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Sea Level Rise and Urban Growth Machines

Project: 5
Name: Richardson Dilworth, PhD |
Department: Politics


The term "growth machine" refers to the coalition of actors that may come together in a given urban area over a shared interest in increasing property values in that area. Typical members of a growth machine would be real estate developers, major land owners, and local businesses that sell primarily to area residents.

"Growth machine" has been a common term in the literature on urban politics for several decades, and possibly as a result its meaning has been stretched to the point where it is a ubiquitous but no longer very useful term. Thus part of my project is to try to provide a more "rigorous" definition of what a growth machine is.

Second, especially in coastal cities, one of the primary threats to long-term property values is sea level rise. How and whether city governments will respond to this threat most likely depends on many factors. The factor I am seeking to explore in this study is whether the strength of a local growth machine might determine part of that response.

In short, my study proposes to examine whether growth machines are important factors in how cities respond to the threat of sea level rise, and as part of that study I also need to provide a more specific definition of "growth machine." the preliminary study will focus on one specific city: Miami, Florida.

For more information on this project, see:

Gained Experience

  • Knowledge of the study of urban politics
  • Knowledge about how sea level rise estimates are produced
  • Knowledge about how to research politics and policy in a specific city


One of the outcomes of the project will be a paper presented at the 2019 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association meeting. This paper will be coauthored by Dilworth and Sara Hughes from the University of Michigan. We will acknowledge student research -- whether there is a chance for coauthorship is unlikely at this point, though not impossible. We would expect to revise the conference paper into a manuscript that will be submitted for publication in an academic journal.


  • Collecting sources for an extensive literature review on (a) growth machines and (b) the impact of sea level rise on property values
  • Looking at the existing literature produced by national trade associations such as the National Realtors Association and the Urban Land Institute, on the impacts of sea level rise on property values
  • Researching various estimates of the impact and extent of sea level rise, both from private companies such as Zillow, but also government agencies such as NOAA
  • Researching the extent to which local organizations in large cities, such as ULI chapters and chambers of commerce, have addressed climate change and sea level rise
  • Researching the specific responses to sea level rise in Miami


The work will be mostly online and can be conducted in Philadelphia.

Possibility to Work Post Fellowship