Yonah Freemark

Varieties of Urbanism: A Comparative View of Inequality and the Dual Dimensions of Metropolitan Fragmentation

Article information

Yonah Freemark, Justin Steil, and Kathleen Thelen (2020). “Varieties of urbanism: A comparative view of metropolitan fragmentation and inequality.” Politics & Society 48(2): 235-274.

DOI: 10.1177/0032329220908966

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Journal website: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0032329220908966


Metropolitan fragmentation can be evaluated on two axes: Jurisdictional proliferation and opportunities for resource hoarding.

A large literature on urban politics documents the connection between metropolitan fragmentation and inequality. This article situates the United States comparatively to explore the structural features of local governance that underpin this connection. Examining five metropolitan areas in North America and Europe, the article identifies two distinct dimensions of fragmentation: (a) fragmentation through jurisdictional proliferation (dividing regions into increasing numbers of governments) and (b) fragmentation through resource hoarding (via exclusion, municipal parochialism, and fiscal competition). This research reveals how distinctive the United States is in the ways it combines institutional arrangements that facilitate metropolitan fragmentation (through jurisdictional proliferation) and those that reward such fragmentation (through resource-hoarding opportunities). Non-US cases furnish examples of policies that reduce jurisdictional proliferation or remove resource-hoarding opportunities. Mitigating the inequality-inducing effects of fragmentation is possible, but policies must be designed with an identification of the specific aspects of local governance structures that fuel inequality in the first place.