Governance Policies, Ordinances and Taxes Imagining Cityscapes: The Politics of Urban Development

Imagining Cityscapes: The Politics of Urban Development
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This article from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy describes a growth scenario for two Rocky Mountain communities, and how local elected and appointed officials guide shape the future of communities.

Imagine two communities in the Rocky Mountain region in the late 1860s. One is located along the transcontinental railroad, the other is 100 miles to the south. Which community would come to dominate the region by the turn of the century? Counterintuitively, the latter community did. There, aggressive entrepreneurs and community leaders orchestrated the completion of a spur linking the town to the railroad and then commenced a promotional campaign on the community's behalf. Over time, that town, Denver, flourished, while the other, Cheyenne, did not. Denver leaders did not rely on chance. Instead they mobilized public resources to pursue their vision of Denver as a major city.

As product cycles ebb and flow, populations and firms migrate, natural resources peter out and consumer tastes change, cities either adapt to their changing environments or succumb to the invisible hand of the marketplace. Local elected and appointed officials can shape their cities by deciding whether or not to implement nonmarket, city-sponsored development.

Politics is important because these city officials either respond to a tax-services imbalance or they pursue an image or vision of their city's future, its cityscape. Although city-sponsored development might lower business costs and spur economic growth, such development is not an automatic response to changing economic circumstances. Rather, public economic development is the result of a purposive political decision and is undertaken selectively.Bowman, Ann O'M. and Michael A. Pagano. Land Lines Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, March 1996


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