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City Making

City Making: Building Communities without Building Walls

Gerald E. Frug
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    City Making
    Book Description:

    American metropolitan areas today are divided into neighborhoods of privilege and poverty, often along lines of ethnicity and race. City residents traveling through these neighborhoods move from feeling at home to feeling like tourists to feeling so out of place they fear for their security. As Gerald Frug shows, this divided and inhospitable urban landscape is not simply the result of individual choices about where to live or start a business. It is the product of government policies--and, in particular, the policies embedded in legal rules. A Harvard law professor and leading expert on urban affairs, Frug presents the first-ever analysis of how legal rules shape modern cities and outlines a set of alternatives to bring down the walls that now keep city dwellers apart.

    Frug begins by describing how American law treats cities as subdivisions of states and shows how this arrangement has encouraged the separation of metropolitan residents into different, sometimes hostile groups. He explains in clear, accessible language the divisive impact of rules about zoning, redevelopment, land use, and the organization of such city services as education and policing. He pays special attention to the underlying role of anxiety about strangers, the widespread desire for good schools, and the pervasive fear of crime. Ultimately, Frug calls for replacing the current legal definition of cities with an alternative based on what he calls "community building"--an alternative that gives cities within the same metropolitan region incentives to forge closer links with each other.

    An incisive study of the legal roots of today's urban problems,City Makingis also an optimistic and compelling blueprint for enabling American cities once again to embrace their historic role of helping people reach an accommodation with those who live in the same geographic area, no matter how dissimilar they are.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2334-5
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-14)

    Every American metropolitan area is now divided into districts that are so different from each other they seem to be different worlds. Residential neighborhoods are African American, Asian, Latino, or white, and upper-middle-class, middle-class, working-class, or poor; many are populated by people who share a single class and racial or ethnic status. Traveling through this mosaic of neighborhoods, metropolitan residents move from feeling at home to feeling like a tourist to feeling so out of place that they are afraid for their own security. Commercial life provides a similarly wide range of experiences. In one spot, a shopping center offers...


    • 1 City Powerlessness
      (pp. 17-25)

      American cities do not have the power to solve their current problems or to control their future development. Cities have only those powers delegated to them by state governments, and traditionally these powers have been rigorously limited by judicial interpretation. Even if cities act pursuant to an unquestionable delegation of power from the state, their actions remain subject to state control. Any city decision can be reversed by a contrary decision by the state, a process the legal system calls “preemption.” Moreover, state power is not limited simply to the ability to determine the scope of city decision-making authority or...

    • 2 A Legal History of Cities
      (pp. 26-53)

      The best way to understand a legal concept is to analyze it the way a geologist looks at the landscape. For a geologist, any portion of land at any given time is “the condensed history of the ages of the Earth and a nexus of relationships.”¹ The current legal status of cities is similarly the remnant of a historical process, so that its meaning cannot be grasped until the elements of that process, and their relationships, are understood. This chapter is an effort to describe how people at different points in history have interpreted the question of city power—that...

    • 3 Strategies for Empowering Cities
      (pp. 54-70)

      The history of city power just recounted illustrates the precariousness of establishing any form of group power in modern society. Every example of group power—whether political or economic, public or private—permits the power-wielder to invade the spheres of the individual and the state and thus is subject to the same kind of attack as the one waged against cities. Yet most modern political thinkers seem convinced that the creation of a world without any intermediate organizations—a world in which the state is the only power-wielder other than individuals themselves—would leave individuals unable to prevent the state...


    • 4 The Situated Subject
      (pp. 73-91)

      One way of decentering cities’ subjectivity would be to build on the literature that emphasizes that the self is formed only through a relationship with others. As Kenneth Gergen puts it, “it is not individual ‘I’s who create relationships, but relationships that create the sense of ‘I.’ ”¹ This insight has stimulated a wide variety of communitarians, civic republicans, and feminists, among others. Although it would be impossible here to survey this extensive literature, or even to summarize the work of a single writer to whom I am referring, it is important that we take a brief look at the...

