Urban Governance

Michael Goldsmith. Handbook of Urban Studies. Editor: Ronan Paddison. SAGE Publications. 2001.

For much of the past 30 years, the question of metropolitan government has hardly been on the agenda. Since the extensive reforms of metropolitan government in such cities as Toronto and London in the mid-1960s, through the extension of the principle of a single- or two-tier system in other metropolitan areas such as Winnipeg and conurbations such as Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham in the UK, there has been a general retreat from the subject, both amongst practitioners and academics (Sharpe, 1995: 20). At least until recently that is, when both new reforms in places such as Rotterdam, Stuttgart, or re-structuring as seen in Toronto, as well as a concern for what might properly be called the governance of metropolitan regions, have all occasioned a re-awakening of interest.

This chapter will review both the experience with metropolitan governments—by which is meant some institutional arrangement (either single-tier but more generally a two-tier system) whereby the metropolitan area as a whole is governed—and the more general practice whereby different types of arrangement come into place to secure some control and regulation of public and private activities within a metropolis—in other words, forms of metropolitan governance.

At the outset, it is as well to be aware that despite the current fashion for the word ‘governance’, most metropolitan areas have and continue to operate under such systems, whereby governmental responsibilities in such areas are shared between a wide range of public bodies, some elected, many appointed, and where cooperation with the private sector is often a requirement of successful policy implementation.


Given the continued growth of world population and its increasing concentration in urban areas, it is hardly surprising that both long-standing metropolitan areas (through the extension of suburbs) continue to grow and that new ones continue to emerge. Clearly such change—which is often rapid—gives rise to definitional problems as to what we mean by a metropolitan area. For example, the local government reforms in Britain in the early 1970s included the designation of six metropolitan areas, in addition to London, which had been reformed almost 10 years earlier in 1963. In effect such a designation was a reflection of the major conurbations (contiguous urban areas) which had first emerged during the Industrial Revolution and had come together as successive processes of suburbanization brought the original industrial towns in these areas closer to each other—physically if not culturally and politically. Most of these areas had populations well in excess of a million inhabitants. By contrast, in the 1960s the US Census adopted the term Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (SMSA), which was used to refer to any urban area with a population in excess of 100,000 inhabitants—a scale far smaller than matched the case in Britain, but which was perhaps appropriate in the USA of that time.

Since the 1960s, population and urban growth has continued. In particular many new metropolitan areas have emerged, particularly in Third World or developing countries, and many world cities have populations numbered in millions. Places such as Mexico City and San Paulo now lead in terms of population, and many Third World countries have populations concentrated in a few large cities. In the USA, with the move from rustbelt to sunbelt, many old metropolitan areas, such as Detroit, have declined, whilst new ones, such as Dallas, Houston and Atlanta, have grown substantially. A recent Franco-Swiss text discusses metropolitan areas in terms of populations running from 200,000 to around a million, but acknowledging the possibility of even larger areas, such as the Randstad in the Netherlands (Saez et al., 1997: 18-19; see also Leresche et al., 1995). In Britain, most population growth has taken place in small and medium-sized towns, with the result that no new metropolis has emerged over the past 30 years. Nevertheless, most British towns would come close to both the old US SMSA definition of a metropolitan area and to that discussed by Saez et al. In this context, one cannot help but agree with the view of Young and Garside (1982: 338): ‘The irony of metropolitan life is that its dynamic nature constantly draws the sought-for solution to the problems of urban form and urban institutions out of the grasp of government, just as it seems to come within reach.’

Clearly then there is a problem for us in what we mean by a metropolitan area, since the form of government and governance may vary accordingly. For our present purposes, however, it is perhaps less of a problem if the formal definition employed in a country or generally in the literature is adopted, and if we recognize some of the key characteristics of metropolitan areas. These we can take as some or all of the following: relatively large land area; relatively large populations; large range of economic activities; extensive number of governmental bodies or agencies and/or some reformed structure; probably considerable social segregation and possible ethnic diversity reflected in a range of social problems (crime, drugs, home-lessness, unemployment); poor physical infrastructure—existence of shantytowns, poor physical communications and possible transport crisis—and a range of environmental problems, particularly poor air quality. But they are also honeypots, continuing to attract people from outside to their centre. They are the places in which the process of globalization effectively occurs, acting as centres of innovation, creators of new markets and trends. Finally, such areas may also face a public resource crisis, particularly financial, in terms of their capacity to deal with these various problems and trends, as exemplified by the fiscal crisis faced by New York in the 1970s.

