The Democratic City: Power-Building in an Era of Inequality
Sabeel Rahman Assistant Professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School
In recent years, cities have become the forefront of reform efforts to combat deepening economic inequality and modern forms of racial segregation. Now in the face of the Trump administration, cities take on an even more high-stakes role not only as spaces for policy innovation but also as spaces for resistance. These twin roles of innovation and resistance force us to rethink long-running debates about the nature of city power, and dynamics of urban democracy. In particular, we must reconceive the democratic city not just as a space for policy experimentation, but more directly as an arena for long-term power-building. Through its institutions, movements, and legal capacities, the democratic city can facilitate the building of bottom-up political power that in turn can drive more inclusive and equitable movements and policies at larger scale. This idea of the city shifts in important ways how we think about policymaking, institution- and capacity-building, and movement organizing at the city level. It also forces us to grapple with deeper structural challenges that cities case in exercising meaningful legal and political power.
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