growth coalition’s policies. Activists advocated an alternative vision of politics emphasizing popular control over decision making and a more activist government to ensure a more equitable distribution of the costs and benefits of downtown development. But ultimately they failed to engender the sweeping changes that occurred in San Francisco.

      The inability of the Washington growth-control movement to transform the local political culture proved decisive. Whereas growth-control activists in San Francisco offered a coherent oppositional vision and engaged in practices that...

    • 10 Managerial Activism
      (pp. 213-236)

      As downtown development in Washington gathered momentum in the 1970s, neighborhood activists became increasingly anxious about the unanticipated problems of vigorous growth. Higher housing costs, small-business displacement, and aggravating traffic congestion were harming the District’s neighborhoods. Moreover, as the supply of developable properties decreased in the downtown core, and as developers began to look elsewhere for expansion, the threat of commercial encroachment into close-in residential neighborhoods intensified.

      When neighborhood activists began to voice their concerns about downtown development in the public arena, progrowth advocates explained that Washington, like all American cities, was caught up in a sweeping transformation of the...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 11 Populist Activism
      (pp. 237-264)

      The planning advocates represented one important component of the Washington growth-control movement. The other key component of the grassroots movement that challenged the downtown growth coalition consisted of neighborhood-based activists typically associated with community development corporations and nonprofit housing organizations. Like the planning advocates, the community development advocates were disturbed by some of the negative impacts of downtown expansion on the quality of neighborhood life. Residential and small-business displacement caused by rising property values in close-in neighborhoods were seen as particularly problematic. But unlike the planning advocates, the community development advocates were primarily concerned about the unfulfilled promises made by...

  8. Part 4: Conclusion

    • 12 Counterhegemonic Activism in American Cities
      (pp. 267-284)

      Political culture matters in local politics because individuals’ thinking about their interests and options is shaped by the prevailing ideas, values, beliefs, and practices of the society. This is important because the political culture tends to slant popular impressions and judgments in ways that reaffirm the policy preferences of groups that wield power. This is not to suggest that those without power always share in the general political orientation of those with power. As Gramsci recognized, the consciousness of subordinate groups is better characterized as a mixture of feelings of discontent arising out of their immediate experience in daily life...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 285-316)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 317-328)
  11. Index
    (pp. 329-344)