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Article Summary

Frug, Gerald. 2000. Against Centralization, Buffalo Law Review. Vol. 48, No. 1, pp. 31-38 

Many professionals concerned with the decline of the center city advocate for the centralization of government services and targeted programs for the poor. Gerald Frug argues that these tools are no longer politically feasible and cannot be used to solve the problems of the inner city. He believes that the current definition of decentralization is the problem, not the structure itself, and that decentralization can in fact work at solving the problems of the inner city.


Since the 1960s, popular support for programs that centralize governments power has declined as enthusiasm for local control has grown. Americans now often view centralized power as a means of coercion. Frug believes that to argue against this current feeling would be useless, and that centralization is not the only possibility for saving inner cities.


Frugs strategy is to create an alternative to centralization that is better than the status quo. In order to do this, decentralization must be redefined to allow for the exercise of freedom while not allowing the inequalities that the current form produces. The current definition of decentralization includes two important components. First, local communities have the right of exclusion through zoning power. They also have the ability to treat community resources like private property, so that richer communities can increase the amount of services if they choose and restrict the benefits to those who live in their community. Both of these powers encourage a conception of local power that is akin to the ideas of public choice theory, where people shop for cities.


To change the current definition of decentralization we need to change the discussion from what we want, to what we don''t want. For this to happen, Frug suggests that regional institutions facilitate conversations between metropolitan residents about how they are affected by the decline of the inner city and resulting sprawl, in order to identify and selectively combat the results of sprawl.


It is clear that decentralization is creating many externalities in the metropolitan area that affect a much broader range of people than just those in the center city. Frug argues that the solution for metropolitan residents with different interests is to begin to dialogue with one another about how sprawl affects them all and begin to collaborate on solutions. He advocates for regional institutions that would bring together representatives from different cities to make decisions about their region.