Private Metropolis

The Eclipse of Local Democratic Governance

2021

Dennis R. Judd, Evan McKenzie, and Alba Alexander, Editors

Private Metropolis

Examines the complex ecology of quasi-public and privatized institutions that mobilize and administer many of the political, administrative, and fiscal resources of today’s metropolitan regions

In recent decades metropolitan regions in the United States have witnessed the rise of multitudes of “shadow governments” that often supersede or replace functions traditionally associated with municipalities and other local governments inherited from the urban past. The essays in Private Metropolis grapple with the difficult and timely questions that arise from this new ecology of governance, provoking a long-overdue debate about the future of urban governance.

In recent decades metropolitan regions in the United States have witnessed the rise of multitudes of “shadow governments” that often supersede or replace functions traditionally associated with municipalities and other local governments inherited from the urban past. Shadow governments take many forms, ranging from billion-dollar special authorities that span entire urban regions, to public–private partnerships and special districts created to accomplish particular tasks, to privatized gated communities, to neighborhood organizations empowered to receive private and public funds. They finance and administer public services ranging from the prosaic (garbage collection and water utilities) to the transformative (economic development and infrastructure). Private Metropolis demonstrates that this complex ecosystem of local governance has compromised and even eclipsed democratic processes by moving important policy decisions out of public sight.

The quasi-public institutions of urban governance generally escape the budgetary and statutory restraints imposed on traditional local governments and protect policy decisions from the limitations and vagaries of electoral politics. Moving major policy decisions into a privatized and corporatized realm facilitates efficiency and speed, but at the cost of democratic oversight. Increasingly, the urban electorate is left debating symbolic issues only tangentially connected to the actual distribution of the resources that affect people’s lives.

The essays in Private Metropolis grapple with the difficult and timely questions that arise from this new ecology of governance: What are the consequences of the proliferation of special authorities, privatized governments, and public–private arrangements? Is the trade-off between democratic accountability and efficiency worth it? Has the public sector, with its messiness and inefficiencies—but also its checks and balances—ceded too much power to these new institutions? By examining such questions, this book provokes a long-overdue debate about the future of urban governance.

Contributors: Douglas Cantor, California State U, Long Beach; Ellen Dannin, Pennsylvania State U; Jameson W. Doig, Princeton U; Mary Donoghue; Peter Eisinger, New School; Steven P. Erie, U of California, San Diego; Rebecca Hendrick, U of Illinois at Chicago; Sara Hinkley, U of California, Berkeley; Amanda Kass, U of Illinois at Chicago; Scott A. MacKenzie, U of California, Davis; David C. Perry, U of Illinois at Chicago; James M. Smith, U of Indiana South Bend; Shu Wang, Michigan State U; Rachel Weber, U of Illinois at Chicago.

Private Metropolis

Dennis R. Judd is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including The City, Revisited: Urban Theory from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York (Minnesota, 2011).



Evan McKenzie is professor and head of the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is author of Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government and Beyond Privatopia: Rethinking Residential Private Government.



Alba Alexander is clinical associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Private Metropolis

Contents


Introduction: Shadow Governments and the Remaking of the American Local State


Dennis R. Judd, Evan McKenzie, and Alba Alexander


Part I. The Eclipse of the (Municipal) State


1. City Building Capacity and Special-Purpose Authorities: Institutions, Interests, and the Local State


James M. Smith


2. Phantom Governments: Multiple Function Special Districts as Substitutes for Municipalities


Evan McKenzie


3. Governing Detroit: The Withering of the (Municipal) State


Peter Eisinger


Part II. The Evolving Role of Public-Private Authorities


4. Transportation Empires in the New York and Los Angeles Regions: From the Old to the New Politics of Governance and Development


Steven P. Erie, Scott MacKenzie, and Jameson W. Doig


5. Whetting Their Appetites: Privatization Schemes and the Case of Water


Ellen Dannin and Douglas Cantor


6. The Role of the State in Public-Private Initiatives: Lessons from Great Britain


Alba Alexander


Part III. The Fiscal Politics of the New American Local State


7. Financing Urban Infrastructure (and Services) under the New Normal: A Look at Special Assessments


Shu Wang and Rebecca Hendrick


8. Devolution and Debt: Financing Public Facilities in an Age of Austerity


Rachel Weber, Amanda Kass, and Sara Hinkley


Part IV. Bringing the (Public) State Back In


9. Building the Public City, Privately


David Perry and Mary Donoghue


10. The Fate of the Public Realm: Conclusions


Dennis R. Judd, Evan McKenzie, and Alba Alexander


Contributors


Index