Despite these difficulties and characteristics, cities and specifically metropolitan ones, continue to perform a honeypot function—attracting people and activities from outside the area for all kinds of reasons. London, Paris, Copenhagen, New York and Tokyo all continue to be major centres of commerce, culture and social life, whilst cities like San Francisco, Sydney, Seoul and Singapore attract tourists on a worldwide scale. Savitch (1997) has usefully distinguished between world cities, of which London, Paris, New York and Tokyo are all examples, primate cities, of which places such as Berlin and Karachi would be examples, and regional cities, such as Marseilles and Osaka, which act as key gateways to smaller markets. One French study (Sallez, 1993: 58-9) has produced a useful classification of European metropolitan areas according to their international status and their economic base. Thus, under this classification only London and Paris are seen as truly dominant international metropolitan areas, whereas places like Rotterdam, Stuttgart and Barcelona are seen as emerging on to the international stage as key players.

Such developments reflect the process of globalization and internationalization which has brought about a system of ‘world cities’ in which practically every corner of the world is in effect part of such cities’ hinterland. And arguing from a postmodernist perspective, Soja (1995: 130) contends that it is the ‘rise of the postfordist metropolis [which] has been an integral part of the development of the postmodern city’, in which a process of industrial restructuring ‘has had a dramatic impact on the urban economy and the residential as well as employment geography of the city’, giving rise to a new geography of the metropolis in which terms such as ‘Edge City; technoburbs, techno/metropoles, exopolis’ are used to describe the new shape of the metropolitan area. Such areas, argues Soja, are increasingly ‘ungovernable, at least within the confines of … traditional local government structures’ (Soja: 1995: 133; see also Davis, 1990), giving rise to private forms of regulation and control -private police forces, walled estates—which seek to reinforce the exclusionary and exclusive nature of many activities in the metropolitan area. One does not have to follow Soja all the way in his argument to accept that the modern metropolis has become a far different place from its counterpart of even 30 years ago.

Forms of Metropolitan Governance

Although it may have been 30 years ago when forms of metropolitan government were last high on the political agenda, most metropolitan areas operated then, as they do now, under a system of governance rather than government. The distinction is an important one—it symbolizes the wide variety of interests incorporated in a metropolitan area and the range of governmental arrangements employed both to accommodate those interests whilst at the same time ensuring the minimum amount of governmental regulation necessary to ensure the continued existence of the metropolis itself. Prud’homme (1996:174) argues that it is not the form of government which matters, nor the size of the city which is important, but rather the ability to manage the metropolitan area. In economic terms, he sees the task of urban management to be one of ‘moving the benefit curves upwards and the cost curves downwards’. As such ‘good management requires good coordination’, so that mega-cities are well managed. As Prud’homme argues, ‘good management is a matter of people, but also of institutions’. Large cities contain large numbers of actors, concerns, parties, institutions, interests etc.—they all require good leadership and coordination, the need for which increases rapidly as city size increases. In terms of governance, managing these networks is a key task in metropolitan areas, a topic to which we shall return later.

Institutional Forms

The range of institutional arrangements for governing metropolitan areas is extensive, but they can be classified along the following lines (Bollens and Schmandt, 1970)—the one-government approach, the two-level approach and the cooperative approach. In the USA, the single-government approach was largely achieved through two means—either by annexation by the central city of unincorporated lands outside its boundaries or through consolidation of the central city with other municipalities lying in the suburbs. Similar approaches were used in Canada until after the Second World War. By contrast, European metropolitan areas have not adopted either approach, preferring instead to rely either on reform of the structure by higher-level governments (the British case) or depending on some form of horizontal intergovernmental cooperation across municipal boundaries in other cases.

Single-Tier Government: Annexation and Consolidation

The adoption of a single tier of government to cover the needs of populations in excess of one million would indeed be rare. As has been noted, single-tier governments covering metropolitan areas largely resulted from processes of annexation, consolidation and incorporation used in countries like the USA and Canada, largely in the inter-war period. (Earlier, St Louis, for example, more than tripled its area through a process of annexation in 1876.) Such a process was deemed logical and seen as a natural extension of the original city. Annexation was the means whereby the expansion of municipal boundaries kept pace with population growth. Without annexation, it is likely that few large US cities could have developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, by the end of the First World War, annexation as a means of establishing area-wide metropolitan government had declined in popularity. In the 1920s, for example, the total amount of territory absorbed through annexations in the USA was substantially less than in the 1890s. Only a few cities—notably Detroit and Los Angeles—increased substantially through annexations between 1900 and 1945.

