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Chapter Summary

Frug, Gerald E. 1999. City Making: Building Communities without Building Walls. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Chapter 3)

As noted in Chapter 2, the protection of property rights is plagued by conflicting goals: excessive corporate power may threaten the interests of both individuals and the state, yet intermediate power groups are necessary to protect individuals from the state (i.e. too much state power can destabilize economic activity). Opponents claim that decentralization to intermediate groups (i) risks the individual freedom of its members, and (ii) can lead to multiple sovereign bodies in one state, which infringes on the Western legislative tradition.

With these critiques in mind, Frug raises a question central to the chapter: how can intermediate groups defend themselves against the power of centralized state? This can be achieved by obscuring the entitys connection with group power and instead associating it with individual rights. This reframing should consider the communal and economic aspects of the lives city residents, which can be enriched by city and thus justifying it as a separate power group. For example, homeowners associations have been defended to be collective embodiment of individuals desires (via self-imposed freedom of association rules), rather than as a threat to liberty.

In this light, central cities are more closely associated with a public, group form of government power than the suburb, which is often seen as utilizing its state-granted powers in a business-like, voluntary way for the benefit of its members. Because of this voluntary nature, suburban power is not perceived as a threat to individual freedom while the cities, having a purely public image, are and thus require more state oversight.

Our author argues that cities should not avoid the dispute about group power by adopting a more private character in the mold of the suburban model. Instead, the term the public should be redefined. Currently, cities are forced by local government law to not only act as private entities internally, but also when dealing with other cities. Boundaries between cities are treated like boundaries between private property; power over space is equated with autonomy. Cities are expected to have a centered sense of self and to exclusively act in the interest of the combined wishes of their cities. This naturally frames a struggle amongst cities and creates a justification for an able third party (the state) to resolve inter-jurisdictional issues. Ironically, city autonomy requires a mechanism that actually undermines that autonomy.

Frug suggests that cities voluntarily enter into agreements and make compromises with each other instead of ceding their power to the state to resolve conflicts for them. He claims that such a scenario would be unlikely because local government law currently emphasizes boundaries . Regardless, Frug sees cooperation as increased power to cities: the power to escape centralized control through cooperation rather than being strictly defined by boundaries .

To determine self-interest when acting collectively, the city must look within itself. From an individual perspective, it becomes clear that the creation of the self is a process that extends beyond the individual, not cloistered off by set boundaries . According to our au thor, identity is defined by working through various differences present in ones surroundings; a continuous process shaped by interactions with ones external environment . Likewise, a groups identity must be forged out of the various differences of its members. Moreover, a person may belong to different and overlapping social groups , which in turn impacts his/her interaction with each. Frug openly admits that various ideas about the decentered self exist. Yet this presents multiple opportunities for redefining the city beyond a single, centered entity.