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City Bound

City Bound: How States Stifle Urban Innovation

Gerald E. Frug
David J. Barron
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    City Bound
    Book Description:

    Many major American cities are defying the conventional wisdom that suburbs are the communities of the future. But as these urban centers prosper, they increasingly confront significant constraints. In City Bound, Gerald E. Frug and David J. Barron address these limits in a new way. Based on a study of the differing legal structures of Boston, New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle, City Bound explores how state law determines what cities can and cannot do to raise revenue, control land use, and improve city schools.

    Frug and Barron show that state law can make it much easier for cities to pursue a global-city or a tourist-city agenda than to respond to the needs of middle-class residents or to pursue regional alliances. But they also explain that state law is often so outdated, and so rooted in an unjustified distrust of local decision making, that the legal process makes it hard for successful cities to develop and implement any coherent vision of their future. Their book calls not for local autonomy but for a new structure of state-local relations that would enable cities to take the lead in charting the future course of urban development. It should be of interest to everyone who cares about the future of American cities, whether political scientists, planners, architects, lawyers, or simply citizens.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6008-1
    Subjects: Political Science, Law, Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xx)

    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 1-11)

      Lewis Mumford used to ask a very basic question: “What is a city?”¹ The answer depends on one’s angle of vision. For many people, the word “city” is associated with images of density, so that only parts of the city seem citylike. Residents of Queens often talk about going to “the city,” meaning Manhattan, even though they already live in the City of New York. The entire metropolitan region can also be experienced as one big city. Many residents of Boston’s suburbs say they live in Boston even though they don’t.

      These differing definitions of a city work well for...

      (pp. 12-30)

      One important way that urban theorists analyze city power involves examining the relationship between structure and agency. By structure, we mean the external factors, those outside of the city’s control, that affect what cities can and cannot do. By agency, we mean a city’s power to make choices within that structure. H. V. Savitch and Paul Kantor provide a useful account of the conventional understanding of these terms:

      The idea of structure entails long-term, underlying, relatively fixed forces that configure decision making and make it quite difficult for human actions to overcome. Economic benefits that spring from geographic location is...

      (pp. 31-52)

      Our discussion of the constraining influence of local government law might suggest that our purpose is to defend local autonomy. This chapter explains why this is not our goal. Part of the reason has to do with the complexities of defining what “local autonomy” means. Part has to do with the normative undesirability of such a goal. And part derives from our conviction that there is no escape from the city structures that this book is devoted to describing. Our position on these matters is unusual among law professors concerned with local government, and it is also not the way...


    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 53-59)

      The argument advanced in part I was framed in general terms: the different legal structures that define local power are a major factor in determining a large, successful city’s policy and its ability to alter it. At this level of generality, the proposition may well be easy to accept. But it also is likely to be too vague to be useful. What kind of legal structures are we talking about? How exactly does a legal structure affect a city’s policymaking?

      In this part we address these questions of specificity. We provide a detailed examination of the power of the City...

    • 3 HOME RULE
      (pp. 60-74)

      Every major American city operates within a legal framework not of its own making. These frameworks vary substantially. One key difference is whether a state defines local powers through specific statutes or through general delegations of authority. For most of the nineteenth century, all states chose the first path. They defined local government power and offered city charters through specific legislative enactments. As local governments grew in size and complexity, most states shifted course. Rather than requiring fast-growing central cities to seek special permission from the state legislature each time they wanted to act, states granted them what is known...

      (pp. 75-98)

      Two of the most important powers that cities possess involve their authority to raise money and to spend it. It is commonly thought that this authority is largely within a city’s control. Editorials rail against city governments for raising taxes, and there is no shortage of commentary that castigates mayors and city councils for profligate city spending. It is not uncommon for local political leaders to be attacked as well for failing to fund various projects, and even for imposing painful cuts on city services. This focus on the fiscal decisions of city governments obscures a basic fact about the...

