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21 J.L. & Pol. 261 (2005)
Defensive Localism: A View of the Field from the Field

handle is hein.journals/jlp21 and id is 269 raw text is: Defensive Localism: A View of the Field
From the Field
David J. Barron and Gerald E. Frug*
Proponents of regionalism usually blame the recognition of local
autonomy, otherwise known as home rule, for familiar metropolitan
problems - housing segregation, the stark divide between rich and poor
communities, environmentally destructive sprawl. They say that states
have enabled municipalities to act like independent sovereigns and that
selfish local policymaking has led to problematic growth in virtually every
metropolitan area. Regionalists argue, therefore, that in order to stop
individual municipalities from pursuing parochial ends, power must be
shifted upwards - if not entirely, then substantially. But regionalists doubt
this shift will occur. Why, they wonder, would local communities favor
dismantling such an empowering legal structure?'
We offer a different view. We do not think that local governments have
anything like autonomy. Even states that have formal home rule structures
place significant limits on local policymaking, and greater-than-local
forces exert significant pressure on local choices. It seems implausible,
therefore, that local actors understand themselves to be autonomous in any
meaningful way. The form of local power most cities and towns possess
grants them only limited authority. It is this condition of having limited
power - rather than of being autonomous - that underlies the wariness
towards regionalism. This condition encourages an insular and defensive
mindset that makes regionalism an unattractive risk. The parochialism that
regionalists rightly wish to check, therefore, is as much a consequence of
. David J. Barron is Professor of Law, and Gerald E. Frug is the Louis D. Brandeis Professor of
Law, at Harvard Law School. The authors would like to thank the students involved with the planning
of the conference, as well as Professor Rich Schragger for organizing it. In addition, we would like to
thank Professors Vicki Been , Sheryll Cashin, and William Fischel for their helpful comments on the
draft, the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston for funding our survey of local governments in the
Boston metropolitan area, and Dean Alan Alshuler and Charles Euchner for their unflagging support of
this project.
1 See generally David J. Barron, Reclaiming Home Rule, 116 HARV. L. REV. 2257, 2266-76
(2003) (describing this set of views). For a representative statement of the position from a legal
scholar, see Sheryll D. Cashin, Localism, Self-Interest, and the Tyranny of the Favored Quarter:
Addressing the Barriers to New Regionalism, 88 GEO. L.J. 1985 (2000). For a similar view from a
political scientist, see Donald F. Norris, Prospects for Regional Governance Under the New
Regionalism: Economic Imperatives Versus Political Impediments, 23 J. URB. AFF. 557 (2001).

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