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Mega-Projects: The Changing Politics of Urban Public Investment

Mega-Projects: The Changing Politics of Urban Public Investment

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by Alan A. Altshuler, David E. Luberoff

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Since the demise of urban renewal in the early 1970s, the politics of large-scale public investment in and around major American cities has received little scholarly attention. In MEGA-PROJECTS, Alan Altshuler and David Luberoff analyze the unprecedented wave of large-scale (mega-) public investments that occurred in American cities during the 1950s and 1960s; the


Since the demise of urban renewal in the early 1970s, the politics of large-scale public investment in and around major American cities has received little scholarly attention. In MEGA-PROJECTS, Alan Altshuler and David Luberoff analyze the unprecedented wave of large-scale (mega-) public investments that occurred in American cities during the 1950s and 1960s; the social upheavals they triggered, which derailed large numbers of projects during the late 1960s and early 1970s; and the political impulses that have shaped a new generation of urban mega-projects in the decades since. They also appraise the most important consequences of policy shifts over this half-century and draw out common themes from the rich variety of programmatic and project developments that they chronicle. The authors integrate narratives of national as well as state and local policymaking, and of mobilization by (mainly local) project advocates, with a profound examination of how well leading theories of urban politics explain the observed realities. The specific cases they analyze include a wide mix of transportation and downtown revitalization projects, drawn from numerous regions—most notably Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Portland, and Seattle. While their original research focuses on highway, airport, and rail transit programs and projects, they draw as well on the work of others to analyze the politics of public investment in urban renewal, downtown retailing, convention centers, and professional sports facilities. In comparing their findings with leading theories of urban and American politics, Altshuler and Luberoff arrive at some surprising findings about which perform best and also reveal some important gaps in the literature as a whole. In a concluding chapter, they examine the potential effects of new fiscal pressures, business mobilization to relax environmental constraints, and security concerns in the wake of September 11. And they make clear their own views about how best to achieve a balance between developmental, environmental, and democratic values in public investment decisionmaking. Integrating fifty years of urban development history with leading theories of urban and American politics, MEGA-PROJECTS provides significant new insights into urban and intergovernmental politics.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"If you are looking for an economic quotient to keep a sports team in town, 'Mega-Projects' convincingly argues there isn't one. That, of course, is the end of the argument for some, but not the end of the argument for American cities." —James Vesely, Seattle Times, 5/7/2006

"An important new book... The larger question of what public works will be like in the aftermath of the Big Dig deserves serious attention from scholars and practitioners. It is now getting that attention from two of the best: Alan Altshuler and David Luberoff" —Alan Ehrenhalt, Governing

"A significant book that fills an important gap in our understanding of urban development politics. Altshuler and Luberoff have tackled a tremendous topic with both breadth and depth. It is a superb achievement sure to have a lasting impact on urban scholars and policymakers alike." —Lynne Sagalyn, Columbia Business School

"A fascinating, theoretically rich study of the politics of public investment in urban America —with particular attention to the strategies employed by public officials and business coalitions, and to the ways in which they have adapted to new opportunities and constraints over the past half-century." —Jameson W. Doig, Princeton University

"Same article appeared in:
San Diego Union-Tribune, Contra Costa Times, Times Union, Orlando Sentinel, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Tulsa World, Patriot News" —Mark Pratt, Associated Press, Various Newspapers, 12/21/2003

"Same article appeared in:
Times Union, Charleston Gazette, The Commercial Appeal" —Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press, Various Newspapers, 1/18/2004

"Guided by Altshuler and Luberoff's excellent analytical survey, we can see that it is also a quick trip backward to the pre-1950 era of urban self-reliance" —Hubert Murray, AIA, RIBA, ArchitectureBoston, 3/1/2004