Some cities made spectacular use of annexation: Oklahoma City, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, San Diego and Kansas City all achieved large areas through annexation, in some cases continuing to add territory into the 1960s. But in most cases these increases were made under conditions favourable to the annexation route for establishing a single-tier metropolitan government. Annexation has to be legally possible and relatively easy to achieve. Substantial unincorporated land has to be available for annexation—and these factors applied in the cases already quoted. Again Bollens and Schmandt (1970: 289) note that only two (Milwaukee and Chicago) of the ten most populous US metropolises of the 1960s had gone through a process of annexation after 1945.

There is a simple reason why annexation generally proved a less than useful way of establishing area-wide metropolitan government. Unless annexation takes place at a time before substantial population growth occurs, it is likely to leave considerable urbanized areas outside the boundaries of the expanded area—housing opponents to the process of what is usually seen as central city expansion. Such areas are often large in population, predominantly residential, provide minimal services, and may be seriously deficient in basic services—water supply, refuse collection and sewerage, and lacking in physical protection services. Despite such problems, the reason for the decline in annexations is clear—technological improvement opened up suburbs, which themselves incorporated as a municipality. As such they opposed takeovers by the unfriendly central city, successfully forming coalitions with other municipalities, rural areas and state legislators to resist both annexation and consolidation. At the same time as annexation and consolidation became more difficult, the process of municipal incorporation, whereby new growing suburbs achieved local government status, remained simple and easy to achieve (Bollens and Schmandt, 1970: 284).

City-county consolidation is a broader one-government approach than municipal annexation, involving a complete or substantial merger of the county with the central city and other municipalities. Despite its attractions, it has been relatively little used in the USA and Canada, for example. In the nineteenth century it was the means whereby area-wide government was achieved in places such as Boston, New York and Philadelphia—but it has been largely ignored during this century. More recent examples -achieved generally after considerable political struggle—include Miami-Dade County (Florida: 1953) and Nashville-Davidson County (Tennessee: 1962). In both cases the merger involved only one large city and a single county -and there was initial opposition to both.

The result has been that in the United States and elsewhere the single-tier or one-government approach to metropolitan areas has generally been rejected over the past 30 years. Metropolitan areas have simply become too large and too complex in economic and social terms to be governed by a single tier; even with some form of area decentralization, such as the establishment of neighbourhood governments. The response has been to do nothing, adopt a two-tier approach, or else rely on some form of cooperative arrangement between existing municipal institutions.

Two-Tier Approaches: Federations

The governments of Toronto and London in the 1960s and 1970s remain the best-known examples of two-tier metropolitan government, generally the approach preferred by reformers seeking an integrated governmental system for metropolitan areas. What it involves is an area-wide—county -level of government, responsible for what would be regarded as area-wide services such as physical infrastructure, police, fire and ambulance, as well as area-wide planning. Below this tier a number of metropolitan districts are put in place to deal with those services which are closer to the consumer or citizen—housing, education, personal social services, etc.—whilst some functions might be shared between the two tiers.

The introduction of such two-tier metropolitan government, also found in the USA in such places as Miami-Dade County, has usually come about because of some service crisis, generally in terms of the physical infrastructure. Such was the case with London, where the fear of gridlock in the 1960s and poor housing conditions made reform possible, while in Toronto, lack of infrastructure and school provision in the face of a rapidly expanding metropolitan area were key factors assisting the reform process. Additionally, many Toronto municipalities faced a fiscal crisis. Such factors came together at a propitious time for reform in both locations, and the use of an independent review procedure to assess the need for reform (the Herbert Commission in London and the deliberations of the Ontario Municipal Board in the Toronto case) helped the process. Further, the existence of upper-tier governments (the Ontario provincial legislature and the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan) willing to consider and support reform was also crucial.

During the same period as the reforms of Toronto, other Canadian areas followed suit -Montreal adopted a two-tier system, and the idea was designed to be spread more generally to large cities throughout Ontario in the 1970s. Winnipeg went one stage further, going for a single-tier system that quickly proved unsatisfactory (Kiernan and Walker, 1983: 222-46). Elsewhere, the London reforms were extended to other English conurbations at the time of local government reform in the early 1970s, with a division of functions and powers which generally followed the London pattern.

