cover of book

Private Metropolis: The Eclipse of Local Democratic Governance
edited by Dennis R. Judd, Evan McKenzie and Alba Alexander
University of Minnesota Press, 2021
Cloth: 978-1-5179-1081-5 | Paper: 978-1-5179-1082-2
Library of Congress Classification JS422.P74 2021
Dewey Decimal Classification 320.850973


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. 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.

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