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Introduction: The modern metropolitan area typically contains multiple political jurisdictions. Public choice theorists argue political fragmentation will enhance choice and efficiency in local government service provision. However, the political fragmentation of the metropolitan area makes it difficult to address economic development, service provision or democratic voice at the regional level. Consolidationists argue that regional government is the solution. However, support for regionalism is weak. Alternatives such as inter-municipal cooperation or functional consolidation (specific to a service) have been much more popular. These solutions also raise problems of equity and democratic representation and the ability to address the need for broader multi-functional coordination.

This page outlines the theoretical issues underlying political fragmentation and regionalism. It also highlights some policy solutions and alternatives to regionalism such as inter-municipal cooperation and discusses some of the legal and accountability concerns raised by these approaches.

Theory: The Benefits of Political Fragmentation

Tiebout, Charles 1956. "A Pure Theory of Local Expenditures," Journal of Political Economy 64:416-424.  

In this classic public choice theory article Charles Tiebout puts forth a model for determining the optimum expenditure level for public goods. He argues there is a market of local governments where mobile 'consumer citizens' "shop around" for the communities that best fit their preferences. The competition among communities forces them to provide public goods at the most efficient level.

Boyne, George A. 1996. "Competition and Local Government: A Public Choice Perspective." Urban Studies 33 (4-5): 703-721.  

Boyne discusses the different types of competition in local government, and the structure and implications of each one.

Regionalism and its Challenges

An overview of the regionalism debate.

Briffault, Richard 2000. "Localism and Regionalism." Buffalo Law Review 48(1):1-30.  

Widespread resistance to regionalism is not due to disagreement with the notion of the region as a socio-economic and ecological entity, but rather to political reasons, especially the power of localism to ensure democratic voice.

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

Frug argues against the widespread assertion that centralization and government consolidation is the only solution to solving metropolitan problems. He believes that decentralization can work as long as there is a constant dialogue across jurisdictions regarding the urban problems that affect everyone in a metropolitan area.

Lowery, David 2000. "A Transactions Costs Model of Metropolitan Governance: Allocation versus Redistribution in Urban America," Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 10(1)(January):49-78.  

Lowery offers a critique of the public choice approach to local governance and a synthesis of the case for metropolitan consolidation. First, the nature of individual decision making implicit within the case for consolidation is examined. Second, its propositions on boundaries are discussed. And third, consolidationist assumptions about institutions and individual choice are evaluated in light of the public choice case for jurisdictional fragmentation.

Bollens, Scott 1997. "Concentrated Poverty and Metropolitan Equity Strategies." Stanford Law and Policy Review 8(2):11-23.  

Although regionalism is a way to combat urban inequality, Bollens criticizes current models of regionalism, citing the difference between “things regionalism” and “people regionalism.” Things regionalism is based on systems (transportation, water, etc) and may exacerbate inequality, while people regionalism is focused on community development in place. Bollens offers ten Metropolitan Equity Strategies aimed at alleviating inner city poverty and metropolitan segregation by way of people regionalism.

MacLeod, G., 2001. "New Regionalism Reconsidered: Globalization and the Remaking of Political Economic Space." International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 25.4 (December): 804-829(26).  

This article gives an assessment of “New Regionalist” research. The goal is to analyze why some regions have grown so effectively and why one scheme for growth may not work for every region. The author delineates his ideas for the future of regionalism, as related to globalization.

Brenner, Neil (1999)."Globalisation as Reterritorialisation: The Re-scaling of Urban Governance in the European Union," Urban Studies 369(3):431-451.  

Globalization results in reterritorialization: to adapt to global competition, states are reorganizing themselves to give their major urban areas new capacity. It is the implications of this reterritorialization, stemming from the contemporary capitalist expansion, that Brenner argues we must properly conceptualize and study as part of the emerging literature on globalization.

Jessop, Bob 1997. "The Entrepreneurial City: Re-imaging localities, redesigning economic governance or restructuring capital," pp 28-41 in Transforming Cities: Contested Governance and New Spatial Divisions ed. by Nick Jewson and Susanne MacGregor. Routledge: London.  

Jessop contextualizes the idea of the entrepreneurial city. He claims that the forces of globalization, including the decreasing sovereignty of the national state, make it necessary for cities to adopt new methods of production and governance in order to become the drivers of the global economy.

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

Frug explores an alternative conception of the American city, one not predicated on insular boundaries and the separation of heterogeneous people. By focusing on a city government that promotes regional cooperation rather than competition, cities can expand their ability to enrich the lives of their citizens. In this way, city power can be a transformative form of community building, rather than the traditional, stagnant form of public service provision.

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

In City Bound, Frug and Barron explore the constraints imposed on municipalities by the current – often outdated - legislative framework imposed by states. Beyond its theoretical discussion, the book examines a number of major US cities in order to detail the inability of cities to adequately guide revenue generation, land use control, and education policy delineation.

Imbroscio, David L. 2006. "Shaming the Inside Game: A Critique of the Liberal Expansionist Approach to Addressing Urban Problems," Urban Affairs Review 42: 224-248.  

Imbroscio critiques the prevalent liberal expansionist model, which often eschews the objective assessment of urban issues in favor of de facto ideological assumptions that discount community-based assets.

Pastor, Manuel, Chris Benner and Martha Matsuoka 2009. This could be the start of something big: How social movements for regional equity are reshaping metropolitan America, Cornell University Press: Ithaca, NY.  

Pastor, Brenner, and Matsuoka discuss the importance of regional equity in progressive movements by highlighting a number of cases throughout the U.S.

Wheeler, Stephen M. (2002). “The New Regionalism:  Key Characteristics of an Emerging Movement,” Journal of the American Planning Association, 68, 3: 267-278.

Writing at the turn of the 21st century, Wheeler describes the history of planning and thinking about regional communities and their built environments, which led to the development of a “new regionalism” in the 1990s.  In this article, he sets out the characteristics and key elements of new regionalism, its implications for the planning profession, and implementation challenges.

Regional Policy Innovations

Orfield, Myron.1997. "Metropolitics: Coalitions for Regional Reforms," Brookings Review. 15(1):6-9.

Orfield discusses the processes of sprawl and socio-economic polarization, and then offers regionally-implemented methods for attacking the resulting concentration of poverty.

Also available: Orfield Myron, 1997. Metropolitics. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution.

This popular book discusses how using maps, the Minneapolis-St. Paul region was able to see the need for metropolitan government.

Rusk, David. 1993. Cities without Suburbs. Washington D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press.  

David Rusk, former Albuquerque mayor and New Mexico state legislator points out that elastic cities, that capture their suburbs, have lower social problems and better fiscal status. He presents three options for the creation of metro governments: empowering urban counties, consolidating cities and counties, and combining counties into regional governments.

Rusk, David, 1999. Journeying Through Urban America. Brookings Institution Press, Washington D.C. Chapter 1: Inside Game, Outside Game

Through the use of US Census Data, David Rusk classifies cities as “elastic” or “inelastic.” Elastic cities are able to absorb population growth within the central municipality, therefore achieving diversity and economic development, while inelastic cities lose population growth to the suburbs, causing the loss of their white middle class and decline of their tax base. Rusk compares the “inside game” of fighting decline within a city to the most-important “outside game” of employing regional strategies such as city-county consolidation.

THE RUSK REPORT, Thu., Nov. 20, 1997, Twin Cities Tax Base Sharing.

David Rusk describes the tax base sharing plan, in place since 1971, among the municipalities of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan region.