Seeing Like a Region

Theoretical Inquiries in Law (2023), forthcoming

Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2023-38

33 Pages Posted: 1 May 2023

See all articles by Richard Schragger

Richard Schragger

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: May 1, 2023


Observers of metropolitan dysfunction have long advocated for a regional tier of government that could (among other things) equalize spending across local jurisdictions, pursue cooperative economic development policies, provide for fair share housing, rationalize land use, and coordinate transportation planning. For many good government reformers, right-scaling our fragmented metropolitan areas appears to be an obvious solution to inter-jurisdictional spillovers and competitive races-to-the-bottom.

This article counsels caution. “Region hope” — the idea that the substantive problems of metropolitan governance can be solved regionally by redrawing territorial boundaries to encompass ever-larger areas — is perennial. But territorial manipulation in aid of state centralization has significant drawbacks. The regional impulse exhibits some key features of failed social engineering efforts; seen through the lens of the state, these efforts privilege technocratic over democratic governance, bureaucratic over local knowledge, and mobile over immobile capital. That does not mean that regionalism should be resisted in all cases, but only that the costs of territorial manipulation should be weighed against its asserted benefits.

Keywords: regionalism, local government law, land use, housing

Suggested Citation

Schragger, Richard, Seeing Like a Region (May 1, 2023). Theoretical Inquiries in Law (2023), forthcoming, Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2023-38, Available at SSRN:

Richard Schragger (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

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