Cooperative Forms

If the introduction of some formal one- or two-tier structure has been increasingly ignored, then one result has been a general flourishing of varying degrees of cooperative arrangement between the different municipal institutions to be found in metropolitan areas, whether these be some formal Council of Governments (CoGs) in the USA, Communautés Urbaines (CUs) in France or some other arrangement to identify and solve policy problems, as with London and the former metropolitan counties in Britain after abolition of the upper tier in 1986.

By far the most common form of cooperative arrangement is, of course, the agreement to establish a single purpose body to oversee a particular function or to solve a particular problem. Such bodies are all too easy to create, as the American experience reveals. More recently, such bodies have become more common in the UK. Often appointed and given extensive powers and resources, such bodies can be difficult to make accountable, as Caro’s account of the activities of Robert Moses in New York makes clear (Caro, 1974), despite the fact that they are also often successful in terms of the problems or functions they are expected to undertake. Accountability is especially a problem where the fragmentation of institutions is extensive. With large numbers of institutions, it becomes very difficult for people to know which unit is responsible for what: ‘citizens neither have perfect knowledge nor could they be expected to do so’ (Jones, 1983: 215). The fact that many such bodies are appointed means there is no way the citizens can ‘kick the rascals out’, even if they know who is responsible for any mess that may arise.

At the root of the rise of cooperative arrangements lies the principle that such arrangements are entered into on a voluntary basis. In the USA, such arrangements are often negotiated by paid officials. They are then put in place solely on the basis of municipal agreement through resolution in the appropriate council, thus avoiding the need to ‘trouble the electorate’ who might be expected to reject such propositions if they were to appear on a municipal ballot. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the national Advisory Council on Intergovernmental Relations often endorsed such an approach, as did the National League of Cities and National Association of Councils in the USA.

Most such arrangements pertain to services rather than facilities, notwithstanding the role played by Moses in supplying much of the infrastructure for New York City. Service agreements are far more common than facility provision agreements. Such agreements are also not necessarily permanent, often having a limited time period written into the agreement. Furthermore, many are of a standby nature, coming into operation only when certain conditions have been met—as with fire, public disturbance or some other local emergency agreements.

A very early example of such a cooperative agreement was the Lakewood Plan under which the municipalities agreed to take services provided by Los Angeles County. Although the provision of services was central to the Lakewood Plan, not all cities operating under the system took the same services. Services provided include fire and ambulance, law enforcement, planning and zoning, street construction and maintenance, as well as such things as tree trimming and running elections.

In the USA, cooperative metropolitan or regional councils of government (CoGs) date from the 1950s. It may be regarded as a logical device for securing some degree of integrated metropolitan government in a politically fragmented system, even if some people may consider such CoGs as little more than paper tigers. What such arrangements require is a process of bargaining and negotiation, compromise and conciliation amongst a (often large) number of sovereign municipalities. CoGs essentially began as metropolitan planning commissions (Jones, 1983: 218) and there were few in place by as late as the mid-1960s. This was due largely to the absence of finance and because there was no mechanism to enforce cooperation. In 1965, the US federal government, through the Housing and Urban Development Act, provided both the finance and the means of ensuring cooperation. Even today such CoGs remain heavily dependent on federal finance for their existence.

Metro Washington provides a present day example of the CoG approach. Savitch and Vogel (1996: 281) indicate that its power and authority are quite limited, suggesting that it acts as a clearing house and as a recipient of grants which would otherwise not come to the area, which covers Washington as well as 15 cities and counties in Virginia and Maryland. They suggest that whilst this example supports the public choice position that coordination and cooperation can take place without formal arrangements, the CoG is not a replacement for metropolitan government, even being unable to serve as a forum for regional issues (Henig et al., 1996).

Savitch and Vogel (1996: 297) suggest that such bodies are in an awkward position, acting at the behest of others and having to ‘work tactfully at the margins and splice together the pieces of authority… regional bodies seek a more tenable role by preferring to offer benefits rather than exact costs’. In effect, such organizations pursue strategies of mutual adjustment, giving strength to Holden’s description of the relationships between the different members as being similar to those amongst nations in the international arena (Holden, 1964).

