11.957 | January IAP 2007 | Graduate

Frameworks of Urban Governance

Lecture Notes

1 Legal

This course starts with the legal literature, because the law provides the rules through which political, social, and economic decisions are made. Local government law has critically shaped the governmental responsibilities and options of cities; social relationships and cultural perceptions of the role of municipalities; and the economic needs of and relationships among cities. In this seminar, we discuss:

  • The legal definition of American cities over time, and their relationship with the state and federal governments. In particular, we highlight Dillon’s rule and home rule,
  • Public and private conceptions of the city,
  • Differences in formal and substantive local autonomy,
  • The interrelationship of race and jurisdictions.
2 Political

Municipalities across the U.S. have vastly different government institutions and relationships with their state. This structural design determines both how factional interests access political decision making and the influence of particular political figures. In addition, as the regional scale becomes increasingly important, a movement has grown encouraging regional political cooperation. In this seminar, we discuss:

  • Three basic models of municipal governance: pluralist, managerial, and social movements. In addition, we explore variants of managerial governance including machines, reform movements, special districts, planning agencies, fiscal control boards, and the welfare state,
  • Differences between machine and reform governments: their institutions, how they organize constituents, how they perceive the role of local government,
  • Technical vs. political views of local governance,
  • Whether a “common good” can exist at the city level or whether factions always have conflicting interests across issues,
  • Minority access to and participation in the political system, particularly in poor, African-American neighborhoods,
  • Regional models of governance and recent regional coalitions.
3 Social

Law and politics are not how most residents experience their cities and regions on a daily basis. Instead, they identify with a variety of social groups and participate in a wide variety of formal and informal communal organizations. These organizations have their own significance as places of collective action as well as serving as a link between individuals and politics. In this seminar, we discuss:

  • The variety of social identities we possess, ranging from church membership to pet ownership, and how these aspects of social identity and interaction change in their salience to each of us over time,
  • Differences between urban and rural social interaction, specifically whether density and heterogeneity are likely to foster one-dimensional and transactional relationships. In addition, we examine how this has changed over time and with new forms of communication such as the internet,
  • The cyclical reinforcement of group identity and political involvement as valued in the social movement literature. Also, we debate whether social identities should be represented just as interests and opinions are
  • The role of churches in political engagement, particularly in black communities.
4 Economic

Economics play a major role in politics at all levels of government, but are often most dominant at the local level. Because jurisdictions require revenue to provide all of their services while businesses maintain mobility, popular and political opinion often favor private development. However, communities pursue economic development options quite differently across cities and suburbs, regions of the country, and internationally. In this seminar, we discuss:

  • Whether economic development is a “common good” or its redistributive aspects make it a factional interest like any other,
  • The growth machine model of governance that describes a coalition of political and business elites bolstering an economic development agenda as value-free,
  • How legal, political, and social structures (as defined in the previous seminars) shape the economic decision making of localities, and how these different forces are manifest in international comparisons.

Course Info

As Taught In
January IAP 2007