American Sociological Association

Big City Problems: Private Equity Investment, Transnational Users, and Local Mobilization in the Small City

High Point, North Carolina, once known as the “Home Furnishings Capital of the World” for its vast manufacturing complex, has suffered intense deindustrialization over the past 60 years. During this same time, however, High Point has competed with much more prominent cities to become the world's most important furniture exposition node and a major design, fashion, and merchandising center. Exploiting its inexpensive real estate—what amounts to a planetary rent gap—and its furniture design heritage, city leaders have aggressively offered the furniture world unprecedented control over its downtown landscape for the twice‐annual exposition. Over the past 35 years, however, there have also been growing efforts to combat the domination of the city by exchange value considerations privileged by outside real estate interests such as private equity firms Bain and Blackstone. This article documents, first, the loss of a resident‐centered downtown to the pursuit of exchange values and, second, the mobilizations to reclaim resident‐centered use values. As it does, it interrogates what the High Point case can teach us about the small city in the quickly transforming global context.


John Joe Schlichtman





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