With the abolition of the two-tier metropolitan system in Britain, London and the other metropolitan areas have had to follow a similar path. France, with its Communautés Urbaines, in cities such as Lyons, Lille and Bordeaux, provides another European example. In both countries, metropolitan areas operate under a system which (following Biarez, 1997: 140), might be considered as ‘flexible’ or with ‘variable geometry’. But Biarez also argues that the three examples are not similar, and that unlike Lyons and Lille, Bordeaux, as well as Marseilles, does not function well.

The Urban Communities of Lille and Lyons were created in 1967 and 1969 respectively. Lille contains 86 communes, and Lyons covers 55; both have about a million inhabitants. The governing bodies of both communities are indirectly elected and both have had strong leaders in recent years—Noir in Lyons and Mauroy in Lille. Both urban communities have extensive functions and resources, and both have adopted strategic development plans—in the case of Lille built around the TGV and other big projects in telecommunications, transport and the development of a technopole, linked to the community’s ambition to be at the centre of Europe.

A similar objective has driven Lyons in recent years, where the Communauté Urbaine has been extended to the regional level. The result has been to bring together the original Communauté Urbaine, the region with four départements and other state offices. Again physical development and big projects have characterized the work of these cities, seeking to create ‘an international city’ or one of the ‘motors’ of Europe.

What characterizes the Lyons and Lille examples is the relatively closed nature of decision-making and the lack of democratic control (decisions being taken by the key mayor or president of the urban community together with a number of other elected officials supported by a strong administration) (Biarez, 1997: 145), with these leaders supported by key elites from other sectors. Another European example from this period is Stuttgart, which again has a form of metropolitan government. The Stuttgart regional community covers 179 localities, five counties and has almost two and a half million inhabitants. It is the centre for four major economic activities—cars (Mercedes Benz), aerospace (Deutsche Aerospace), electronics (AEG) and financial services. Again, political leadership, in the form of Manfred Rommel, mayor of Stuttgart, together with support from the Land, Baden-Württemberg, was important. Faced with the problems of economic recession and financial crisis in the early 1990s, it was Rommel who proposed the idea of a metropolitan form of government for Stuttgart. After a number of years of negotiation and discussion, the Stuttgart Regional Community came into existence in 1994. Hoffman-Martinot, (1994) describes the reform as a ‘substantial innovation’ involving a directly elected 90 member Assembly, with substantial powers in five main areas: regional planning; transport; economic development and tourism; waste management and treatment; and regional sporting and cultural activities. No special financial arrangements were made, finance being expected to be supplied from within the region itself.

A number of features underlie this reform, one of the most recent in Europe. First, there is its highly pragmatic nature—at least in the early stages of its life. None of the functions involves much in the way of direct service provision, for example, and most of the services remain the responsibility of existing municipalities. Secondly, the key feature of the reform—the directly elected assembly—provides a mechanism designed to give a new institution extra political legitimacy whilst at the same time freeing it from the kind of municipal interests which indirectly elected systems often reflect, making the new institution somewhat stronger than the more common indirectly elected bodies. Third, primacy is given to planning and coordination of the work of 179 municipalities and five counties, even if involvement in direct service provision remains limited. Finally, at all stages of the reform there has been the clear involvement of leading private sector interests, such as chambers of commerce, and major entrepreneurs, such as Mercedes Benz, again perhaps reflecting the type of regime suggested by Stone (1993). Yet one cannot help but agree with Biarez (1997: 147) that the establishment of the regional community is much more a question of urban management designed to minimize conflicts between municipalities still jealous of their autonomy rather than a body for developing strategic policy on future development and service provision in the wider Stuttgart area.

By contrast, we can consider the case of London and the other British metropolitan areas who first gained two-tier metropolitan government in 1963 and 1974 respectively, only to lose it again under Margaret Thatcher in 1986 although it was reintroduced in the case of London by the end of the century. Notwithstanding their lack of popularity, it is difficult to understand exactly the logic that lay behind the abolition of the GLC (Greater London Council) and the metropolitan counties in 1986, other than partisan arguments. For example, it must have been particularly galling for Margaret Thatcher to be greeted by a sign reflecting London’s unemployment totals in the mid-1980s as she passed the GLC headquarters on her way to the Houses of Parliament. Certainly the attack was part of a wider assault on local government at the time—as the largest part of the public sector, producing rather than enabling services, and a bastion of trade unionism. In the context of a government concerned to roll back the state and give vent to market forces, local government was a ready-made target.

