Ken Larsen's web site - "Urban Growth Machine" definition


Urban Growth Machine refers to a collection of business people in a community who lobby for growth.  They do so because they profit from growth.  The faster a community grows, the more money they will make.


The primary members of the growth machine are real estate developers, mortgage bankers, land owners, realtors, construction companies, and building suppliers.  They're entitled to make money, but if a community permits unrestrained growth, it could be in for a lot of trouble ... mostly in the form of heavy traffic, flooding, pollution, decline in the quality of life, and rising property taxes.  To see more negatives, read this.


Tactics of the Urban Growth Machine

  1. To maximize the likelihood that new projects will be approved by town councils, growth machine people will sponsor their own candidates for town council and board seats. [Laguna Beach story

  2. In a sneaky move, developers will donate to the campaigns of their preferred candidates after the deadline for financial disclosure, so voters are left in the dark about such contributions.

  3. Regarding town council meetings, such meetings are unfairly stacked in favor of developers.  Proponents of growth are allowed as much time as they need to articulate their plans; however members of the public are limited to just 3 minutes each [2 minutes in Durham].  Public comment is usually held at the end of what might be a five hour meeting. 

  4. The Growth machine will use Twitter to summon their minions to public forums where "approve or not approve" decisions are made.

  5. They will push for waiving of taxes for new business.  In 2016 this is happening with Wegmanns for Chapel Hill. (details)  This will raise taxes for the rest of us.

  6. They will push for projects like Light Rail.  This diverts money from basic needs like buses and schools to a far more expensive transportation solution that will serve fewer people.  (details)  Light Rail is a boondoggle that only serves developers.

  7. They will lobby state government to ensure that impact fees are small or non-existent.  The North Carolina Home Builders Association brags about this on their website

  8. They promote the false idea that "growth is good because it will spread the tax base" ... thus lowering taxes.  Well, if there were any validity to that claim, then large metropolitan areas (such as New York City) would be cheaper to live in than rural areas.

  9. They denigrate opposition by characterizing them as NIMBYs - "Not in my backyard" - people who are against progress.  They spread the rumor that such people are "just a small number of people who oppose everything."

  10. They will join local clubs and persuade those organizations to endorse their candidates.  In Orange County, NC the local Sierra Club has endorsed candidates and causes which are not green. [example]


If you want to learn more, read the book "Better Not Bigger - How to Take Control of Urban Growth and Improve Your Community" by Eben Fodor (1999).  (my summary of the book)


Consequences of unrestrained growth

  1. If you think that all growth is good, consider what would happen if a town of 75,000 grew continuously.  At an annual growth rate of 1.5% it would reach 8 million people (the size of New York City) in 314 years.  If it grew at 6% per year, it would take only 81 years to reach 8 million people. 

  2. Flooding will get worse.  This has already occurred in Chapel Hill.  [pictures from 2013 + pictures from 2018]

  3. Traffic will get worse.  This has already occurred in the Triangle area.  [details]

  4. Pollution will get worse.  [examples of St. Louis and Minneapolis]

  5. You may run out of drinkable water and be forced to ration.  [details]

  6. Affordable housing will decline.  Gentrification will force low income people to move away.  [trailer park example]

  7. Cost of living will rise.  [details]

  8. Property taxes will rise.

  9. Quality of life will decline [mouse utopia experiment]


Examples of growth run amok are Apex, North Carolina and Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.


How to fight growth


If you're a very small town, growth should be encouraged.  You should incentivize people and companies to move to your area.


Once you reach a certain size (e.g. 75,000), you should cease incentivizing companies and people to move to your area.


If your town swells to say 200,000, impact fees should be levied.  Those impact fees should rise as the population rises further.  [details


Here are some comments that were made in January 2019 in response to a News & Observer article about homes being displaced by a proposed widening of Interstate 40 in Orange County, NC:



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