Skip to main content

Chapter Summary

Frug, Gerald E. and David Barron. 2008. City Bound: How States Stifle Urban Innovation. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ Press. (Chapter 1)

In City Bound, Frug and Barron seek to define the role that local law plays in shaping city policy through an understanding of the circular relationship between state-imposed legal rules and the actions of cities. They begin their analysis of city power by discussing the relationship between structure (factors beyond a citys control) and agency (a citys internal factors). Our authors contend that cities may have more agency than current urban literature suggests, but they are subject to state-imposed rules that limit their ability to capitalize on prevailing economic and social conditions. Because local law is the product of political choices rather than deeply rooted social, economic, or geographical ones, it is more amenable to human action than the urban theorists assert. Further, a citys actions are often dichotomized between two extreme policy positions (e.g. growth or non-growth), yet local government decisions are rarely operate as such.

In addition to critiquing the city-specific urban theory literature, Frug and Barron discuss the three traditional policy alternatives facing cities: (i) developmental verses redistributive policies (according to Peterson); (ii) policies promoting exchange value versus those promoting use value (according to Marx); and (iii) policies aimed at fostering growth versus those intended to slow it down (according to Molotch). The authors note that the three concepts do not generally describe how cities should make policy, but rather how they make policy. The authors add that cities are tied to a particular way of policymaking and, in general, are more likely to strive for policies that promote development, exchange value, and growth.

Juxtaposing these traditional frameworks, Frug and Barron provide three examples of new visions on city policy choices:

1) Three conceptions of the nature of world cities (Martinotti) : There are three, non-exclusive forms of cities: first generation cities who focus services on their own residents; second generation cities that cater to nonresident users, such as tourists or commuters; and third generation cities that serve international finance and business.

2) Creative Class Cities (Florida): If a city can be creative, urban development jobs will proliferate because businesses actively seek out a creative class of employees and consumers. Thus, cities policy should focus on shaping the kinds of places where creative people would want to live.

3) Dual Cities (Kotkin): Kotkin rejects Florida because, by favoring the culture industry, cities will tend to neglect to their basic industries, schools, and infrastructure, thus resulting in income disparity. Instead, policies should cater to a citys specialized industries, schools, and neighborhoods.

In conclusion, Frug and Barron note that city decision-making outcomes are not as limited as current literature assumes. Local government law matters. Further, it should not be presupposed that the decisions according to local government law will match up ideally with traditional models of decision-making. Because these laws are often products of an earlier era, they may be inconsistent with and indeed act as a constraint to - the citys own assessment of the best policy tools.