Abolition resulted in previously integrated metropolitan areas now being governed under a more fragmented system as the bottom-tier metropolitan districts took on a wider range of responsibilities. As Leach et al. (1991) make clear, the reform was not a minor tidying up operation but had wider consequences. Nor did it result in less government or less expenditure—both reasons given for abolition at the time. Nor did all the functions simply revert to the districts. The INLOGOV team’s research shows that, in the former metropolitan counties at least, expenditure on both economic development and leisure/cultural services increased after abolition (both given as a justification for abolition), whilst services like fire, police and public transport were still being run on an area-wide basis by joint boards as late as 1990. In some areas other services also continued to be run on a county-wide basis by a joint board, and the team estimates that only about 25 per cent of former metropolitan county expenditure actually ended up at the district level—the rest went to county-wide bodies of one form or another (Leach et al., 1991: 30.

This limited change leads Leach et al. to consider the reform as a move from a two-tier system based on direct elections to one based on indirect elections—in effect, however, many of the joint boards were appointed (albeit from within the elected ranks of the member authorities), whilst other special purpose bodies also came into operation in the metropolitan areas -Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) and Development Agencies being two examples. And as with other countries with fragmented metropolitan systems of government, the recent British experience again raises the issue of accountability for action as well as that of public understanding of the system and its workings. It also raises questions about service efficiency and quality, with Leach et al. claiming that both coordination of activities in areas such as strategic planning and the quality of such services as waste management and trading standards decreased after abolition.

The experience of London was a little different in this respect. Admirers of the GLC at the time of its reform and during its life saw it as an example par excellence in the reform tradition: an area-wide body (almost), combining the strategic functions—planning, transport, traffic housing and others, and serving a large population (almost 7 million). As such, the London two-tier system served as a model for others.

Critics on the other hand complained of its excessive bureaucracy (Flynn et al., 1985), whilst others felt the allocation of functions between the different levels did not work and that politically the GLC suffered from political hostility from the lower tier authorities (Young and Garside, 1982). Reformers believed that the lower tier authorities were large enough to take on some of the GLC’s functions and few enough to be able to run others through joint bodies. But though ministers often thought the GLC’s strategic functions were overstated, Hebbert (1995: 348) is right when he characterizes abolition as a ‘leap in the dark’.

In the first place it ended a one-hundred-year history of metropolitan government in one of the world’s leading cities. Though the old London County Council had been a Labour stronghold, its history was largely one of success. The GLC -at least until abolition—failed to build up a sense of shared London-wide identity between itself and the lower-tier authorities in a way which the old LCC avoided. In this sense the GLC shared a similar position with the metropolitan counties elsewhere in England. Generally unloved, it and they suffered crucially from a lack of political support, and even some of the Labour boroughs in London (as elsewhere) were not too unhappy to see the GLC (and the metropolitan counties) disappear. Despite the fact that the reform proposals appeared to elevate the (Labour) leader of the GLC to the status of a martyr, the GLC was always seen as imperialistic and concerned with territorial domination. However, abolition meant that no clear political leadership for London existed, although the continuation of services was generally satisfactory and their transfer worked smoothly (Hebbert, 1995: 351-3). Much of this was due to the determination of central government to see that London’s services did not suffer unduly from abolition and to the professionalism of the many staff involved in handling the transfers through the London Residuary Body (LRB). So successful was this body that not only did it raise considerable financial resources from this operation, it was also seen as a suitable vehicle for handling the arrangements for the break-up of the one remaining London body—the Inner London Education Authority—in 1990.

As the millennium approached, the need for some political voice for London became clearer. Experience of working together amongst the boroughs helped reduce competitiveness between them—the greater majority of London residents identify with London (unlike their counterparts in other English metropolitan areas)—to the extent where calls for a stronger voice resulted in the introduction of an elected mayor and a new assembly for London. Abolition may ‘have successfully dismembered the machine of London government, [but it has failed] to lay the soul to rest’ (Hebbert, 1995: 357).

The Politics of Metropolitan Governance

This review of the structures and workings of metropolitan governance raises issues about the nature of politics under these systems. Which interests come to the fore and which tend to be under-represented or ignored? How best can one describe the political task in relation to the fragmented systems of governance which predominate in metropolitan areas? What policies and issues are favoured and which prove less tractable to initiatives?

