Urban Autonomy An Impossible Dream

The idea of city autonomy is increasingly unrealistic, according to a new book by University of Western Ontario professor Andrew Sancton.
November 14, 2008, 11am PST | Nate Berg
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"Not since the emergence of Jane Jacobs, the ultimate target of Prof. Sancton's respectful attack, has such clear, empirical thinking invaded this woolly realm. The fact the author ends up endorsing a status quo in which cities remain the 'creatures' of senior governments in no way diminishes his argument's originality and importance."

"Although declaring himself sympathetic to concerns that unresponsive central governments are stifling urban progress, Prof. Sancton punctures "the inflated rhetoric" and 'confusions' he finds in the arguments made for greater urban autonomy, in particular those enunciated by 'Jane Jacobs and her Toronto followers.' The correction is needed, he writes, 'if for no other reason than that [such arguments] divert valuable resources to fruitless undertakings, much like searching for the end of the rainbow.'"

"The basic problem such thinking ignores, according to Prof. Sancton, is the reality of unchanging borders. 'Boundaries fatally limit the capacity of cities to be self-governing,' he writes. Even if it were possible to draw new borders for a modern city state within an existing nation or province - not, according to the author - the urban growth such borders are meant to support would instantly render them obsolete."

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Published on Wednesday, November 12, 2008 in The Globe and Mail
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