Document Type


Publication Date

August 2009

Publication Title

American Sociological Association Annual Meeting


Civic and Community Engagement | Place and Environment | Urban, Community and Regional Planning | Urban Studies | Urban Studies and Planning


This paper examines the role of culture in the urban development process. An abridged selection from an ongoing study of developers, activists and the politics of growth in Davis, California, it presents the case of the Target Corporation's campaign to build the first "big box" retail store in that city. I argue that Target's ability to win over the strongly slow-growth and anti-corporate community in a public referendum -- following apparently successful attempts to meet popular expectations of environmental leadership and the preservation of unique local character -- provides a clear example of how what I call cultural sincerity can be an important element in development politics, despite the assumptions of more structural or rational-economic models of urban growth. In analyzing this case, I propose that concerns with and expectations of cultural sincerity in Davis played an important role in the proposal design itself and the political campaign that followed. While local growth coalitions, including those involved in the Davis cases, still generally function as traditional growth machine models suggest, the case demonstrates that development organizations operate within socially dependent cultural contexts that are far more complex than the existing discourse has accounted for. Furthermore, as concerns such as environmental sustainability and the preservation of local character gain increasing prominence in development politics from small towns to major metropolitan neighborhoods, how these issues played out in Davis in recent years is of particular value.


Paper presented at panel: Mediating Culture(s), Translating Value(s).