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Book Summary

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

City Bound builds off of Frugs 1999 City Making by assessing the legal restrictions that cities face when attempting to shape their future. By exploring existing literature, Frug and Barron examine the traditional policy alternatives that face cities and illustrate how progressive policy choices are often frustrated by state-level legislation.

To our authors, the conception of local autonomy is insufficient; rather, cities are granted limited powers with commensurate restrictions. This situation ensures that cities will be locked in a framework of local competition that can only be settled by a higher power (the state), thus undermining the efficacy of the limited power that they possess. Even in situations of home rule, the city is granted wide powers that are mostly made powerless by state preemption or authorization.

The limits of city power are most apparent in three realms:

  1. Revenue Generation: States control tax collection rates on property, sales, as well as city services. Such restrictions limit the fiscal flexibility of city planning and service provision.
  2. Land Use Control: Although land use is inherently local, state enabling legislation governs all aspects of local zoning power. Likewise, state ownership of infrastructure such as highways, airports, and parks overrides local control mechanisms.
  3. Education Policy: Education systems, especially in urban areas, face strict state oversight that governs curriculum, school operational mechanisms, and districting.

In the face of such control, our authors argue that some cities seek to pursue specific agendas in order to shape their city into a specific category. In particular, the authors define three types: (i) a global city that seeks to attract professional businesses and workers; (ii) a tourist city that attempts to cater primarily to temporary visitors; and (iii) a middle-class city, that seeks to retain and promote services for middle-class residents. They devise a fourth the regional city as a solution to traditional urban problems.

In their regional city conception, Frug and Barron offer a number of alternatives, albeit limited, to city powerlessness. At its heart, their argument centers around the creation of a regionalist agenda one that promotes an inter-city legislature that has substantive power to deal with issues that extend across municipal boundaries. Such a solution requires a dramatic reshaping of local government law and, moreover, the reconstruction of the notion of citizenship. In doing so, the city will escape its current strictures and contribute to a more equitable society.

Individual Chapter Summaries:

Chapter 1: City Structures and Urban Theory: Chapter 1 discusses the traditional legal and political frameworks of city policy-making decisions, and limits thereof.

Chapter 2: City Structures and Local Autonomy: In chapter 2, Frug and Barron argue against the concept of local autonomy, asserting that city power is weak and breeds competition among neighboring municipalities.

Chapter 3: Home Rule: Frug and Barron focus their discussion of autonomy on the notion of home rule. While ostensibly granting a city broad powers, most home rule charters make many of these powers subject to state approval or oversight.

Chapter 4: Revenue and Expenditure: Chapter 4 discusses the particular problems with current state restrictions on local spending and taxation by illustrating the case of Boston.

Chapter 5: Land Use and Development: Although land use is an intensely local activity, a citys power to control it is rigorously restrained by state enabling legislation. Our authors discuss the extent of these restraints, as well as their negative consequences.

Chapter 6: Education: Similar to fiscal and land use considerations, local education policy is predominantly decided at the state level .

Chapter 7: The Global City: Chapter 7 explores Frug and Barrons concept of the global city, in which city leadership pursues policies to propagate a city that caters to professional business and their employees in an effort to create a strong tax base.

Chapter 8: The Tourist City: Frug and Barron present the notion of the tourist city that caters primarily to visitors in Chapter 8. While admitting that it can be a successful strategy, our authors admit that it is inherently risky and threatens to marginalize local residents.

Chapter 9: The Middle-Class City: As opposed to a tourist city, Chapter 9 focuses on the middle-class city, in which policies are crafted to promote and expand services for the middle class.

Chapter 10: The Regional City: Frug and Barron conclude by encapsulating their arguments presented over the course of the book. Most critically, they champion a new form of regional city, and offer explicit steps to achieving this goal.