Comparative Urban Governance for Lawyers

24 Pages Posted: 12 Apr 2015 Last revised: 19 Jun 2015

See all articles by Fernanda Nicola

Fernanda Nicola

American University - Washington College of Law

Sheila Foster

Georgetown University; University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law

Date Written: October 1, 2014


This essay is an introduction to a set of papers that were developed for a joint session of the Sections on State and Local Government and Comparative Law for the 2014 Annual Meeting of the American Association of Law Schools. The theme of the joint session was Comparative Urban Governance.

This introductory essay begins to fill what we perceive as a prominent gap existing in the local government and comparative law literature. Even though economic globalization has shaped the ways in which cities are governed, local government legal scholars have only recently begun to contribute to the growing field of Comparative Urban Governance (CUG), which has largely been dominated by comparative political theorists, urban planners, and economists committed to best practices for urban growth and modernization. Importantly, local government legal scholars have identified and analyzed the emergence of cities, including transnational networks of cities, as critical actors on the international legal stage, shaping global legal norms and the implementation of international laws around the world. However, comparative analysis by legal scholars (and practitioners) of similar legal rules and policies adopted by cities around the world, although not uncommon, most often fail to really engage methodological questions underlying such comparisons.

The task to compare local government law is not only daunting because of the extreme variation among local governments, but also because there is the perception that such comparison is of lesser relevance when comparative legal scholars have traditionally focused on states, constitutions, or geographic regions. Indeed, comparing the policies and practices of local governments may very well require its own mode of analysis. Our aim is to sketch out a methodological framework for lawyers and legal scholars seeking to understand or contribute to this growing field of expertise In undertaking this project, we realize that the relevant methodological insights for lawyers and scholars approaching CUG derive from various legal disciplines. In particular, there are at least three legal fields that offer insights, as well as illuminate shortcomings, for those who engage in CUG: local government law, comparative law, and the law of international economic development. This introductory essay explains the relationship between CUG and these distinct legal fields through the rich contributions of the papers in this volume, each of which offers an innovative and thoughtful approach that links different strands of local government law, comparative law, and international economic development scholarship, while offering a rich menu for urban reformers committed to rethinking sustainability and democratic inclusion as integral parts of economic development strategies for cities.

Suggested Citation

Nicola, Fernanda Giorgia and Foster, Sheila, Comparative Urban Governance for Lawyers (October 1, 2014). Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 42, No. 1, 2014, Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2592735, American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2015-10, Available at SSRN:

Fernanda Giorgia Nicola

American University - Washington College of Law ( email )

4300 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

Sheila Foster (Contact Author)

Georgetown University ( email )

Washington, DC 20001
United States

University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law

Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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