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Chapter Summary

Frug, Gerald E. and David Barron. 2008. City Bound: How States Stifle Urban Innovation. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ Press. (Chapter 10)

In the final chapter, Frug and Barron attempt to encapsulate the reasons for and remedies to city powerlessness, as discussed throughout the book. At its heart, their argument appeals to a regionalist framework with shared decision-making among localities that have common economic, social, and environmental issues.

In the current framework, which promotes excessive localism, the central city and neighboring towns share the same problems, yet compete over residents and commercial development. Although the coordination within a region is important to deal with issues such as transportation, local government law forces municipalities to be insular. First, the current framework emphasizes state rather than local - interaction regarding legal authority or policy change. From a fiscal perspective, local governments need to compete over sources of tax revenue (i.e. shopping centers), which helps to determine the quality of public services. The property tax and sales tax generated by a shopping mall are monopolized by the town regardless of the addresses of its customers. Such a system encourages antagonistic site-selection competition between neighboring municipalities.

This parochialism among local governments is generated by limited empowerment, as opposed to autonomy. Local governments defend local power in order to preserve the status quo; although municipalities would benefit from inter-local agreements and enjoy economies of scale, the risk of losing of current revenue or forces administrators to focus on protecting their existing operations. From an administrative perspective, state and municipal approvals for such inter -local agreements are excessively cumbersome and time consuming.

Authors present three types of solutions to change the penchant for excessive localism:

  1. Revising local government law to promote regional cooperation. One way for states is to provide state subsidies although funding source is necessary. A better way is to shift decision-making authority from states to local governments. This empowerment can be an incentive for regional municipalities to establish agreements.
  2. Forming a regional institution to address issues cross local boundaries, while strictly local issues will be settled by local government. Admittedly, the work of sorting public functions would be difficult due to the competition over powers.
  3. Establishing a regional legislature that would consist of members who are elected roughly according to population (like the European Parliament) but employ qualified majority voting system for regional decision making. This form of government would escape the perils of a simple-majority system as well as those of a unanimity system.

By building regional institution and legislature, Frug and Barron believe that a notion of regional citizenship will be born in residents minds. The identity of a regional citizenship would support pursuing regional interests, higher level of coordination, and a more equitable version of the city.