As housing continues to be a lynchpin in urbanization worldwide, policymakers are confronted with the question: what is the proper mix of state versus local authority in planning initiatives? Earlier this summer at Lincoln House, Harvard Law professor Gerald Frug and Edesio Fernandes, a recent visiting fellow at the Lincoln Institute, had a brisk exchange on the pros and cons of both. Fernandes was critical of the decentralized system in Brazil, arguing that municipal government jurisdictions don't match up with the reality of how metropolitan regions have grown, leaving little room for regional or national planning. Land use planning in environmentally sensitive areas in the Amazon, for example, is left to a patchwork of municipal authorities, each with their own mission. "Why do we create institutions ... that do not express the territorial order they seek the regulate?" Fernandes asked.
Frug, co-author with David J. Barron of City Bound – How States Stifle Urban Innovation, noted that cities in the U.S. can only do what state governments allow -- that cities are creatures of the state, going back to 19th century law, when it should be the other way around. With over 80 percent of the U.S. population in metro areas, he said, "we need to rethink the city-state relationship for the 21st century." Frug agreed that "we're not locating government organization in the places we actually inhabit," allowing a wide range of local policy challenges -- housing, education, crime -- to go unaddressed on a regional basis. State legislatures may be the least appropriate authorities for setting regional land policy. Frug cited the Metro regional government in Portland, which figures prominently in the documentary film Portland: Quest for the Livable City, as a better approach.
The conversation with Frug and Fernandes, “Legal-institutional designs supporting urban planning and management in federal systems: US and Brazil,” was co-sponsored by the Affordable Housing Institute as part of its Exchange program, made possible by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The exchange will be posted in video on the Lincoln Institute Web site.