According to some thinkers a city is a growth machine rather than the outcomes of a natural process, unlike what urban ecologists argue. For them, urban growth is not just organized by spatial geography, and cities will not just reorganize itself after periods of disorganization. The growth machine theory points out that urban growth is driven by a coalition of interest groups who all benefit from a city’s continuous growth and expansion. For them, the growth of cities is social, political, and largely planned and intended. For example, real estate interests may be involved—when urban growth happens, some groups benefit because properties increase in value. How groups lobby or manipulate the government or other groups, determine how cities grow and take shape. How people within the city are distributed is not so much related to geography, transportation, or space, but rather to the social actions of interest groups. Social Exclusion is a reality of today’s city.
One can take this as a perspective on economic theory, but as much as anything, this is really about the connections between the urban economy and urban politics.
This interpretation, originally proposed by Harvey Molotch two decades ago, focuses attention on the role of elites and entrepreneurs in creating the growth of a city. Growth and development are seen as necessary for the economic health of the city. Creating the conditions for growth is a matter of politics. The success of a city is a product of its competition with other cities, not just in the marketplace, but in the corridors of power. The local elite has to be able to attract national government investments and to persuade the national government to adopt policy which favours the city. Maybe it can get a major airport or defence contracting. Within the city, the leadership must be effective in creating the political conditions necessary for the success of the city’s economy. Maybe the city council can be persuaded to relax restrictions on building heights downtown, or perhaps it could release its land holdings for industrial development, or change the property tax structure to favour business. Perhaps it is just a case of making sure that a pro-business mayor gets elected at city hall. Success for the elites, of course, is not necessarily success for the ordinary citizen.