In his seminal and influential work on Atlanta, Stone (1989) uses what he later calls regime analysis as a mode of explanation for the operation of Atlanta politics. As such his work represents the latest in the 40-year tradition of community power studies in the USA from Hunter and Dahl onwards. In other cases, the importance of political leadership (Toronto: Colton, 1980; Kaplan, 1967, 1982; French cities such as Lille, Rennes and Lyons: Biarez, 1997; and in other British and American cities: Judd and Parkinson, 1990) is seen as the key factor enabling systems of metropolitan governance to adapt satisfactorily to their ever-changing environment.

What is clear is that the ever-increasing fragmentation of political institutions in the metropolis leads to an increasing number of political networks. Following Prud-homme (1996) and Rhodes (1997), the key political task is the management of these networks—which for Rhodes is the essence of governance. At its heart is the working together of local governments and other local institutions to address the challenges posed by post-industrialism. As such the boundaries between public and private spheres and sectors become blurred, and flexibility of approach in a variety of mechanisms is essential if policies and problems are to be tackled successfully. For Stone, it is the regime—a public/private partnership of key elites, political, economic and social—which achieves this task, more or less successfully depending on the nature of the regime and its longevity and legitimacy. For others, it is the skill of political leaders in successfully building and maintaining coalitions -the popular phrase is partnerships—covering different policy areas. However one puts it, it is the supply of management and leadership skills which is likely to determine overall success.

Reviewing the experience of metropolitan governance in a number of US cities, Savitch and Vogel conclude that the pattern of governance is:

made out of politics … Coalitions and splits between groups make certain kinds of regionalism [governance] possible and preclude others. The process of eliciting cooperation creeps along slowly; it is incremental, and it is based on trial and error. Generally, solutions are negotiated around obstacles, so that thorny problems are avoided. (1996: 292)

They go on to suggest that the forms of governance differ according to the different problems which different metropolitan areas face, and that the cooperation engendered, though it is manage-rially viable, can also be politically fragile. The reason is simple—governance networks lack ‘a loyal and dedicated constituent base’ (Savitch and Vogel, 1996: 295). Metropolitan areas contain a large number of differentiated areas—some rich suburbs, some poor; as well as different classes and ethnic groups, each with a loyalty of their own. Diversity is the chief characteristic of metropolitan areas—and their governance is likely to reflect it. Reflecting multiple adversaries and narrow political turf, the political logic of regional/metropolitan cooperation is weak ‘because it offers little direct, tangible and immediate payoffs to enough constituents’ (Savitch and Vogel, 1996: 297). It is hard not to agree with their conclusion that the result is ‘metropolitan governance without metropolitan government’—an appealing phrase which ‘obfuscates the meaning of government’ through a process of mutual adjustment (Savitch and Vogel, 1996: 298).

But to do so is to ignore the examples where the process of coalition or partnership building has met with success and where skilled political leadership has secured significant benefits for much of a particular metropolitan area. Such would be the view of those following in the footsteps of Stone and his analysis of Atlanta. Partnerships and skilled political leadership have helped bring about the successful and continuing regeneration of cities like Pittsburgh, Lille, Barcelona, Glasgow and Manchester. Key politicians have managed to put together a partnership and network of key actors behind a policy designed to secure economic growth. What Logan and Molotch (1987) call growth machines, or Elkin (1987) also refers to as regimes, have secured significant benefits in the area of economic development for many metropolitan areas, which in turn become the role models to be imitated by other cities.

Much research has been conducted in this area, hardly surprising in the face of the fact that economic regeneration and economic development have become major policy foci for all metropolitan and local governments in recent years. But such a research focus obscures or ignores two other features. First, there is the continuing success of ‘world cities’ such as London, Tokyo, New York and Paris, where political leadership may be weak or even lacking; where the system of government is highly fragmented and governance is fragile; and where the policy problems continue to grow. How is it that these cities continue to be successful in adapting to their changing global environment? As Fainstein et al. (1992: 4) note, cities such as London and New York:

have been affected by the internationalization of capital and the rise of new technologies that have caused the outflow of old manufacturing from old urban centres to peripheral areas of home and abroad. They have at the same time profited from the increasing importance of financial and coordinating functions, as well as tourism and cultural production.

