Shaping the Metropolis

McGill-Queen’s University Press, May 2019.

Selected for the 2019 Munk School Holiday Booklist, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto

American and Canadian cities differ in profound ways. Canadian cities are denser and more compactly developed, in no small part because their governance is more centralized. How did this come to be?

In Shaping the Metropolis: Institutions and Urbanization in the United States and Canada, I draw on extensive archival, documentary, and interview research to show how and why American and Canadian urban governance has developed on different tracks since the 19th century. The comparison unfolds both at the national level and through four in-depth metropolitan case studies: Portland (OR), and Minneapolis–St. Paul in the United States, and Toronto and Vancouver in Canada.

I argue that Canadian and American governments responded differently to similar pressures associated with rapid urbanization due to the distinct incentives established the organization of national and state/provincial political institutions. American institutions were more open to outside ideas and interests yet the separation of powers undermines decisive and sustained policy action. Canadian governments’ centralized decision-making enabled more coherent policymaking, but their relative insulation from societal interests inhibited policy innovation and adaptation to changing circumstances, including shifting norms and values and the decline of single-party dominance at the provincial level. The concentration of authority in Canadian provincial governments enabled the rapid adoption of coherent urban policies after the Second World War, while dispersed authority in American state governments fostered indecision and catered to parochial interests.

This book is essential to anyone interested in urban governance in federal systems. … The careful organization of the chapters, coupled with case studies, historical facts, and meticulous consideration of multiple factors, makes this book a vital addition to great comparative scholarship. Let’s not deny the fact: federalism is complex. Taylor reminds us, however, that its complexity has foundations in history and is in fact part of the urban story. Thankfully we don’t need to unpack the convoluted histories, relationships, and institutions – Taylor’s already done it for us.

– Anna Kopec, Canadian Public Administration

The book concludes with observations on the distinct challenges facing each country, now and in the future. I argue that the prospect for efficient, just, and sustainable urban governance is uncertain in both countries not only because politics has become increasingly polarized, but also because of the negative incentives generated by the way the two countries’ governing institutions organize decision-making. 

Shaping the Metropolis is the first comparative historical study of the political development of the multi-level urban governance in Canada and the United States since the 19th century. It will be of interest to students of comparative politics, urban politics, local government, and the history of city and regional planning. Residents of both countries, and especially of the four cities whose histories are examined in detail, will come away with new and surprising insights about the past, present, and future of their cities.

“Zack Taylor’s Shaping the Metropolis shines a bright analytical spotlight on the institutional dimension, suggesting it provides key leverage to explain Canada/US urban differences. In a well-argued, lucidly written, and handsomely produced volume, … he develops a persuasive theoretical framework illuminating key institutional factors that underlie the different trajectories of these urban regions.

Shaping the Metropolis should become the authoritative source for scholars seeking to understand how these North American neighbors, despite a common local government heritage, evolved quite different approaches to governing metropolitan growth.”

Paul G. Lewis, author of Shaping Suburbia: How Institutions Organize Urban Development, in Perspectives on Politics

Shaping the Metropolis is a fascinating account of regional governance strategies used in Toronto, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Vancouver, and Portland. … All in all, this is an excellent read for urban scholars.”

– D.C. Downey, CHOICE

“An impressive, important, and influential book, Shaping the Metropolis is the defining text for the future of literature comparing US and Canadian urban politics and urban political development.”

– Richardson Dilworth, Drexel University

Part of the McGill-Queen’s Studies in Urban Governance series

  • 440 Pages, 6 x 9
  • 27 diagrams, 4 tables
  • ISBN 9780773557055
  • May 2019
  • Formats: Cloth, Paperback

On-line companion materials:

  • Colour versions of the maps and figures, as well as supplementary pictures are available here.
  • Data used to create graphs and charts is available here.

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