John Mollenkopf, The Contested City, 1983

Writing in 1983, Political Scientist John Mollenkopf produced The Contested City, a study of pro-growth political coalitions, conservative and liberal, and their deleterious effects locally and nationally. Initially created through New Deal urban policies like the PWA and expanded upon by LBJ’s Great Society, Democrats used urban renewal to build constituencies. Later, conservative countermovements by Eisenhower and Nixon attempted to gut many of the social service programs and other reforms by redirecting funding in ways that benefitted the private sector, suburbs, and new urban areas in the West and Southwest, rewarding their own constituencies for electoral support.

Pushing back against historians and political scientists that privilege economic factors over political ones, Mollenkopf argues the converse. Acknowledging that economic interests affect policy and implementation, Mollenkopf maintains that ultimately political entrepreneurs and government wield greater authority than the private sector, “They [pro-growth coalitions] are not the transmission built by which outside interests manipulate or directly control government. The reverse is much more true, programatic initiative launched by such coalitions have tended to reshape the contours of private sector interests.” (4) Political logic more than that of economics drove coalitions themselves, “In sum, forces arising within the political system itself, not those imposed form outside, governed public intervention into the urban development process,” (7) adding “federal urban development programs and the local pro-growth coalitions which implemented have magnified and channeled these economic forces.” (19) In addition to doubting economically determinist explanations, Mollenkopf rejects conclusions drawn by Marxists and pluralists (“Pluralist analysis fails to see the structural logic which governs the assembly of political power and governmental capacity and which tends to give it an inherently regressive quality despite its often populist origins.” (9)]

New Deal initiatives created solidified new systems of alignments locally and nationally, however, the same reforms led to new political conflicts that later haunted liberal policy makers. Additionally, countermovements arose to resist urban development attempts: 1) a growing conservative movement 2) opposition within democratic constituencies and 3) business resists shifting economic resources away from older cities in the East and Midwest to newer business friendly conservative metropolises such as Tucson, Phoenix, or San Diego. Political entrepreneurs serve as the most important actors in Mollenkopf’s view. They assemble the coalitions bringing elites and the masses into the fold. Unfortunately, their success often bred greater conflict.

Conservative forces though criticizing expanding government recognized the effectiveness of renewal and development forces, such that Eisenhower and Nixon rerouted funding and government spending in ways that benefited their own constituencies. Under Eisenhower, urban renewal focused on downtown commercial development while reducing public housing construction. Additionally, the 1954 Housing Act’s urban redevelopment provisions favored commercial development while the 1956 Interstate Highway Act redirected government spending toward suburbs. Finally, military spending from World War II through Vietnam helped to expand Southwestern cities bringing them jobs, growth, and a palpable military presence. Additionally, Mollenkopf portrays both the municipal governments and populations as being reflexively business friendly eliciting no resistance. Moreover, ethnic communities, meaning primarily Mexican and Mexican American neighborhoods, failed to organize opposition. [However, Michael Logan’s work disputes both these points to some extent. First, Logan argues that vociferous opposition emerged in “fringe suburbs” threatened by or eventually subsumed by annexation, however, municipal governments like Tucson and Albuquerque ignored these protests until the 1960s and 1970s. Second, in both cities Mexican neighborhoods did express resentment and resistance to development and annexation affecting the final results. Mollenkopf’s work does agree with Amy Bridges’ Morning Glories and Logan when he notes that these government’s excluded various segments of the local populations especially Latinos and African Americans]

The Great Society expanded cities economies by expanding social services and community programs. Such programs led to larger professional populations. Simultaneously, urban redevelopment funding led to larger renewal agencies (planner, developers etc.. .many of whom professed liberal ideas and later questioned many of the intents and results of renewal efforts when communities “revolutions” unfolded” in urban areas which contributed to the growth of service based professional classes along with 3rd sector “industries” such as hospitals, universities, and nonprofits). However, the diversity of opinions and political positions between professionals did little to ease conflict. The Great Society’s emphasis on community participation and the OEO’s funding of local initiatives expanded the democratic coalitions but also served as a catalyst for neighborhood resistance of the late 1960s and early 1970s that resented urban renewals deleterious effects. Of course, though causing internal rupture in the Democratic party, the “community revolution” also provided one of the few voices resisting Nixon, Ford, and Reagan’s anti-urban policies (though to be fair, the federal government under both liberal and conservative presidents illustrates an anti-urban bias) “in the end the community revolution significantly altered both the urban political terrain and the practice of federal urban development programming.” (180)

Nixon’s New Federalism emphasized revenue sharing and expanded the eligibility of numerous growing cities to apply for CDBG grants, diverting monies from older cities to newer ones in the Southwest while also aiding suburban growth. Mollenlkopf argues that Nixon simply wanted to reward his constituencies while punishing liberal ones. Tricky Dick’s attempts at dismantling the Great Society resulted in a weakened social net, ended large scale clearances while shifting the focus to housing rehabilitation and free market measures like section 8. Moreover, Nixon laid the foundation for new alliances in urban politics as his programs created new service delivery organization in urban communities. Community responses through neighborhood mobilization created new constituencies and internal problems for Democrats. Unsurprisingly, Nixon’s policy deepened conflict “between social classes.” (212) The new urban economies that emerged revolved around post-industrial cities that housed corporate headquarters, advanced corporate services, and third sector actors such as universities, hospitals, and nonprofits. (obviously, this also shaped urban constituencies differently considering the kind of employees that each employed … as well, urban renewal and the Great Society encouraged the growth of this professional labor force but again caused internal divisions when among other factors occupational interests are accounted for)

Mollenkopf concludes that cities face four primary obstacles in the near future. Accountability has deteriorated. The same is true of the “political and economic coherence within the existing intergovernmental program delivery system” (257). The working class and middle class no longer share in the economic spoils equally (government intervention benefits professionals while destroying labor markets for the working classes forcing them into “secondary labor markets”). Intercity competition make redistribution and regulation of the development process nearly impossible. Finally, traditional political alliances disintegrated with “new, weakly incorporated constituencies” replacing them. (257). He eviscerates both Carter and Reagan for mistaken policies. He notes that shifting funding to military spending actually makes such investments less productive since social service systems prove more effective at expanding economies. (as well, military defense production remains less responsive to popular will than social service systems). Additionally, ignoring traditional “old” cities wastes established infrastructures and resources while imposing “social costs.” [note- one criticism other than the two I might lodge but that he acknowledges in the intro – ie. He prioritizes urban policy to prominently in the national parties and the he pays too little attention to international issues and commerce might be that when discussing Reagan and Nixon successes he ignores their symbolic values esp. Reagan] Mollenkopf offers no specific solutions but points to some possibilities such as the potential of community based politics and the possible union of community groups and big labor. He wonders aloud about private sector cooperation and suggest that “First and foremost, a new social contract must distribute economic opportunity more equally across urban constituencies.” The new urban middle class must find common cause with the “new, minority, urban, service working class around a program of neighborhood renewal and quality of neighborhood life…” Of course, as with other attempts at urban reform, one could argue this led to the growing problem of gentrification in the 1980s and 90s.

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