Thursday, December 11, 2014

Urban Decay Theory v. Broken Windows Theory

Brent White (Arizona) , Simone Sepe (Arizona) and Saura Masconale (AZ-Gov't & PP) have published Urban Decay, Austerity, and the Rule of Law, 64. Emory L.J. 1 (2014).  In the article, the authors offer a "make 'gov', not war" alternative to the Broken Windows Theory (BWT) and its support for order-maintenance policing.  Building upon an intuitively compelling social contract theory insight, the article sets out the theoretical and empirical cases for the authors’ contention that sustained investment in highly visible, essential local public goods provides crucial support for rule of law. Focusing on the refusals of the U.S. and Michigan governments to bail out Detroit and avoid the need for it to file for bankruptcy, the authors use their Urban Decay Theory (UDT) to support their proposal that all municipal governments receive at least some level of fiscal insurance to sustain continuous investment in urban infrastructure, which, according to the UDT is predictive of citizen commitment to rule of law.

At the invitation of the editors of the Emory Law Journal, I wrote a response to Urban Decay for the Emory Law Journal Online.  In "All Good Things Flow . . .":  Rule of Law, Public Goods, and the Divided American Metropolis , 64 Emory L. J. Online 2017 (2014),  I welcome the article’s introduction of the rule of law paradigm to domestic urban policy, find fault with its selection of public goods that purportedly influence rule of law, and contend that the UDT has far greater potential than the poor support it can offer the authors’ flawed policy proposal. By conceptualizing the domestic urban policy goal as rule of law rather than order, the authors open measurements of success to go beyond crime rates and majoritarian perceptions of personal safety. Without losing the groundedness necessary for empirical investigation, rule of law can incorporate ideal aspects of lawful order that address sustainability and inclusion of minority perceptions of legitimacy. While the White/Sepe/Masconale article does not succeed in constructing as compelling an understanding of the most salient public goods, an improved analysis of the root causes of the fiscal degradation of America’s legacy cities can unlock a potentially valuable reframing of urban, metropolitan, and regional policy debates.

In focusing their policy proposal on fiscal guarantees for municipal creditors, the authors, from my perspective, have missed the role that the urban-suburban divide has played in the inability of city governments to provide basic public goods.  But, their expansion of the public policy goal to rule of law allows us to get a more holistic picture of the foundation of a truly inclusive, flourishing community. All in all, I think that, by altering the paradigm from order maintenance to rule of law, the authors have, in formulating the Urban Decay Theory, offered a useful complement to the Broken Windows Theory rather than a truly competitive alternative to it.  

 

Jim K.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/land_use/2014/12/urban-decay-theory-v-broken-windows-theory.html

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