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  • Comparative Metropolitan Policy: Governing Beyond Local Boundaries in the Imagined Metropolis by Jen Nelles
  • Almos Tassonyi
Comparative Metropolitan Policy: Governing beyond Local Boundaries in the Imagined Metropolis by Jen Nelles. New York: Routledge, 2012. 218 pp. Cloth $120.57.

The unifying concept in this short, focused book is the idea of civic capital. Nelles defines civic capital as the measure of the extent to which an urban community has a collective perception of a metropolitan space. Using this idea as a methodological construct, she proceeds to compare the institutional fabric of multilevel governance in two metropolitan regions [End Page 355] in Germany, Frankfurt Rhein-Main and Rhein-Neckar, and two in Ontario, Toronto and Waterloo.

The first three chapters set out a theoretical discussion of cooperation and governance in city-regions and the concept of civic capital. This discussion turns on assessing the role of actors (i.e., municipalities and other local agencies, senior levels of government), executive autonomy, institutional autonomy, party politics, power asymmetry, previous government structures, government intervention, and external shocks in either enhancing or impeding a coordinated regional approach to marketing a region in support of economic development, investment in transportation, and cultural policy. The four chapters on the metropolitan regions assess the role of each of these factors in shaping metropolitan policy with respect to the functional areas chosen for review. As Nelles notes, however, there is a significant difference in the powers of local councils. In Germany, constitutionally, local councils can decide what they want to do, whereas in Ontario, express authority must be provided in provincial statute for most council actions, even with the recent granting of “natural person powers” to municipalities.

Turning to the metropolitan regions, Frankfurt Rhein-Main, according to Nelles, is a region in search of an identity. Located primarily in the Land of Hessen, Frankfurt Rhein-Main is the second-largest city-region with 5.5 million people or 5 percent of the total population of Germany, generating 8.3 percent of national gross domestic product. The region has 445 local governments and covers parts of four Länder. Two-tier governance at the local level was imposed by Land legislation but opposed locally, particularly by the City of Frankfurt at the core of the metropolitan region. Nelles characterizes this region as suffering from inconsistent leadership and a fragmentary system not terribly conducive to bridging local differences. The fact that many of the key actors in a position to potentially bridge these divides are political, and therefore vulnerable to removal through elections, is another impediment.

Cultural cooperation in this region is an example of the power of bodies created voluntarily to organize successfully and mobilize significant opposition against the policies of upper levels of government. However, this form of cooperation is weak compared to institutionalized forms of metropolitan governance. Further, tax competition and the dominance of Frankfurt in the local economy have militated against the development of regional civic capital. Finally, Rhein-Main is lacking in a base of strong regionally connected leaders to bring partners together in a broader variety of areas.

By contrast, Nelles describes Rhein-Neckar as a region built from below. With a population of 2.4 million, the region spans parts of three Länder, and the cities of Mannheim and Heidelberg. In this metropolitan area, regional governance has emerged through voluntary local cooperation and was legitimized by Land legislation. In 1969, a treaty for regional planning among the Land resulted in a complex set of institutions. Calls for reform resulted in a new structure built from below, incorporating political, academic, private, and not-for-profit actors into the governing structure. This inclusive and associational construct was ratified by the Länder in 2005. Regional cooperation in this case was not coerced by the Länder but rather was the product of civic capital.

Nelles views Toronto as a strong city but a weak region, mirroring the weak state of civic capital in the Frankfurt region. Local fiscal discretion, regional governance structures, and provincial government involvement in the transportation, cultural/tourism, and economic development files have intensified city-suburban tensions and reduced the incentive for local leaders to think and act...


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pp. 355-357
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