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Chapter Summary

Frug, Gerald E. 1999. City Making: Building Communities without Building Walls. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Chapter 1)

Within the US legal framework, all city powers are directly delegated by states, thereby guaranteeing them absolute decision-making authority over cities. According to Frug, this places cities in a situation of powerlessness with respect to current issues or future developments. A lthough c ities are allowed to exercise home rule in areas not preempted by state jurisdiction, this authority is narrowly applied to purely local matters. As such, Frug suggests that this form local control is rather impotent, as very few matters are purely local in modern society.

More importantly, cities have limited power to generate income; the citys fiscal decisions are regulated by state mandates on taxation and borrowing . Because of the American legislative tradition, cities are purely public; they are not allowed to make profit by engaging in a business activity. Further, since cities are not allowed to define general rules and individual rights , their regulation of private activities is severely limited and thus many services are provided by special districts or public authorities - not by cities. Even for some municipal services like education, transportation, and water supply, cities have no oversight because they are managed by other public authorities or separate districts.

Thus an important dichotomy emerges: the city (municipal corporation) versus the private corporation. Cities are restrained by the Constitution, governed by politics, and a subdivision of the state, while private corporations are protected by the Constitution, governed by the market, and civil society. City discretion is considered as the exercise of compulsive autocratic power, while business discretion is considered as the exercise of freedom. As this comparison illustrates, the idea of city power is negatively conceived as local selfishness or protectionism, which results in a distinct conflict with wider national policymaking. Therefore, city powerlessness seems to be unavoidable in the modern conceptual framework.

Power held by a city is important not only because it is a solution for curing local issues, but also because it helps define the identity of a city. According to our author, city power is analogous with citizen participation. He uses Hannah Arendts term public freedom, which is defined as the ability to participate actively in the basic societal decisions that affect ones life. Cities are not presently established as vehicles to exercise this public freedom; instead, individuals through their current perceptions or attitudes - rely on policy decisions by distant forms of authority to govern their lives.

Our author believes that public freedom can be restored by transferring power from the state to the city level. A modification of individual citizen attitudes is insufficient without a measure to effect meaningful change; participation and power are intertwined. Only when the collective engagement of individuals influences the decision-making process can individualism be overcome. Thus, city power should be sought to enable high participation in decision-making and also to foster a more open form of community for disparate groups.