The Powers and Limitations of Cities

What powers do cities and other local governments have to enact meaningful change? In many states, all municipal power is derived from the state government, either through the state granting home rule authority or specific and limited powers given to local governments on a more ad-hoc basis. Legally, local authority is either expressly limited by the state, or can be circumvented by state preemption, meaning that the higher level of government has authority over the municipalities’ legal decisions.

But the good news is that in reality, city power is ultimately limited by the willingness of city officials and local residents to advocate for more autonomy. American cities already control substantial levers of power including: direct spending on services; ownership of municipal property and other assets; operating budgets, capital expenditures and investments; zoning and land use; local procurement and contracting; property taxes and fees; local regulations; economic and environmental incentives; and their advocacy power as representatives of urban communities with significant economic and political weight. This section includes resources on how these powers work and how they can be used to forward a Green New Deal agenda.

Unmasking the Hidden Power of Cities
Laane; In The Public Interest; Partnership For Working Families

Unmasking the Hidden Power of Cities is a report that identifies seven core legal powers of local governments, steps for taking advantage of these powers, and strategies for combating state preemption.

Learn More
Cities as Leaders
Global Center For Climate Justice

The Boston Green New Deal reports Cities as Leaders section illuminates both the importance of city governments taking leadership and the key levers of power possessed by most city governments to create transformative change.

Learn More