Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Urban Research

Talk, Money and Institutional Design: Comparing Urban Policy Prospects in Toronto versus London

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Urban Research

Talk, Money and Institutional Design: Comparing Urban Policy Prospects in Toronto versus London

Article excerpt


Discursive social movement, political economy and institutional approaches tend to dominate studies of large urban centres and, in particular, efforts to assess the prospects for progressive public policies in them. This article uses a revised version of Vincent Lemieux's 1996 framework to compare Toronto and London, two cities that underwent major governance transitions during the late 1990s, with respect to their normative discourse, fiscal resource, institutional and local leadership contexts. The discussion concludes that talk, money, design and mayoral factors seemed less conducive to progressive policy outcomes in early post-transition Toronto than London.

Keywords: Toronto, London, urban governance, institutional design


Les etudes traitant de mouvements sociaux, d'economie politique et d'institutions tendent a dominer celles portant sur les grands centres urbains et tout particulierement celles demontrant des efforts pour etablir des perspectives en politique progressiste urbaine. Pour comparer Toronto et Londres cet article utilise une version revisee du modele elabore par Vincent Lemieux en 1996. Vers la fin des annees 1990 ces deux villes ont subi dans leurs facons de gouverner, des changements majeurs relativement aux discours normatifs, aux ressources fiscales et aux contextes de leadership institutionnels et locaux. Cet expose demontre que dans les conjonctures d'apres-transition des deux villes, le discours public, l'argent, la planification et la mairie ont, a Toronto, ete moins favorables aux politiques progressistes qu'ils ne le furent a Londres.

Mots cles: Toronto, London, gouvernance urbaine, projet institutionnel


As concern grows over the multiple challenges facing large international urban centres, so too do the number of thematic pivots in the relevant research literature. At least three important analytic lenses are employed in studies of major cities and, in particular, assessments of the prospects for progressive public policies in them. Although the three perspectives overlap considerably, they can be roughly identified as the discursive social movement, political economy and institutional approaches.

Scholars influenced by social movement and post-structural research streams tend to emphasize the influence of talk, or discursive climate, in creating the potential for progressive mobilization in cities. In Caroline Andrew's words, effective action on such issues as public transportation, women's safety and child care "depends on the existence of a discourse that articulates this potential and justifies municipal politics as a space for progressive citizens. Unless this articulation exists, action is unlikely." (1) Andrew and others thus understand progressive policy outcomes as requiring a rhetorical space that promotes the coming together of urban citizens.

By way of contrast, researchers who adopt an urban political economy view often focus on fiscal resources, specifically the constrained revenue base of cities in Canada, Britain and elsewhere. Many highlight a pattern of longstanding municipal dependence on fiscal transfers from other levels, specifically central governments. Although as Keil and Kipfer point out, political economy "is still privileging the national over the urban question," (2) Canadian finance studies show that "almost all provinces have been reducing their transfers to local governments, although they are doing it in different ways and at different speeds." (3) From a political economy perspective, progressive urban policies are unlikely without adequate financial resources either from municipal governments themselves or through intergovernmental transfers.

Alongside discursive social movement and political economy analyses are institutional studies that explore the design of urban governance. The restructuring of metropolitan organization in many large Canadian cities, including municipal amalgamations in Toronto and Montreal, has drawn considerable attention from social scientists, as have efforts to introduce a strategic governing authority in London, England. …

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