      (pp. 99-120)

      In this chapter, we discuss city power to control the built environment—the physical aspects of a city’s growth and development. Cities do not make decisions about the built environment in a transparent way. Land use authority is embedded in a maddeningly complex array of statutes, judicial decisions, ownership structures, and public authorities. This complexity makes a city’s land use policy obscure even to the most interested of observers. Yet land use powers affect the look of a city in a way that no other city powers can. Unlike the home rule power or decisions about finance and education, city...

      (pp. 121-140)

      Education is perhaps the most important service city government provides. Many cities spend as much on education as on all other functions combined. But the role that public schools play in city life is much more fundamental than their impact on city finance. A strong school system affects the nature of a city’s population: it attracts families with children to the city, and it keeps them in the city. The reverse is also true: the strength of a city’s public school system is affected by the kind of people who live in the city. A school system that disproportionately serves...


    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 141-143)

      The detailed constraints explored in part II serve as the background for the final four chapters: our exploration of alternative futures for cities in the twenty-first century. The specific legal structures explored in part II—home rule, revenue and expenditures, land use and development, and education—are key ingredients in whatever alternatives cities might want to pursue. We limit ourselves to the four futures we have already introduced: the global city, the tourist city, the middle class city, and the regional city. In the chapters that follow, we emphasize not only the kinds of constraints imposed by the legal rules...

      (pp. 144-164)

      Over the last few decades, an increasing number of urban scholars have explored what John Friedmann called, in his seminal article, “The World Cities Hypothesis.”¹ In advancing his hypothesis, Friedmann rejected the widely held view that key features of the globalization of the world economy—the dramatically enhanced mobility of capital, sharp reductions in travel time, unprecedented advances in communications technology, and large-scale domestic and international migration—have deprived cities of their historic economic advantage. On the contrary, he argued, cities have become even more important because the changing nature of the world economy requires the centralization of key functions...

      (pp. 165-184)

      In their influential book The Tourist City, Dennis Judd and Susan Fainstein describe the transition of major cities into vehicles for attracting tourists.¹ Tourist cities shift their focus from the needs of city residents to the desires of people living elsewhere. They therefore sell themselves as a place to visit to people in nearby suburbs, across the country, and around the world. In part, they do so by advertising in a manner similar to businesses marketing a consumer product, highlighting the value of their heritage, vitality, and unique attractions. But they also construct their infrastructure and provide amenities to ensure...

      (pp. 185-204)

      For most city residents, the most familiar conception of their city—and of its future—is being a middle class city. This is a city focused on its residents not on outsiders, on its city services not on its marketing ability or financial sector, and on its ability to be the home not simply of the rich and poor but of those in between. The difficulties facing a middle class city are well known. Barry Bluestone and Mary Huff Stevenson describe these difficulties in terms of a “triple revolution” in American society: a demographic change caused by new immigration and...

      (pp. 205-230)

      “Most Americans today,” Peter Calthorpe and William Fulton declare in their book The Regional City, “do not live in towns—or even cities—in the traditional sense of these terms. Instead, most of us are citizens of a region—a large and multifaceted metropolitan area encompassing hundreds of places that we would traditionally think of as distinct and separate ‘communities.’ ” Most people, they hasten to add, do not think of themselves in these terms. They think of themselves as living in a specific city or town, even a specific neighborhood:

      But the patterns of our daily existence belie a...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 231-234)

    Our review of the four futures illustrates how the current legal structure frames city decision making in the United States. As we suggested in the introduction to part III, current legal rules are not designed to enable cities, within state-defined limits, to pursue a vision of their future. There is too little city discretion on issues of major importance to local residents. At the same time, the state directs city decision making in ways that are not properly debated even at the state level. A second-guessing of local judgments—and a confidence in public authorities, state control, and privatization rather...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 235-248)
  10. About the Authors
    (pp. 249-250)
  11. Index
    (pp. 251-260)