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Do Cities Need a Political Movement?

Richard Schragger argues that urban areas will need to work together to flex their might in national politics.
Workers assemble scaffolding around a statue of George Washington in front of the Federal Hall museum.
Workers assemble scaffolding around a statue of George Washington in front of the Federal Hall museum.Lucas Jackson/Reuters

This post is part of a CityLab series on power—the political kind, the stuff inside batteries and gas tanks, and the transformative might of mass movements.

On the world stage, cities have immense clout. They drive economies, breed culture and new ideas, and concentrate human talent.

Yet, in the United States, cities severely lack political power. Not only has the Electoral College and the gerrymandering of congressional districts limited the national impact of urban votes, our system of federalism barely recognizes a right for city government to make independent decisions. While states can cite the Tenth Amendment to challenge the federal government, no similar legal mechanism exists for cities. Without the constitutional or policy tools to resist federal encroachment or set local priorities, cities must get creative and overturn conventional assumptions about their political power.