Skip to main content

Chapter Summary

Frug, Gerald E. 1999. City Making: Building Communities without Building Walls. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Chapter5)

Frug begins Chapter 5 by painting a theoretical backdrop for the establishment of the postmodern subject. The postmodern self draws from a broad variety of theoretical influences including psychoanalysis, feminist theory, poststructuralist theory, postmodernist theory, and critical race theory. The central tenant of the postmodern view is that there is no core identity. Rather, all meaning is imposed from the outside, intertwined with power and performance, and context-dependent. Because there is no internal essence of self, there is no real other.

Once again, Frug grafts this distinction onto the concept of local government. He contests the division between city and suburb, pointing to the way metro regions are increasingly organized as a collection of nodes where people interact with different locations in which they live, work, and conduct other activities. Local government law based on a postmodern subject would reject the current municipal emphasis on residency. A postmodern subjects urban experience is not defined by their address, but rather their interactions. The existing system, however, puts an excessive emphasis on residency, allowing people to exert power under the fragmented jurisdictions in which they live, despite being connected to what is a constantly expanding world. This includes the current financing system (which dictates that those who pay for local services - via property taxes - are those who are entitled to receive them) and the legal conception that local control means control by residents.

Frug reintroduces Chapter 4s suggestion of a regional legislature in order to divorce local government power from jurisdictional boundaries. He proposes a system that gives people the right to exert political voice beyond their area of residence by allowing people to vote in five different local elections of their choosing across the country. Although this may lead to an increased sense of geographical dissonance, the proposal may increase the level of popular participation because not only insiders will pay attention to local political struggles. Our author theorizes that local tax revenues would be allocated more broadly, political cooperation would be furthered on a regional level, and our fixation on boundaries would be undermined.

Finally, Frug hints at a theory that moves beyond both the situated self and the post-modern self. Where he describes the situated self as overly romantic, he says that the post-modern understanding of self can be overly cold and impersonal. In the end, he argues that we are not forced to choose between them as policy proposals per se, but rather to recognize that both alternatives reject the traditional focus on boundaries and the idea that the city is an isolated entity. Our author presents both of these options to illustrate the potential for moving beyond the current, fragmented system and the narrow understanding of identity that it rests upon. The remainder of the book, he explains, will be dedicated to exploring the value of actually pursuing an alternative