    • 5 The Postmodern Subject
      (pp. 92-112)

      There is now an enormous literature that extends the critique of the centered subject beyond the notion of the situated self. Considerable differences exist within this literature among aspects labeled (for example) poststructuralist, postmodernist, feminist, and critical race theory. As in the previous chapter, I intend not to survey the work of even a single proponent of any of these strands. Moreover, here, as there, the writers I mention do not add up to a single school of thought; on the contrary, they often have different objectives and criticize each other’s positions. Once again, I seek merely to suggest the...


    • 6 Community Building
      (pp. 115-142)

      Replacing local government law’s reliance on the notion of the centered subject with a more decentered version of the self would dramatically change the nature of intercity relationships within America’s metropolitan areas. And this, in turn, would transform the relationships among the more than 75 percent of Americans who live in these areas. As I describe in this chapter, every level of government has helped make city boundary lines a central ingredient in people’s lives. These boundary lines not only determine which public resources are ours and which are theirs, but help to define who “we” and “they” are. Diminishing...

    • 7 City Land Use
      (pp. 143-164)

      City control over land use has contributed more to the dispersal and separation of metropolitan residents than any other city activity. This control has been exercised principally through cities’ zoning power and through a combination of other city powers, such as condemnation, financial incentives, and municipal borrowing, mobilized to promote urban redevelopment. The decision to allow every city in a metropolitan area to adopt its own zoning and development policies was made by the states; cities can engage in these activities only because state law has authorized them. But the federal government has also been instrumental in framing cities’ zoning...


    • 8 Alternative Conceptions of City Services
      (pp. 167-179)

      Local government law now organizes the provision of public services, like decisions about land use, in a way that fosters metropolitan fragmentation. It does so by allowing each individual city to generate its own revenue, provide its own services, and limit the availability of its services to city residents. Because of this method of allocating city services, moving across a city line has become a mechanism for effectuating a dramatic change in one’s quality of life. City services are better in some jurisdictions than others, and the taxes one has to pay for them could well be lower. One problem...

    • 9 Education
      (pp. 180-195)

      “Education,” the Supreme Court declared inBrown v. Board of Education, “is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments,” but these days many people find it hard to understand why. The reason is that education is also perhaps the most important consumer good that people ever acquire, not only for themselves but also for their children. Education is considered the road to advancement, for the poor as well as the rich: the better the education, the better the job and, as a result, the better the quality of life. Parents thus think it essential for their children...

    • 10 Police
      (pp. 196-207)

      Although the desire for good schools and the fear of crime are both powerful motivating factors leading people to move to, and away from, particular cities or neighborhoods, the impact of city services on these decisions is not the same. When education is the issue, the quality of city services significantly influences the decision to relocate (“we’ve moved here for the schools”). When security is the concern, by contrast, the caliber of the police department is not the focus of attention. Instead, people move (if they can) to a low-crime neighborhood and, once there, construct their houses and businesses to...

    • 11 Choosing City Services
      (pp. 208-218)

      It would try readers’ patience, not to mention my own, if I were to canvas every city service in the detail just devoted to education and the police. But there is no need for me to do so. Given the impact of the desire for good schools and the fear of crime on the current fragmentation of American metropolitan areas, it would be surprising if cities committed to community building failed to include education and crime control in their efforts. Education and police protection are the two largest items in municipal budgets. Even those who want to privatize the police...

  9. Afterword
    (pp. 219-224)

    In this book, I have suggested a number of ways to expand the exercise of public freedom: using juries to decide controversial issues of public policy; introducing public participation into the work of regional authorities and special districts; broadening the new urbanists’ idea of “charrettes” to widen public involvement in land-use decisions; diversifying the parents, teachers, and students involved in decision making about individual schools; strengthening the role of community policing; involving ordinary people in an expansion of city-run emergency services; creating cooperatives to run city-owned housing and grocery stores. I have argued for the development of more public space...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 225-246)
  11. Index
    (pp. 247-256)