This study applies theoretical perspectives from urban, environmental, and organization studies to examine if “smart growth” represents an ecological restructuring of the political economy of conventional urban development, long theorized as a “growth machine” (Molotch, H. (1976) The city as growth machine: Toward a political economy of place. American Journal of Sociology, 82, 309–332; Logan & Molotch, 2007); the purpose is to determine if there is a “smart growth machine.”
Nine smart growth projects (SGPs) in four cities in California and Oregon were identified and semistructured interviews were held with the respective developers, architects, and civic officials involved in their implementation process. Comparative, descriptive, and grounded approaches were used to generate themes from interviews and other data sources.
The findings suggest that an ecological modernization of urban political economy occurs through the coordination of entrepreneurial action, technical expertise, and “smart” regulation. Individual and institutional entrepreneurs shift the organizational field of urban development. Technical expertise is needed to make projects sustainable and financially feasible. Finally, a “smart” regulatory framework that balances regulations and incentives is needed to forge cooperative relationships between local governments and developers. This constellation of actors and institutions represents a smart growth machine.
The author questions whether urban growth can become “smart” using an original study of nine SGPs in four cities across California and Oregon.
Nielsen, E.S. (2014), "Smart Growth Machines: The Ecological Modernization of Urban Political Economy", From Sustainable to Resilient Cities: Global Concerns and Urban Efforts (Research in Urban Sociology, Vol. 14), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 169-190. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1047-004220140000014008
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