Urban planning cannot exist without its legal powers granted by the government, but with such a close relationship to government comes an inevitable tie to politics.

John Levy, in Contemporary Urban Planning, decides to open the chapter on the legal basis of planning with a very peculiar observation. “A literal reading of the Constitution gives no indication that there are to be substate units of government.” (Levy 68) Whether on purpose or not, the framers of our constitution left out any mention of what rights cities and towns have and so it fell on the states to determine that.

Cities being “creatures of the state” are essentially at the mercy of almost whatever the states want them to do, because the rules that the cities have to play by were defined at the state level.

This all sort of aligns with federalism where the powers of government are separated into levels going from broad at the federal level, less board at the state level, and very specific at the local city level. But what happens when the city and the state differ so much?

Electoral College map of Ohio during the 2016 election.

Electoral College map of Texas during the 2016 election.

As we can see increasingly in this country, there is a huge divide between the rural and urban communities. This conflict is embodied very clearly in the power struggle between blue cities and the red states they reside in. As you can see from the two pictures above, cities in southern and midwest states are liberal strongholds in what seems to be a vastly Republican state. This difference is made even more clear when look at the mayors of cities like Austin and Houston, who are democrats, versus the Governor of Texas who is republican. And this political difference for the most part holds true for the city legislatures versus the state legislatures.

The end result of this political dichotomy is that there are vastly different agendas that are being pushed forth at the state level and the city level that are affecting the overlapping residents of the city and state. Immigration and gun control are where we see the most news generated, for example, with cities trying to be sanctuary cities and states passing legislation against it.

Urban planning isn’t necessarily something that is catchy and will make the news. But by observing these recent events the question arises, how much have conservative states done to limit blue city urban planning? Whether it is creating public housing or controlling business development through zoning, there are clear markings where big government minded democrats will clash with their republican state legislatures. And now ironically it is the traditionally big government Dems that want less state involvement in more local levels of government.

Moreover, this unique situation that is currently playing out creates a unique opportunity to discuss what powers we believe cities should have and why their relationship with the state is so different from a state’s relationship to the government.


Badger, Emily. “Blue Cities Want to Make Their Own Rules. Red States Won’t Let Them.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 06 July 2017. Web.

Graham, David A. “Red State, Blue City.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 02 Feb. 2017. Web.

Levy, John M.. Contemporary Urban Planning. 11th ed. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.