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American cities experienced an extraordinary surge in downtown development during the 1970s and 1980s. Pro-growth advocates in urban government and the business community believed that the construction of office buildings, hotels, convention centers, and sports complexes would generate jobs and tax revenue while revitalizing stagnant local economies. But neighborhood groups soon became disgruntled with the unanticipated costs and unfulfilled promises of rapid expansion, and grassroots opposition erupted in cities throughout the United States.

Through an insightful comparison of effective protest in San Francisco and ineffective protest in Washington, D.C., Stephen McGovern examines how citizens—even those lacking financial resources—have sought to control their own urban environments. McGovern interviews nearly one hundred business activists, government officials, and business leaders, exploring the influence of political culture and individual citizens’ perceptions of a particular development issue. McGovern offers a compelling explanation of why some battles against city hall succeed while so many others fail.

Stephen J. McGovern is an assistant professor of political science at Salem State College.

"Very clearly written and is full of interesting and compelling details. It is an important addition to the study of American urban politics and its mechanism of change."—American Journal of Sociology

"Provides the analytical approach that may enable us to better understand urban progressivism across urban America."—American Planning Association Journal

"Evinces the potential of a pathbreaking work that will inform research on the politics of planning in American cities for years to come."—APA Journal

"To the long list of scholarly analyses of urban development, McGovern adds a major contribution . . . . McGovern's analysis of urban political culture offers a useful paradigm from analyzing other cities' economic development policies."—Choice

"Tells a story in which the citizens affected by downtown development can force changes in land-use policy, and do so in a way that ensures the benefits of growth are shared equitably and capital does not grow wings and fly away."—Journal of American Culture

"McGovern's excellent book fills an important gap in the literature on urban redevelopment."—Susan S. Fainstein

"A lively and useful discussion of the different strategies employed in remaking two of America’s downtowns."—Washington History

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Urban renewal, Urban planning, San Francisco, Washington DC


Urban Studies

The Politics of Downtown Development: Dynamic Political Cultures in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
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