Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Ronald Kahn


Urban, Politics, United States


I will not attempt to illustrate this point through a comprehensive literature review of urban politics; such an enterprise would most likely yield more reams than results. Instead, I will examine the pro-growth bias of two prominent theories of urban politics; pluralism – as represented by Robert Dahl, Nelson Polsby, Edward C. Banfield and Raymond Wolfinger – and Paul E. Peterson’s most recent work City Limits. These two approaches share fundamental methodological and normative foundations that lead to an emphasis on process over outcomes in city politics.

This emphasis provides a justification for existing political and economic conditions by collapsing democratic values of participation and equity into a market mechanism of urban politics. The inherent conservativism of this position manifests itself through three components present in both the pluralist and City Limits models:

1) An equation of political interests with the preferences of rational, self-maximizing individuals or groups, which stress particularistic over communitarian benefits.

2) A view of local decisions as resultants, produced by an impersonal marketplace of preferences, free from the control of an individual or class.

3) A growth ethos which emphasizes the general interest obtained through increases in aggregate resources.

The acceptance of these elements precludes the formation of an independent normative perspective from which to critique the process mechanisms proposed mechanisms as developed form their descriptions of urban politics.Despite their underlying similarities, the two theories present radically different portrayals of local government on the descriptive level. In order to highlight these differences, it would be helpful to place the pluralists and City Limits within the context of the development of urban political science.

Section II examines the local pluralism of Dahl, Polsby, Banfield, and Wolfinger. The review will focus on the methodological underpinnings of pluralist theory, which is key to understanding this conception of political interest and urban politics. Following a brief review and critique of pluralism, I will investigate the ideological implications of the pluralist political bargaining arena.

Section III offers a critique of Peterson’s City Limits on two levels; first reviewing the descriptive components of his model, followed by an examination of the resulting ideological assumptions of the City Limits model.

Finally, Section IV will consist of concluding remarks, including a consideration of some possible future avenues for local politics in the U.S.