The Private Side of US Planning History: Three Generations of Trump Real Estate Schemes

Authors: Samuel Stein*, CUNY Graduate Center
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Land Use, Economic Geography
Keywords: planning, land use, Trump, Keynesianism, neoliberalism, racial capitalism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: St. Charles, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 41st Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Long before running for president, real estate developer Donald Trump built his career off opportunities provided by neoliberal urban planners, finding lucrative ways to bend public policy towards private gain. Trump’s rise can therefore be read as a private sector corollary to recent US planning politics. Focusing in particular on his New York City real estate developments, we see that his business model has followed (and, at times, driven) the evolving fashions, needs and demands of local land use planning: the transition of central city land from industrial to residential; the use of generous tax subsidies to promote luxury development; rezonings to allow bigger and more profitable development; private partnerships for development on public land; and more. This pattern also holds with Trump’s father, Fred, whose real estate model was premised on the planning politics of post-war urban Keynesianism. Even Fred’s father, Friedrich, built his career off schemes related to land use changes in both the Pacific Northwest and the New York City borough of Queens. Tracing three generations, this paper will show how the Trumps—exceptional in their sudden political power but otherwise typical of New York real estate developers—built their fortunes by following the changing winds of local land use politics.

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