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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 5)

With the backdrop from previous chapters on local government law, home rule, and fiscal capacity, Chapter 5 focuses on how these state structures impact land use and development. This interplay is crucial because it creates the physical and economic landscape of the city.

Despite the prevalence of home rule in many cities, state enabling legislation predominantly governs all aspect of a citys zoning power. Returning to the case of Boston, the Massachusetts Zoning Enabling Act gave the City the power to regulate land uses, subject to certain conditions. For example, the act established a Zoning Commission and a Zoning Board of Appeal which are filled by appointees that must include representatives from specific state-identified groups. Therefore, even though these boards make decisions on behalf of the city, they are directly influenced by the state. Compared to other cases, this amount of constraint is unusual, but it shows the extent to which states may control zoning decisions. Likewise, planning in Boston is also uniquely shaped by the state, since it is undertaken by the Boston Redevelopment Authority - an entity separate from the city. While the agency streamlines the planning and development process, it poses risks of accountability and private sector influence.

State influence and ownership of roads, airports, and parks segregates management and can undermine long-term planning by the city. In some cases, such as the expansion of Bostons state-owned Logan airport, cities are unable to protect the interests of its residents in the face of expansion and development of state-sponsored projects. Denver, on the other hand, owns its airport and was even able to negotiate a deal with neighboring Adams County when the need arose to build a new facility. The differences in state structures made this possible.

Like land use, the provision of affordable housing is impacted by statutory authorization. The authors argue that despite some successes within the current legal framework, cities like Boston lack the ability to act independently and often cannot achieve sustainable solutions. In particular, the authors focus on state control in two important areas of affordable housing in Boston:

1) Linkage describes the exchange of development approvals for a set contribution to an affordable housing fund. While Bostons program has worked well, it required a special law to be passed by the state legislature.

2) Inclusionary zoning requires that certain new residential development projects include a certain number of affordable units. While it has likewise shown success, it required a contentious mayoral executive order, which is at risk for legal challenge because it is not permitted under the Enabling Act.

Each of these constraints in both land use and affordable housing - impacts how cities can plan their future. Though it is easy to see this as a state restricting the city, it is important to remember that, in practice, the state regulations do more than just restrict or enable: the regulations provide a certain set of incentives for how cities will approach planning and development. These incentives may not be intentional, but nevertheless have a very real impact on how a city chooses to pursue its future.