Barbara Ferman, Challenging the Growth Machine: Neighborhood Politics in Chicago and Pittsburgh, 1996

According to Barbara Ferman, academics and others focus too much on the political and economic factors that influence municipal government and planning without considering institutional and political culture factors. Ferman moves away from “pluralist” interpretations (they focus exclusively on politics, a point that Swanstrom also makes) and “structuralist” views (they in turn focus too much on economics, Swanstrom might label this school marketplace rather than structuralist). Instead , Ferman reorients the approach to examine how various urban arenas, specifically electoral and civic, help to determine possible policy measures and actions by local government. Moreover, Ferman shifts the focus from downtown development to the more progressive approach that supports neighborhood or community improvements/infrastructure. Defining political culture as “the collective expectations of the population about the roles and behavior of their government and political system … [that] also impacts form and effectiveness of political activity,” (xi) Ferman notes that frequently studies ignore a comparative approach, examining one city in isolation. Challenging the Growth Machine juxtaposes the experiences of Pittsburgh and Chicago in the twentieth century exploring how political culture, race, urban arenas and other factors shape development policy specifically the affects on CBOs, CDCs and other institutions representing neighborhood interests.

The differences between Pittsburgh’s political culture and Chicago’s seem self evident. Pittsburgh adopted a corporatist structure that established public-private institutions (ACCD) and public authorities to administer redevelopment. The at large nature of the city council, infighting in the city’s black political community, and the territorial identification of city neighborhoods helped diminish race as an organizing tool . Moreover, the relative paucity (in comparison to Chicago) of the Black population along with its citywide dispersement reduced the perceived threat to white interests. In this way, a collective, economic consensus developed in a civic arena that privileged cooperation and consensus over protest and division. The civic arena recognized the economic decline of the city and through institutions like ACCD established a pattern that removed neighborhood issues from the electoral arena. Moreover, future attempts such as ACTION to create housing, though unsuccessful, reinforced this inclusive attempt to incorporate CBOs and CDCs into neighborhood infrastructure development. Federal adjustments such as the CDBG served to funnel more spending into these areas. The collective consensual nature of this arrangement reduced conflict and divisiveness. The political machine relented allowing Mellon to organize civic developments, depoliticizing economic plans. However, this did create a “unidimensional progressivism” that failed to allow for alternatives as witnessed by the difficulties of the SVA which attempted to represent the Mon Valley municipalities in their attempt to battle deindustrialization by US Steel. In the end, Pittsburgh’s corporatist orientation favored social production.

In contrast, Chicago’s political system under Daley coalesced into a system that operated within the partisan based and individualistic electoral sphere. This created competition and divisiveness. Daley purposely avoided creating public authorities or institutions that challenged his authority. Ward leaders and alderman fought for his attentions. City wide policies were eschewed for a system of reward that revolved around patronage and the reward/punish nature of Chicago machine politics. The diversity of the Chicago economy meant that though severe, economic contraction did present the massive immediate threat that it did to Pittsburgh, thus, few incentives existed to mobilize in unison. Moreover, the size and diversity of Chicago’s economy resulted in a civic and business community that refused to organize under the leadership of a Mellon type individual. Racial segregation and mistrust played a large role in fracturing coalitions and the like. If public housing in Pittsburgh was dispersed rather evenly city wide, in Chicago nearly all of it arose in black wards often those struggling economically. CBOS and CDCs challenged the power base of local alderman, thus, their efforts were met with hostility. Rarely, did such organizations participate in city development plans. Saul Alinsky and others formed oppositional groups that engaged in aggressive attempts to resist municipal development plans, though necessary, Alinsky’s followers established protest patterns that contributed to divisiveness (though to be fair Alinsky and others had little choice but to go this route). Moreover, race pervaded nearly all aspects of Chicago politics, even aspects of Alinsky’s own movement rejected integration, viewing the growing African American population as a threat whereas in Pittsburgh their smaller numbers and its reduced levels of segregation muted such concerns or conflicts. If Pittsburgh’s government remained loyal to a social production orientation, Chicago’s electoral politics arena emphasized social control over its most basic political units the wards.

The difficulty in changing institutional structures and political culture emerges in both examples. Mayor Flynn and his successors though suggesting that they were to end “business as usual” really only reinforced the civic arena mentality of its government. Even when the council shifted to district elections in the 1980s, council members were unable to wrest control of CBDG funds from the civic arena. Ultimately, through civic organizations such as ACCD and PPND, a three tiered system for neighborhood infrastructure emerged. This created stability and reduced conflict. In contrast, Mayor Washington’s attempts to reorient Chicago politics toward neighborhood infrastructure struggled to overcome institutional frameworks and political culture. Alderman attempted to maintain the city’s machine electoral structure by positing race as a symbolic issue (Daley had initiated this move later in his mayoralty once Black Chicagoans – who were key players in his first three electoral victories – realized that few benefits flowed to their communities – note: that black politicians had been incorporated into the machine and rarely represented the interests of black communities) setting off the Council Wars. Even Washington’s own supporters felt slighted by his more equitable approach ,as some supporters wanted Washington to maintain the status-quo but now in their favor. The natural mistrust and cynicism engendered by this system reinforced the view that Washington was little more than a Black version of all other Chicago politicians, angling to reward “his constituency” at the expense of others. The institutional framework that favored a reward/punish system to individual wards undermined his attempts at city wide policies. [as Einhorn points out in Property Rules this lack of a city wide rhetoric can be traced even further back than its machine to its nineteenth century segmented system that though very different also neglected to develop such viewpoints] No institutions existed to carry this out, nor did the political culture trust in such promises.

Similar to Steven Gregory’s Black Corona and Roger Sanjek’s The Future of Us All, Ferman points out the need to “develop new frameworks or ideologies to change “local” issues into public issues” (150) Gregory and Sanjek’s actors illustrated the necessity of such developments in their studies of civic, cultural, and electoral politics in New York’s Elmhurst-Corona Queens community. Federal government’s reduction in economic allocations and its favoring of CDC’s make resources that much more contested in any environment but especially those that operate within the electoral arena like Chicago’s.

— Though Ferman definitely focuses her study on neighborhood infrastructure, she still studies basically elites… She argues that her work attempts to move away from this but one would be hard pressed to find any sources that take into account more grassroots views. Still a minor complaint on a book that is really well done

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