4. Private Governments
One of the by-products of Edge City is the private government. At their heart, Edge Cities are capitalist creations, driven by market forces. They respond to the pressures of wealth and are created as a result of perceived consumer demand. The people of the edges have come to realize this connection between money and results, and indeed expect it in other areas of their lives. However, this is not the way government has traditionally worked in the United States.
4.1 Ideas About Government
People obey governments in modern times not out of fear but because governments provide services in exchange for the acceptance of their authority. A parallel development to the spread of urbanism was the transition from government as police force and representative voice to the role of provider of public goods. Public goods are those things that benefit all people, yet few people can afford individually. Governments are not followed through a direct cause and effect relationship based on services, though. Rather, people desire to live under a certain system of rules and public governments seem like a good idea to most.
4.2 The Basis Of Government
Living under the power of a government is not a choice in modern society. Their influence has been all but taken for granted since Locke’s time, and today it is agreed that they serve a valid purpose and must continue. Federal governments in particular are important because of their ability to pool the vast resources of a country to get certain things done. After defense and international relations are provided for, federal governments can afford massive expenditures on projects from scientific exploration to disaster relief. State governments, too, are important for performing similar duties on a regional scale.
It is on a city or town level that problems arise. Perhaps it is because of its enormity, but the general citizen cannot relate to problems in the Federal government. He can, however, understand the problems that face him every day, and these are the public goods that local governments address. Children need to be sent to schools. Roads need upkeep. New development projects need consideration. This should be the local government’s forte, however too often they are unable to handle these chores. Often, town governments are too small to adequately address these concerns, while old city governments are too large to see them properly. Towns must rely on experts, who are difficult to find, and cities must pass things to committees or departments that may not be responsive or see the implications of their actions for individuals.
4.3 Alternatives To The Public Sector
“others praise the evolution of the suburban megalopolis as the inevitable and desirable expression of our new technologies and hyper-individualized culture.” (Kelbaugh, p. 19)
Always alert for a bargain, Edge Cityites have come up with a novel answer to these problems of scale and consideration: They hire a government. According to the rules of the market system, individuals are hired to solve specific problems and manage specific tasks of keeping up the private grounds of edge development. Often these private entities do such a good job that their jurisdiction is expanded to cover unrelated but important areas of civic service. Soon, full-blown governments have evolved in response to certain market needs. These governments have the power to levy taxes, to create and enforce laws, and to provide for the (private) public good. They are good old town governments in all senses except one: They are not democratic.
4.3.1 Tenants’ associations
One of the most prevalent private government forms is that of the tenant’s association. Legally provided for in initial leases, tenants’ associations are normally contracted by the developer of a unit. They are given specific, obvious duties to keep the community running smoothly. These often include enforcement of lease regulations, care of grounds, and provision of security. Sometimes tenants’ associations can grow to take on new tasks. In some cases, they become powerful community governments, overshadowing and overpowering the local municipal government in the process.
The need for tenants’ associations lies in the particularly capitalist take on public space found in most planned residential developments. Rather than leaving the care of lawns and driveways up to individual owners, or initiative, developers provide for the creation of an association to take care of these things. This association usually includes both elected and paid positions. Normally, all those who own property in a development are allowed to run for a “presidential” position to oversee the community. The powers of this position, though, generally extend only to creation and enforcement of the rules of the development. The paid position, usually a building manager, takes care of collecting and spending money and of bringing in new tenants when needed.
Tenants’ associations collect income through fees specified in leases. Failure to pay these fees usually results in termination of the lease and expulsion from the community. In a way, these fees are taxes: they must be paid; they can be changed by officials; they provide for the public good. Developments are run as small business and the tenants’ association must be effective since their services are paid directly by concerned individuals. Generally, too, tenants’ associations are remarkably effective in taking care of a development’s common areas.
When they are happy with the performance of their officials, tenants often demand that more duties be taken on by them. Often the small towns which host developments are ill-prepared to afford the services required by the tenants, sometimes even giving up a fair share of taxes in order to attract development. With poor service from the municipal governments, tenants often turn to their private government to rectify things. Sometimes this takes the form of new duties for the tenants’ association, from snow plowing and pothole filling to police protection. Soon the development is acting on its own separate from the municipality.
4.3.2 Mall management
Shopping centers, too, employ a form of private government. Here, the mall developer hires an office to run the mall outright. There is no democracy at all in the mall. The administration spends most of its time taking care of mundane things like upkeep, advertising, and maintaining the mall as a business. However, the administration of a mall is empowered with other functions, too. Malls must provide security, so they often employ a relatively large force of uniformed (but not police-trained) guards. Often, too, they provide covert surveillance for the tenant stores. When a shoplifter is caught, the security forces can detain and question him pending arrest by real police officers. Mall administration controls the placement of shops and stalls on its property, too. The most desirable spots are subject to much competition on the part of the vendors. The mall administration also has the final say over which vendors are allowed in the mall at all, and can set rents as high as the market will bear. Since most shops must relocate from the old downtowns to the malls, mall officials, though not elected, really have the final power over all retail in an area.
