The Democratic City: Citizenship, Democracy, and Urban Life in the Time of Globalization
(Cambridge University Press, forthcoming)
Democracy was born in the city, but when the city was swallowed by the nation-state the relationship between the city and democracy became obscured. At least since Madison, boosters of the liberal state have asserted that the state, not the city, is the proper scale of democratic government. As a corollary, the city is often viewed as peculiarly unsuited for democracy. In consequence, the state has frequently sought to diminish local democracy by, for example, vesting substantial authority over local affairs in unelected officials, structuring local elections to depress voter turnout, and curtailing cities’ power to act altogether.
This book excavates an alternative tradition in which the relationship between the city and democracy remains vital, in which, indeed, the city is “the hope of democracy.” This relationship has two facets: what the city means for democracy, and what democracy means for the city. As to the first, many of the most important questions confronting liberal democracy – questions about citizenship, majority rule, the role of money in politics, the rights of groups – are quintessentially urban issues that can only be illuminated by passing them through the crucible of city life. As to the second, contemporary models of urban development such as the “global city,” the “tourist city,” and the “middle class city” focus cities’ energies on attracting revenue from mobile investors and consumers rather than meeting the demands of existing residents. The “democratic city,” which places votes ahead of money and orients itself to those who stay rather than those who threaten to leave, represents a radical challenge to the extant models. In the end, the two facets of the relationship between democracy and the city are deeply entwined. The way we construct our cities reflects our aspirations for and apprehensions about democracy. Likewise, the future of democracy will be charted in the city.