The City in the Future of Federalism
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
Cities have been largely absent from the theory and doctrine of federalism, especially in the U.S., where federalism discourse is invariably preoccupied with states. This chapter, written for an edited volume entitled “Cities in Federal Constitutional Theory,” first considers the mismatch between cities’ increasing economic, political, and sociological importance and their relative lack of status in constitutional theory—the very mismatch that this volume seeks to correct. Second, it discusses the use and definition of the term “city”—a threshold issue that drives much subsequent theorizing about it. And third, it considers the various ways institutional designers might go about empowering the city—another theme raised by the contributors to this volume. These observations lay the groundwork for the broader argument that state-based federalism is bad for cities. The “old” federalism, based on the theory that sub-national governments are sharply limited in their policy choices by the threat of capital flight, presumed weak and ineffectual cities—a presumption that has become self-fulfilling in the U.S., where states have been aggressively reducing and restraining city power. A “new” federalism would recognize the central role of cities in an urban-based political and economic order and provide them powers commensurate with that role. As global urbanization continues apace, the urban-rural political divide deepens, and nation-states face repeated crises of legitimacy, the necessity of building the city into our constitutional institutions becomes increasingly apparent.