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Political Science


The polycentric model of municipal governance suggests that multiple jurisdictions may approximate an efficient market for local public services: citizens move to jurisdictions offering services they value at tax rates they are willing and able to pay. The model is appealing to political theorists for its emphasis on free association and responsive governance, but problematic insofar as institutions prescribed by the model permit exclusionary practices and objectionable inequalities. I argue for a revised conception of polycentricity: efficient spatial patterns of boundaries and services are acceptable only if they are consistent with (inter alia) fair opportunities for both mobility and loyalty to place. This suggests a vision of the polycentric city in which fairness and contestation are as important as freedom and efficiency.


This article was originally published in The Journal of Politics, 66(1): 203-223. © 2004 Cambridge University Press