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Perspective

Cities Have Their Limits

Urging urban leaders to go it alone celebrates a deep dysfunction in federalism—and normalizes a self-destructive shift in politics.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, one of several city leaders rumored to vie for the presidency in 2020, presses the flesh at the Iowa Statehouse in April.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, one of several city leaders rumored to vie for the presidency in 2020, presses the flesh at the Iowa Statehouse in April.Charlie Neibergall/AP

The mayors are coming. In recent months, City Hall occupants in Tallahassee, Nashville, and Tuscaloosa have won Democratic primaries for their state’s gubernatorial races. Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro are rumored to be considering White House bids in 2020. City leaders seeking higher office are banking on the idea that voters will respond to what cities embody today: innovation, diversity, and progress.

In the Age of Trump, some experts have been urging cities to declare independence from the federal-level chaos in Washington. Others herald local power and local actions as antidotes to national dysfunction. Across the country, corporations and philanthropies are pouring millions of dollars into city initiatives, attracted by the notion that solutions in urban areas—on issues like economic development, clean energy, and resilience—might bubble up to the national level.