"Escalating costs, complications, and delays are pretty much guaranteed in major public works projects these days, according to Altshuler and Luberoff... They don't pronounce the death of all megaprojects. But with money short and homeland security costs mounting, they believe such projects may not get much consideration in the near term." —Anthony Flint, Boston Globe, 5/19/2003

"This is a unique analysis in its linking of theory and detail" —W. C. Johnson, Bethel College (MN), Choice, 2/1/2004

"As with a novel in which one recognizes oneself in one of the characters, this survey of politics and projects can be read as a history of Boston from Mayor Collins to Mayor Menino. The striking aspect of the narrative, and perhaps the comfort, is that readers from Seattle, Denver, Atlanta -- or any number of other American cities -- might similarly recognize their own urban histories in its pages.... Guided by Altshuler and Luberoff's excelent analytical survey, we can see that it is also a quick trip backward to the pre-1950 era of urban self-reliance." —Hubert Murray, principal of Hubert Murray Architect & Planner in Cambridge, MA, Architecture Boston, 3/1/2004

"....necessary reading for students and professionals interested in creating vital urban environments of the future." —Arthur C. Nelson, Director of Urban Affairs and Planning, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, The Journal of Planning Education and Research, 4/1/2004

"... Mega-Projects is a major contribution to urban development policy and should attract a broad interdisciplinary scholarly audience, as well as urban policymakers and stakeholders." —Steven P. Erie, University of California, San Diego, Perspectives on Politics, 3/1/2004

"... seeks to comprehend the main lines of thought in US urban politics, to develop case studies of mega-projects that inform theory, and to defend a nuanced affiliation with the Harvard tradition of conservative urbanism.... The excellence of the effort cannot be denied.... The most engaging portion of the book... is the case studies, particularly the chapters on the Big Dig and the Denver airport, both tales well told." —Laura Pangallozi, Rutgers University, Regional Studies, 6/1/2004

"...would make fine additions to most upper-division and graduate urban politics and development classes." —Mark S. Rosentraub, Cleveland State University, City and Community, 11/1/2004

"By letting readers make their own judgments, Altshuler and Luberoff avoid the standard trap that comes from taking a small piece of data and make it fit the wider world. Mega-Projects adds an important body of work to our understanding of urban politics and public choice." —Jay H. Walder and Shashi K. Verma, Managing Director of Finance and Planning and Principal in Corporate Finance at Transport for London, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 12/4/2004

"This is a superbly written book.... The authors provide an intriguing and penetrating examination that only a political scientist and journalist can together offer." —Narry T. Dimitriou, Bartlett School of Planning, University College London, Journal of Urban Design, 11/1/2004

"With 'Mega-Projects,' Altshuler and Luberoff have made a timely and useful contribution to a highly topical debate. In particular, urban planners, transport planners and political scientists, be they academics or practitioners, will appreciate this book." —Luca Bertolini, University of Amsterdam, Journal of Housing and the Built Environment

"MEGA-PROJECTS insightfully blends urban political theory with detailed case studies to arrive at a new understanding of large public works projects in America. Altshuler and Luberoff take on pork barrel politics, the complexities of federalism, the ambiguous role of technical analysis, and the rise of environmental and community activism to create a landmark study of lasting value to planners, engineers, policy analysts, and politicians.
" —Martin Wachs, University of California, Berkeley

"A sophisticated history of public investment in American urban areas during the past half-century, framed within an equally sophisticated review of urban political theory. Its meticulous presentation of factual detail is cast within the larger setting where public policy shapes large-scale public works, and public works in turn help shape urban history." —Melvin M. Webber, University of California Transportation Research Center

Product Details

Brookings Institution Press
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Barnes & Noble
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3 MB

Meet the Author

Alan Altshuler is the Ruth and Frank Stanton Professor of Urban Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and its Graduate School of Design. He is also director of the Kennedy School's Taubman Center for State and Local Government. David E. Luberoff is the Taubman Center's associate director and an adjunct lecturer at the Graduate School of Design.

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Mega-Projects 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
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