Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Canada's Seraglio Cities: Political Barriers to Regional Governance

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Canada's Seraglio Cities: Political Barriers to Regional Governance

Article excerpt

* I wish to acknowledge the thoroughly competent assistance of Mr. Michael Wagner in data accumulation and to thank the anonymous assessors of this Journal for their thorough critiques of my work.

Abstract: The standing argument against governmental consolidation of metropolitan municipalities is that political boundaries reflect social and economic differentiation. One or another role of the socially differentiated suburb has become a well documented North American phenomenon. The sustaining argument of suburban councillors in any governmentally fragmented metropolitan system is that there exists great divergence in the social composition of their metropolis which, when codified by the artifact of local boundary, justifies differentiated lifestyle claims.

These beliefs lend legitimacy to urban myths about better service levels, and a feeling that genuine communities, distinct from the city as a whole, and somehow superior, persists. If there are found to be no distinctions at either of these levels of community or service, the continuing case for the governmentally fragmented city ought not remain so passionate. The case study contrasts the evidence of Calgary, with its unitary municipal government, with the polycentropolis of Edmonton and finds, on both points, a substantial disproof of the traditional public choice case.

What is uncovered is that the coalition in the fight for local identity masks a struggle for control of the commercial tax base for some communities, psychological distancing by the exclusion of `undesirable' tenants in others, and personal status considerations for the councillors everywhere.

Resume: L'argument repete contre la consolidation gouvernementale des municipalites metropolitaines pretend que les frontieres politiques refletent les ecarts sociaux et eonomiques. Le role de la banlieue socialement difference est un phenomene nord-americain bien documente. Les conseillers de banlieues qui siegent au sein de systemes metropolitaines politiquement fragmentes soutiennent que la composition sociale de leur metropole est diversitiee. Ces differences sociales, des qu'elles sont codifiees selon les frontieres locales, justifient la pretention a des modes de vie distincts.

Ces croyances rendent legitimes les mythes de niveaux de services eleves en milieux urgainx. De plus, l'idee qu'il existe des communautes authentiques distinctes de la ville dans son ensemble, et quelque peu superieures, persiste. S'il appert qu'aucune distinction entre le niveau de service ou le nivuar de sentiment communautaire ne soit demontree, la lutte pour le maintien de la gouvernance fragmentee des villes demeure si ardente. Cette etude de cas met en contraste le gouvernement municipal unifie de Calgary avec la "polycentropolis" d'Edmonton. Les resultats de cette compariaison contrdeisent fortement le cas du choix public traditionnel pour ces deux questions.

L'etude devoile que la coalition militant pour l'identite locale masque la lutte pour le controle des impots commerciaux cans certaines communautes, une distance psychologique par l'exclusion de locataires "indesiralbes" pour d'autres communautes, et enfin, pour les conseillers de toutes les communautes, des preoccupations quant a leur statut personnel.

1. Considering the metropolis

Norton Long (1967) was prescient in his well known observation that, "The suburb is the Northern way to insure separate and unequal. It has the advantage of being legal." Through the work of others, typified by Richard Child Hill in the 1970s, to the contemporary rediscovery of "the new localism" (Goetz, Clarke, 1993: 5-8), one or another role of the socially differentiated suburb has becomes a well documented American phenomenon. The sustaining argument of suburban councillors in any governmentally fragmented, or polycentric, metropolitan system is that there exists great divergence in the social composition of their metropolis which, when codified by the artifact of local boundary, justifies differentiated lifestyle claims. …

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