Stephen Barton wrote a nice review of Activists in City Hall (in Progressive Planning – Spring 2011) in which he leveled a reasonable criticism:
There are definite weaknesses in the book. . . No effort is made to reconcile the suggestion that Berkeley’s turn toward neighborhood issues was a turn away from progressive principles with the book’s strong argument for the importance of a neighborhood movement in sustaining progressive city government in the larger cities.
If neighborhood organizations often sought to exclude minorities and poor people, how was the book justified in advising mayors to support them?
In fact, progressive mayors often opposed exclusionary policies, and consistently opposed giving the power to exclude to neighborhood organizations. In Boston, Ray Flynn had supported neighborhood councils, but almost never supported giving them a veto power over development projects – the one exception was a neighborhood organization in Roxbury, a largely minority neighborhood, over a proposed city project, which he later backed away from. Susan Fainstein has documented neighborhood councils in Minneapolis, a case where those in the wealthier neighborhoods exhibited an exclusionary bias. Harold Washington never supported neighborhood councils, despite proposals from activists.
Yet there were occasions where neighborhoods could have done with more power to constrain city hall, especially over city-supported projects they thought would adversely impact them by either (a) destroying the fabric of established neighborhoods as in the case of freeway construction or even industrial projects that held few job prospects for neighborhood residents. This was common in most cities: Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, the University of Illinois expansion in Chicago’s near Westside in the 1960s, and the North End urban renewal project in Boston in the 1950s were notorious. And some “progressive city” cases occasioned neighborhood protest: Southside Chicago residents were displaced by the new White Sox ballpark under Washington and Sawyer; while Roxbury residents organized in protest over a plan to provide large scale housing and commercial space in an area that became known as “Parcel 18.”
Thus neighborhood control is an issue that has more than one answer, and it is not simply dealt with by the advice that progressive mayors should “support neighborhood activists. Something more nuanced is in order. The material for such policies may be found in Activists in City Hall, but what it lacks is clear guidelines and qualifications. Here are a few:
1) Recognize that city hall power is inherently a blunt instrument.
2) On the other hand, neighborhood response, what it does with any delegation of power, can be similarly crude.