Putting it in simple terms, such cities have continued to innovate and to develop markets for new activities. All four cities are, in Sassen’s (1991: 5) terms:

Sites for (a) the production of specialized services needed by complex organizations for running a spatially dispersed network of factories, offices. and service outlets; and (b) the production of financial innovations and the making of markets …

Secondly, the focus on economic development, strategic planning, transportation and land use ignores other important policy areas such as education and welfare. Yet world cities are also, in a term used by Mollenkopf and Castells (1991), ‘dual cities’, containing within the same urban space increasingly separate economies, segregated neighbourhoods and social systems, highlighting once again the continued existence of an ‘underclass’—a feature of such cities from the nineteenth century onwards. As Harloe and Fainstein (1992: 264-7) argue, this social marginalization is the major policy problem these cities and others face in future years, yet they are not optimistic about the likely outcome.

The characteristic diversity of metropolitan areas inevitably means that such areas contain widespread social differences and inequalities, for which governance, cooperation and fragmentation are ill suited. There may be some trickle-down benefits from successful economic development, but the evidence is that most major metropolitan areas contain significant social segregation; that disadvantaged groups continue to remain disadvantaged, and that the problems associated with such groups are growing rather than diminishing.

Whilst such a view holds true for most Western metropolises, it is even truer for the rapidly growing cities of the developing world, where government and governance are even weaker. Third World metropolises have a number of characteristics. First, they continue to demonstrate rapid growth of population and area, and Third World metropolises are amongst the largest concentrations of population in the world. Thus cities such as Mexico City (25 m), Sao Paulo (24 m), Calcutta and Bombay (both around 16 m) are amongst the largest in the world. Only Tokyo (20 m) and New York (16 m) are of a similar size amongst developed countries. Moscow (11 m) is the largest European city in this context (Colton, 1995). Third World cities lack infrastructure, public services, housing—especially for low income households—and generally face environmental problems. Thirdly, they often have poor quality administrative and political leadership, and lack the financial resources to deal with their problems (Bolay, 1995: 89-90). Yet such cities are also often the dominant economic centre of their country: Bangkok in Thailand, for example, accounts for over 37 per cent of the country’s economic activity. Indian metropolises account for nearly 40 per cent. Yet in Bombay, riots in early 1993 resulted in the deaths of over 550 people and damaged property in excess of £1 billion. Massolos (1995: 202-3) describes how in

most suburbs, and especially the middle class ones, whole compounds and blocks of buildings were converted into armed fortresses … it was clear that no one could be trusted and that there was no guarantee of security … people found themselves being attacked by people who had been their friends for a number of years… the norms on which the city had functioned seemed to dissolve.

Bombay has India’s largest urban population (circa 16 m), is the country’s major financial centre, has high-tech industry as well as cottage-style production centres, is a main attraction for immigrants, many of whom live in shanties or on the streets (Massolos, 1995: 210), and all lacking any real centre of control, i.e. governance or government. In South Africa, following the emancipation of black citizens, ‘confusion and uncertainty about urban management necessarily follows in a period in which the ground has shifted so profoundly’ (Mabin, 1995: 191), so that cities such as Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town face difficulty in adapting to the new circumstances in which practically everything changes. Again, South African cities are characterized by levels of violence ‘as high as any in the world: Bogota and some Brazilian cities come to mind as parallels’ (Mabin, 1995: 193). Riots in other cities like Seoul, the pollution problems of some Chinese metropolises or in places like Mexico City and Buenos Aires, all remind us that by contrast most Western cities are largely still well ordered and well governed. Yet if such centres are to continue to adapt and grow, some solution to the problem of governance will have to be found.

The problem is not new. More than 25 years ago, Oliver Williams wrote perceptively:

Present practices place in private hands the socially important task of city building. Economic market power is translated too directly and too immediately into the priorities for urban change. The result is that we have no concept of a basic minimum or floor for urban utilities … (Williams, 1971: 110)

Little appears to have changed in many metropolitan areas. If governance is the best we can do to manage the complex networks and interactions of interest at play in the metropolitan area, then the mobilization of bias in favour of major economic interests will continue to dominate public policy. Whilst such a strategy may well ensure that some metropolitan areas continue to compete in the face of the forces of economic globalization, they are likely to do so at the expense of significant numbers of city dwellers. One reason why there was both a strong interest in reform in the 1960s and 1970s and why some reforms took place, was the belief that such reforms could be more encompassing of all social groups and problems. Perhaps in the millennium attention will turn again to such issues, and the question of the forms of government for metropolitan areas will return to the agenda once more.