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Book Summary

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

City Making is an ambitious attempt to reframe the concept of the modern American municipal structure. Frug begins by tracing the legal roots of municipal power, in order to obtain an appropriate context for the present balance between sovereign authority, corporate power, and individual rights. Following the American tradition of natural rights, excessive city power was established as a threat to individual liberty as well as private enterprise. Similarly, to prevent a cacophonous array of municipal fiefdoms, cities were subordinated to the state, giving them very little independent authority, with the exception of limited home rule clauses. Effectively, city government acts as a limited guide for its jurisdiction; its role dictated largely by the narrow parameters established by the state.

With this legislative tradition in mind, it is easy to see the city as an insular, self-interested entity defined by its borders. Jurisdictional boundaries between cities are treated like boundaries between private property; power over space is equated with autonomy. Frug postures that this centered sense of city is limiting, as it pits cities against each other as competitive, self-interested entities. In this view, the suburb and the city become distinct elements, helping to enforce exclusionary policies in an effort to preserve homogenous environments. This competitive behavior reaffirms the superior powers of the state as a referee chartered with settling inter-municipal disputes.

Frug suggests that the only way that cities can empower themselves is to redefine their identity. The existing structural fragmentation can be overcome if cities adopt a situated sense of self whereby a communitys identity is forged by interactions with its external environment. In practice, a regional legislature would determine policy decisions, fiscal allocations, and the degree of local control. Moreover, because metro regions are organized as a connection of nodes where people interact with different locations for different purposes, Frug rejects the current municipal emphasis on residency. By allowing individuals to exercise votes in multiple jurisdictions irrespective of residence Frug contends that people would be able to exert control over the areas that impact their daily urban experience.

At its core, Frugs situated sense of identity seeks to transform the city into a vehicle for community building. However, this can only occur if people discard their fear of otherness by embracing the social differentiation and variety that urban life offers. Admittedly, this is far from easy; the image of the gritty urban core juxtaposed against the homogeneous suburb has been reinforced by decades of social, political, and psychological preconceptions.

Frug suggests that we adopt a tolerant middle ground that can foster regional community building, and offers a number of concrete benefits:

Zoning: Instead of land use policies that reinforce exclusion and separation, our author advocates a diverse mix of uses to promote urban vitality, similar to the principles of New Urbanism.

Education: Quality schools and high housing costs are often deeply intertwined. Frug advances a proposal for a regional education coalition which allows for equitable funding across schools while promoting school choice.

Police: Traditionally, municipal crime prevention policy rested on isolation and exclusion, which only shifts crime to other areas. Frug proposes a regional crime prevention solution that works with the community, rather than against it.

In conclusion, the benefits of treating a city as a regional forum for community building are many. Frugs proposals are thoughtful, yet ambitious; they require a complete reframing of how people imagine their city and their society. He argues that our vision of the city must be redefined so that municipal services become a way to build connections among people, rather than a mechanism for continued separation, competition, and exclusion. Such a vision will empower people to participate in the design of the world in which they live.

Individual Chapter Summaries:

Chapter 1: City Powerlessness: The opening chapter discusses the legal underpinnings of jurisdictional power - or lack thereof in the American city. Frug also discusses the implications of this powerlessness on public participation and citizen well being.

Chapter 2: A Legal History of Cities: In chapter 2, Frug traces the historical processes that have shaped the current legal status of cities. He discusses how the city evolved from a medieval town with no clear distinction between private and public spheres to its current status.

Chapter 3: Strategies for Empowering Cities: Excessive city power is presently seen as a threat to both individual rights and the interests of the state. In order to overcome this hurdle, cities must reframe their purpose to become a mechanism for enhancing the lives of its residents. In order for this to take place, cities must forego their traditional definition as competitive, self-interested entities and embrace a more cooperative model.

Chapter 4: The Situated Subject: Chapter 4 explains the concept of a situated city one that bases its identity exclusively on its interaction with its surroundings. From a practical standpoint, Frug introduces the concept of an empowered regional form of government to facilitate cooperative interaction among localities.

Chapter 5: The Post-Modern Subject: Chapter 5 continues to explore the situated subject by examining the postmodern view of identity. Taking a more nuanced view, Frug suggests that because we live our lives across a variety of jurisdictions, the traditional municipal emphasis on control by residency should be abandoned.

Chapter 6: Community Building: As discussed in the previous chapters, the city should define itself not through its boundaries, but rather as a mechanism for improving the lives of its citizens and fostering a diverse range of interactions. Chapter 6 explains the importance of this sort of community building.

Chapter 7: City Land Use: Chapter 7 explores the traditional role of zoning policy as a tool for social exclusion. Frug suggests adopting a more inclusive form of land use, which will help reduce the fear of otherness and advance the concept of community building.

Chapter 8:Alternative Conceptions of City Service: The traditional view of city services closely adheres to Tiebouts consumer/citizen-approach, which values freedom of choice. Chapter 8 critiques this model and proposes alternative, more egalitarian forms of delivering city services.

Chapter 9: Education: Frug presents a critique of the existing public education system, which is rife with disparity. With an emphasis on regionalism, Chapter 9 suggests a series of changes to the public education model, both within and outside of the classroom.

Chapter 10: Police: Chapter 10 discusses the role of crime prevention as a city service. Taking a community-building approach, Frug argues that policing should focus on prevention rather than the current isolationist/escapist approach.

Chapter 11: Choosing City Services: Frug concludes by challenging the reader to redefine the concept of city services beyond simple public good provision. Instead, the role of the city can encompass a diverse array of community-based services and events, helping to foster increased interactions among its citizenry and improve the community.