Towards Reimagining the Autonomous City

2022, Richard Albert, Nathalie Des Rosiers, and Alexandra Flynn (eds), ‘Constitutional Space For Cities’(Forthcoming)

12 Pages Posted: 28 May 2021 Last revised: 15 Jun 2022

Date Written: May 23, 2021


Despite being major population hubs and the dominant economic players, cities are conspicuously absent from the constitutional space. They are creatures of the federal or provincial governments, dependent on them for their functioning and very existence. Because of this reality, it is argued that constitutionalism becomes irrelevant to a large share of a countries population. Not only this, but cities are unable to address issues such as income inequality, housing, population density, immigration, environmental protection, and so forth. Their lack of autonomy and constitutional standing also makes them susceptible to corporate capture. Furthermore, cities are more progressive and diverse than the rest of the polity, but national politics are often not entirely responsive to city residents’ values, identity concerns, and priorities. In fact, the lack of constitutional standing and autonomy for cities results in federal and provincial politicians over meddling in city affairs. The proposed answer to this predicament is to emancipate cities and provide them with constitutional standing and greater autonomy. Such suggestions have not only been the focus of academia but also of real-world political discussions. While prima facie, this seems like a simple fix, several issues arise. The first is whether constitutional standing and greater autonomy for cities will address issues they seek to ameliorate. Then there is a question of whether achieving these features will have any downside for cities. Lastly is the issue of the legal, political, and methodological obstacles that stand in the way of a demand for constitutional standing and greater autonomy for cities. This article is a preliminary attempt to delineate some of these issues and suggest directions for future research and political action on envisioning the autonomous city.

Keywords: Constitutional Law, Comparative Constitutional Law, City, Federalism, Mega City, Subsidarity, Hong Kong, Dubai, Singapore, Autonomy

Suggested Citation

Sethi, Amal, Towards Reimagining the Autonomous City (May 23, 2021). 2022, Richard Albert, Nathalie Des Rosiers, and Alexandra Flynn (eds), ‘Constitutional Space For Cities’(Forthcoming), Available at SSRN:

Amal Sethi (Contact Author)

University of Hamburg ( email )

Rothenbaumchaussee 33
Hamburg, 20148

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