City Bound: How States Stifle Urban Innovation. By Gerald E. Frug and David J. Barron. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. 2008. Pp. xvii, 260. $35.
Imagine how stunted our understanding of the federal government would be without any detailed scholarly examination of the U.S. Constitution itself. As remarkable as that sounds, that is essentially the problem that Gerald Frug and David Barron have set out to remedy for local governments in their superb City Bound. In the book, Frug and Barron take a comprehensive, empirical look at the legal frameworks under which cities and other local governments operate, providing an invaluable roadmap for understanding the hidden architecture of legal constraints that-largely without notice-are shaping America's urban future.
Why this kind of analysis has rarely been attempted may have something to do with the fact that there are nearly twenty thousand municipalities and nearly ninety thousand local governments all told in the United States today. It likely has even more to do with the fact that, by comparison to the federal or state constitutions, divining the precise nature of local legal power is not as simple as reviewing a municipal charter. As Frug and Barron note, the precise contours of what they call "city structures" must be culled from a detailed examination of the bewildering "mix of grants of, and restrictions on, local power" (p. 3) through which states shape the authority of their localities.