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FORCES BEYOND LOCAL CONTROL

The preceding parts of this chapter were written from a local perspective— what a municipality can do to shape its own pattern of development. But many land-use decisions are outside of municipal control.

For example, decisions made by state highway departments about highways are powerful shapers of the pattern of development. Not only do they involve many acres directly, but they also create powerful economic forces that, in turn, shape land uses. Municipal governments have some hand in these decisions, but they are often not the most powerful players. State highway departments, state legislators, and governors may all have more influence over decisions than do the municipality's officials and residents. In addition, major corporations and institutions may play very powerful roles in shaping state highway decisions. The major corporation which indicates that its decision whether to locate in an area or to close up its operations in an area depends on decisions made about highway construction may carry more weight with the state highway department and state government than the preferences of a town or county government. Institutions may also play a powerful role in highway decisions. In one case that the writer witnessed, a major university became a decisive force in a decision to construct a new highway. With a payroll of several thousand, a big enrollment, and tens of thousands of alumni scattered throughout the state, the university was the "five-hundred-pound gorilla" in the conflict over whether or not to build. The university's president was a much more powerful figure in the decision-making process than was any elected official in the region.

In many cases, the impetus for new road construction wells up largely from individuals and private organizations.

That was the case with the planning for Interstate 73 in Virginia, part of a larger plan for a route between Detroit and Charleston, South Carolina. Much of the impetus came from individuals, businesses, and property owners who saw the new route as an economic opportunity and beat the drum for it for many years. Of course, citizen activism cuts both ways. A citizens' group, Virginians for Appropriate Roads, waged a long legal fight against the interstate until losing a final appeal in 2010.

In this age in which state and municipal governments actively pursue economic development and court firms with major financial incentives, decisions made in corporate boardrooms can have major effects on the pattern of development (see Chapter 13). Not only does the building of commercial facilities directly shape the pattern of land use, but state and municipal governments will make decisions about land use and public capital investment with an eye to their effects upon attracting industrial and commercial investment and, in many cases, in part on the basis of negotiations with those firms.

Other decisions by higher levels of government may have profound effects on the local land-use pattern. The building of state or federal facilities, an action generally not bound by local land-use controls, can have powerful effects on the municipal land-use pattern. So, too, can land acquisition by higher levels of government.

 
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