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Chapter Summary

Frug, Gerald E. 1999. City Making: Building Communities without Building Walls. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Chapter 4)

Continuing the discussion from Chapter 3, Frug presents Chapter 4 to further explore the concept of the situated self. In order to de-center a citys subjectivity, we need to first break the domination of individual self-interest, and instead situate or define the individual within the context of others and the community.

Frug begins with a review of some theoretical justification for the constitutive conception of self. He draws particular attention to the following bases of thought, with respect to the concept of identity formation:

Communitarian: argues that identity is conceived through the community;

Civic Republicanism: believes that the individual is developed through involvement in the political process;

Feminism : argues for a relationship-centered self as an alternative to the traditional, more masculine, individualist concept of self.

Frug next applies the concept of the situated self to the relationship between city and suburb. While some suburban residents may seek to distance themselves from the urban core, their community identity is intrinsically linked to their relationship to the city. Yet, local law in the United States does not respect this critical linkage, allowing localities to effectively disregard their neighboring jurisdictions through zoning law, local taxes, and other elements of municipal authority. Our author illustrates examples of suburban exclusion and urban anti-gentrification legislation, arguing that both rely on distinction and separation. Such exclusion enables residents to preserve the homogeneity of their communities and enhance the common interest of its members at the expense of a fragmented, segregated metropolitan area.

Frug points out that there is a history of judicial backlash. The Mt. Laurel Supreme Court case successfully challenged a communitys ability to base land-use policy solely on the desire of the local residents. While the ruling was a positive step, it is not the comprehensive legislative reform necessary to influence a paradigm shift away from the status quo of the centered self.

To address this structural fragmentation in practice, Frug proposes the creation of a regional legislature with more power than existing regional bodies. The most important function of these legislatures would be to define the power of local governments; these entities would determine which issues are subject to local control, the degree to which local decisions must consider external impacts, and the structure of fiscal allocations. Although he has some basic administrative suggestions for this system, Frug admits there are a host of bureaucratic issues that would complicate its implementation.

In efforts to further curb local corruption, 20th Century reformers inserted controls on the city that would be unthinkable for any American business. The reforms included tests for civil servants and competitive bidding for city contracts. Frug asserts that these actions, over time, gradually exacerbated city powerlessness. In sum, our author concludes that the legal history of protection of private rights from city power evolved over a century of legal rulings that gradually diminished the power of cities.