Contemporary processes of urban governance are increasingly challenged by the rise of global finance and the explosion of municipal debt, by problems of environmental sustainability, and by shifts in the geographical center of world-economic growth and political power. Previously lauded models for urban success–through urban entrepreneurialism, state-led redevelopment projects, public-private partnerships, and nested organization of government levels (local, regional, national)–are confronted by the crisis of welfare states and the rise of a politics of austerity. New forms of uneven spatial development are emerging within and between urban centers.

Under these conditions, the gleaming new mega-cities in China, India, or throughout the Arabian Gulf and the long-lived luminaries of global capitalism in Europe and North America, such as London or even New York, have become spectacles of a continuous urban crisis. Confronted from above, by the financial crisis and the repeated ‘booms and busts’ of global capital, and from below, by increasing inequality and the fracturing of older political, economic, and social ties, cities seem to lurch between failures of governance and losses of legitimacy. Even the provision of basic services has become an acute problem, as can be seen from such divergent experiences as the exodus from and destitution of Detroit to the agglomeration of slums in Lagos. The micro (local) urban form has become more subjected than ever to acute macro (global) problems.

These challenges raise questions about what it means to govern urban areas. Specifically, how does governance extend across or within metropolitan regions, and what role do urban dwellers play in building and rebuilding urban space in the twenty-first century? The Global Urban Governance Research Working Group addresses these questions through the empirical study of contemporary forms of urban governance, especially the interaction between government organizations, private investment, civil society, and individual citizens. Ultimately this will involve a conceptual rethinking of the dominant strategies of urban development, providing a basis for better understanding of urbanization and urban development in the new century.

Current Initiatives

The Rent Court Reform Initiative

In cooperation with the Public Justice Center and the Right to Housing Alliance (RTHA), this Research Working Group is conducting a study of renters’ experiences in the judicial process of eviction by conducting surveys of defendants at the rent court, gathering important information about tenants’ access to justice and housing security. The data collected will be used to raise public awareness about housing unaffordability and the harsh legal and social realities of rental eviction. Direct engagement with renters is conducted between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, at the Baltimore City District Court (501 E. Fayette Street). Phone surveys are conducted at the RTHA office throughout the day.

Decentralized Governance in Baltimore

This project studies a form of decentralized urban governance in Baltimore City called a Community Benefits District. Building from collaboration with the Baltimore City Council, the Charles Village Benefits District, and the Abel Foundation, the project will lay further groundwork for a detailed assessment of the policy implications of Baltimore’s experience with benefits districts by comparing new and existing districts in the city. The project will also lay the groundwork for a large scale, comparative-international study on the rise of public-private governance, its relation to democratic accountability, and the provision of public services in the 21st century.