City Making: Building Communities without Building Walls

City Making: Building Communities without Building Walls

City Making: Building Communities without Building Walls

City Making: Building Communities without Building Walls

Synopsis

American metropolitan areas today are divided into neighborhoods of privilege and poverty, often along lines of ethnicity and race. City residents traveling through these neighborhoods move from feeling at home to feeling like tourists to feeling so out of place they fear for their security. As Gerald Frug shows, this divided and inhospitable urban landscape is not simply the result of individual choices about where to live or start a business. It is the product of government policies--and, in particular, the policies embedded in legal rules. A Harvard law professor and leading expert on urban affairs, Frug presents the first-ever analysis of how legal rules shape modern cities and outlines a set of alternatives to bring down the walls that now keep city dwellers apart.Frug begins by describing how American law treats cities as subdivisions of states and shows how this arrangement has encouraged the separation of metropolitan residents into different, sometimes hostile groups. He explains in clear, accessible language the divisive impact of rules about zoning, redevelopment, land use, and the organization of such city services as education and policing. He pays special attention to the underlying role of anxiety about strangers, the widespread desire for good schools, and the pervasive fear of crime. Ultimately, Frug calls for replacing the current legal definition of cities with an alternative based on what he calls "community building"--an alternative that gives cities within the same metropolitan region incentives to forge closer links with each other.An incisive study of the legal roots of today's urban problems, City Making is also an optimistic and compelling blueprint for enabling American cities once again to embrace their historic role of helping people reach an accommodation with those who live in the same geographic area, no matter how dissimilar they are.

Excerpt

Every American metropolitan area is now divided into districts that are so different from each other they seem to be different worlds. Residential neighborhoods are African American, Asian, Latino, or white, and uppermiddle-class, middle-class, working-class, or poor; many are populated by people who share a single class and racial or ethnic status. Traveling through this mosaic of neighborhoods, metropolitan residents move from feeling at home to feeling like a tourist to feeling so out of place that they are afraid for their own security. Commercial life provides a similarly wide range of experiences. In one spot, a shopping center offers Louis Vuitton or Herme

Ás; in another, small stores are deteriorating or empty; in a third, the sidewalks are crowded with street vendors; in a fourth, a strip mall features Staples or Toys“R”Us. Some sections of the metropolis are even distinctive because they are integrated along some or all of these lines of race, ethnicity, class, and variety of commercial life. Still, everyone knows that Armani isn't located next to Kmart. Everyone knows which parts of the metropolitan area are nice and which are dangerous. We all know where we don't belong.

This pervasive urban landscape is not simply the result of individual choices about where to live or create a business. It is the product of a multitude of governmental policies. In this book, I focus on one such policy: the ways in which the American legal system has empowered—and failed to empower—cities. American law treats cities as subdivisions of the states, and the states have organized them in a manner that has helped separate metropolitan residents into different, sometimes hostile, groups. The design of cities' power to control land use provides an example of this phenomenon. Most American metropolitan areas are now splintered into dozens and dozens of cities, and for decades state governments have authorized these cities to wield their zoning and redevelopment authority to foster their own prosperity even if it is won at the expense of their neighbors. This pursuit of prosperity has usually involved trying to attract the “better kind” of commercial life and the “better kind” of people while, simultaneously, excluding the rest. Everywhere in the nation, some cities are understood as having succeeded in this effort, while others are understood as having failed. Those that have succeeded have enticed millions of people to escape the problems associated with America's central cities by crossing the city/suburb boundary. In response, central cities have sought to curb this exodus by exercising their own power over land use. Although no central city has attempted to prevent people from becoming . . .

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