Todd Swanstrom, The Crisis of Growth Politics: Cleveland, Kucinich, and the Challenge of Urban Populism, 1985

“Growth politics can be defined, simply, as the effort by governments to enhance the economic attractiveness of their locality, to increase the intensity of land use by enticing mobile wealth to enter their boundaries,” writes Todd Swanstrom in The Crisis of Growth Politics. In this 1985 work, Swanstrom explores Cleveland’s urban history regarding development with special attention paid to the Kucinich mayoralty. Swanstrom, a former employee of the Cleveland city government, criticizes both the conservative growth politics that dominated Cleveland development, while also critiquing Kucinich’s attempts to combat this “development consensus.” This form of development sprung from the influence of the conservative belief in supply side economics which suggested government’s primary role should be to maintain low taxes while following a laissez-faire policy concerning regulation. The argument for supporters revolved around short term sacrifices to business and development in the form of tax abatements, cheap land, or tax incentives that ultimately was paid for by urban residents, in return for long term growth that would trickle benefits down to average workers. Implicit in this arrangement is the “trade off between equality and growth, growth politics by its very nature exacerbates inequality.” (27) Ironically, as result of municipal default in New York, cities acted as laboratories for such ideologies. For example New York’s financial crisis placed its government and budget under the control of an emergency board headed by financial and business elites, couching power in a cadre of wealthy investors. Though academics have addressed many issues regarding growth politics the two largest schools, pluralist and market, have failed to adequately account for context, “Both pluralist and market, assumed the opposite; they did not see the market context of cities as part of the problem to be analyzed but as the result of inevitable economic and technological forces.” (26) Ultimately, Swanstrom believes academics have isolated too many factors rather than seeing them as connected. For example, pluralists “did not view the economic environment of cities as a political constraint on action.” (14) (“growth politics gives those who control mobile wealth an instrument of power unaccounted for in pluralist or market theories of urban politics.” (225) while in terms of market approaches Swanstrom goes to great lengths to illustrate that with federal aid and elite controls of finances there were no free markets)

Though by no means typical or universal, Cleveland’s struggle with post WWII development illustrates parallel processes elsewhere. Like Sam Bass Warner and Amy Bridges, Swanstrom locates the roots of conservative growth politics in first half of the twentieth century as “reformers” attempted to implement their idea of good government. However, reformers of the early twentieth century feared the rise of white ethnics and the “factional machine” the developed among the wards of Cleveland’s municipal structure. Reformers implemented non-partisan elections undermining the city’s political parties which in turn limited the ability of the working and middle class communities to organize under one banner despite ideological differences. According to Swanstrom, “reform seems less a public regarding ethos and more a private regarding ideology.” (50) [note- this is very similar to Bridges and Warner … also all three view the recession of the upper classes from civic culture and government as a problem since it meant that city wide consensus would prove more difficult without interaction or contact between groups] Instead elites directed their efforts into philanthropic organizations or cultural institutions. Promoting growth at all costs, the city government under reformers often allowed for unsupervised growth [note- Warner also pinpoints this suggesting that Philly’s experience also damaged its sense of community as public spaces and the like received no attention from developers or land speculators]. The city’s white ethnics remained satisfied with the arrangement as long as the economy expanded and social mobility appeared to be within the grasp of all citizens. When Cleveland’s industrial boom ended so did the consensus, class divisions and resentments surfaced.

Swanstrom uses a framework that privileges five factors in explaining the distortion of government operations: 1) political discretion 2) monopolies 3) nonrational choice 4) political manipulation of externalities, and cumulative inequalities.” (27) Through these categories, Swanstrom paints a picture of post WWII Cleveland in which the elite fled to the suburbs while enacting zoning and land use laws that prevented the city’s working classes form following. Urban renewal, as in most cities held negative effects for the city but did so on a much smaller scale than other metropolises, “the new growth politics, consequently, never dominated Cleveland the way it did other cities.” (disparity between suburb and inner city led to fewer inner city investments, city govt not prepared for urban renewal like NY or Chicago each of which had plans to give federal authorities, and it was carried out by a dept. of the city rather than an autonomous agency).

With the rise of Dennis Kucinich to mayor and Normal Krumhulz, a famous city planner known for “the equity or advocacy school of planning” (114), Cleveland’s neighborhoods believed that the government would then focus more intently on community improvements and increased services. Kucinich’s Saul Alinsky style campaigns attracted support as he promoted an “urban populism” that promoted “economic democracy” (equalizes power in the marketplace- focuses on sphere of distribution no production) but failed to articulate any coherent plan for development or anything else save campaigning. Kucinich rejected tax abatements arguing that they were basically a subsidy to businesses. Moreover, as Swanstrom suggests, tax abatements provide nominal economic benefits to busineses while robbing municipal coffers of revenue. In the end, abatements serve as a more political than economic tool, meant to win over large investors and institutions or to establish a pervasive “business friendly environment”. In addition, Kucinich led the city to default when its banking sector demanded Muny Light be sold to CEI. According to Swanstrom, this tactic illustrated that financial institutions do make political decisions that are not solely economic. Kucinich’s bashing of banks and financial services irritated the city’s business elite who then promoted the idea that Kucinich’s mayoralty caused an investment boycott. The media along with the business community argued the only way to end disinvestment was to remove Kucinich. The combination of Kucinich’s style of confrontational politics and lack of coherence regarding long term development undermined his place among the neighborhoods he purported to represent. Moreover, though Kucinich entered office with few debts to special interests or anyone else, so did he too enter without any credits. The weakness of party politics municipally and Kucinich’s own instrumental use of the Democratic party made organizing disparate voices difficult.

To be fair, Swanstrom acknowledges that some issues remained out of Kucinich’s hands: 1) surburban policies made it difficult for the poor to move out of the city 2) federal policies encourage sunbelt migration 3) economic restricting reoriented the economy toward services rather than manufacturing. Still, Kucinich never developed any real grassroots organizations to counter the business interests with whom he feuded.

Swanstrom’s diagnosis suggests a need for strong party politics to organize the neighborhoods into a coherent political movement. Moreover, in terms of development, he agrees with Kucinich’s rejection of tax abatements and argues that careful manipulation of the tax policy (i.e. use of city tax which falls often on suburban commuters) might prove useful. Moreover, the city needed to encourage mixed use diversity through “local land use controls and targeted incentives.” (239) He concludes by noting that he doesn’t wish to eliminate growth politics but rather “subject it to the will of the majority.” Finally, future studies must examine the investment context of growth politics since they played such a critical role in Kucinich’s mayoralty.

Criticisms – literally no avg people in text … completely a book about elites … you hear nothing about the city’s minority population, black people do live in the city don’t they …

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