"They Seem to Have Their Own Agenda": the City, the State, and the Fight for Local Autonomy

Kathleen Nganga, Johns Hopkins University

The loss of direct control over local governance has resulted in cases like the Flint, Michigan water crises and states banning cities’ efforts to control the COVID19 pandemic through mask mandates. However, even though cities are often considered to be creatures of the state they sometimes can exercise a level of autonomy in decision-making that doctrinal and constitutional history would ostensibly deem impossible. Thus, a puzzle emerges, why are cities sometimes able to win and other times rendered powerless? In this paper, I will present cases that outline the path toward city victory and one in which I show how the state forces its will upon municipalities. I will show how governing actors engage in a political economy of decision-making which ultimately shapes outcomes and explore how contentious federalism may exacerbate race/class subjugation. Through the examination of these case studies, I develop an inductive theory of city power Further, this paper seeks to position the city in conversations of federalism which often forget the city as a level of governance.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 209. Urban Displacement: Local Governance and Conflict