Growth and Its discontents: Localism, Protest and the Politics of Development on the Postwar Northeast Corridor

Peter T Siskind, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation explores the political, economic and environmental transformations of the region stretching from the metropolitan areas of Boston to Washington, D.C. from World War II through the 1970s. Looking at urban, suburban, and vacationland locations throughout the Northeast Corridor, I examine the histories of housing development, urban renewal, highway construction, and land use policy during the early postwar period when policy makers and citizens shared an orthodoxy about the benefits of unchecked growth as well as in later years when this orthodoxy came under siege. The project focuses especially on the critics of growth, including civil rights activists, environmentalists, city and regional planners, and suburban growth-control advocates. By the late 1960s and early 1970s this heterogeneous collection of activists and policy makers created a politics of development new in both substance and style. Especially when environmental concerns took center stage, growth's critics sometimes created unlikely coalitions that secured alternative growth policies, for example regarding transportation in metropolitan Boston, suburban sprawl in Montgomery County, Maryland, and dam and recreation development in the upper Delaware River valley. However, the whole turned out to be less than the sum of its parts. More frequently, growth's critics collided both with one another and with other popular political impulses such as those seeking to protect property values, preserve local home rule, and resist economic and racial integration. I conclude that growth's critics ultimately achieved only limited success, as an examination of the fifteen-year reign of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller demonstrates. Simultaneously and unapologetically a pro-growth booster and a champion of many growth critiques, Rockefeller and his administration carried on his family's long history of racial liberalism and conservationism by fighting discrimination, physically revitalizing poor urban neighborhoods, cleaning waterways, and preserving open space while at the same time actively dismissing more radical black and environmental critiques that held these efforts to be too timid, gradualist, and narrowly focused. This dissertation shows how, in New York and elsewhere on the Northeast Corridor, moderate critiques of growth came to co-exist with rather than replace prior growth patterns and policies. Growth was reformed but not transformed.

Subject Area

American history|Geography|Political science

Recommended Citation

Siskind, Peter T, "Growth and Its discontents: Localism, Protest and the Politics of Development on the Postwar Northeast Corridor" (2002). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3073053.