4.3.3 Privacy or fascism?
There is a more insidious implication of these private governments. Since developments and malls lie completely on private property, almost all actions and powers of private governments are legally permissible. Some tenants’ associations will declare certain townspeople “undesirable” and refuse to allow them entrance to a significant part of their own town. Malls maintain “blacklists” of those who are not allowed inside. Private governments are allowed to disallow certain activities within their jurisdiction. Picketing and public speaking is not allowed. Certain groups are banned as well. In a recent court case in Virginia, a mall security director was quoted as saying that no one has any constitutional rights on mall property. This extends to search and seizure as well. By setting foot within the jurisdiction of a private government on private property, an individual accepts the authority of a non democratic and unchecked power.
4.4 The Benefits of Private Governments
There are both benefits and drawbacks to the empowerment of private governments. Being market-driven institutions, private governments are very responsive to changing needs. Lacking overhead, they are also extremely efficient in the delivery of services. Also, people feel that their money is being spent in ways that they can see and care about. Private governments feel like a good deal.
The greatest benefit of private governments, indeed the reason they exist at all, is individual choice. Just like at a market, the consumer can choose exactly what he wants and what is valuable to him. In tenants’ associations, this means that the prospective tenant can choose to live in one development and pay for luxurious service or another and just get what is necessary. The individual is directly involved in the places his money goes. The same holds true to a point with malls. Retail tenants do not often have a great deal of choice in locations. There is, however, some choice provided by competing malls, especially in mature Edge Cities like Houston which has six huge malls.
Additionally, some services provided by private governments would be unattainable in a standard public one. Some tenants’ associations guarantee that a (private) police officer will be at the door of any house in the development within 5 minutes of an alarm sounding. Others guarantee parking spaces in front of a townhouse. Towns often force extremely high standards on new developments as well. Often developers install the latest in high technology sewage treatment on site and build exceptionally sturdy roads for access. The tenants are willing to pay more for excellent service.
The tenants feel good about their expenditures, too. They usually do not feel that their money is going into a huge, faceless pool never to be seen again. Instead, they can see the results of their fees all around them. Since tenants of a certain development tend to be similar types of people, they feel that everyone is paying his fair share and getting equal benefits. tenants’ associations are usually very small and so are able to get by with very low overhead costs as well.
4.5 Negative Aspects of Private Governments
There are many negatives to private governments, too. Many people are locked out of their benefits because of their capitalist nature. Due to gentrification, the old, publicly served areas tend to suffer from lack of funding for necessary programs. Also, private associations are loath to provide extra services, even necessary ones, if they were not paid for.
4.5.1 The disenfranchised
The primary, and obvious, problem with market-based governments is that some public-good functions consist of sharing wealth to those who do not have it. Private governments make no concessions for those who are less financially able. Therefore, certain people cannot have the benefits of private governments. They can shop at a mall and enjoy the security or air conditioning but cannot truly make use of such a place since it functions mainly as a place for people to spend money. Many malls, in fact, would remove anyone who looked as though they could not afford to shop at the stores there, especially if they spent an inordinate amount of time there. Tenants’ associations, too, would probably remove a lower class person who wandered in. Not only can some people not take advantage of private governments, but they are actively unwanted on private property.
4.5.2 The residuals
The move of the upper classes to private governments hurts the old public municipalities as well. Even if they live in a private compound, everyone must use the public roads from time to time. Already paying a great deal to their tenants’ association for overlapping services, many Edge Cityites balk at paying municipal taxes. There have been cases of tenants’ associations banding together to defeat tax measures in town government. The association has a great deal of power over a very vocal group of people and can often get enough support to protect its own interests over those of the town. Even in the best circumstances, though, the exodus of the upper classes to private developments leaves just the working class and largely unemployed under class in the old cities, and they can ill afford to support the municipality on their own. The Edge City benefits from the municipal government but does not pay, causing a reverse subsidy.
Even if they wanted to support the less wealthy people of the town, private governments are usually chartered to forbid this. Most tenants would argue that supporting the outside community out of “their” money would be wrong. Often, like a business, they run so close to the margin that private governments cannot afford any extra money in an emergency. If the sewage plant does fail, and there is not enough money left to do it with, the government is in a quandry since it rarely has the authority or power to borrow money.
4.6 Private Governments and Edge Cities
Private governments and Edge Cities are intimately related. People moved out into the edges to escape from the pressures of the city. Among those pressures is inequality of need and service. In the true capitalist way, once they had escaped from the every day sight of problems, people no longer wanted to pay to address them. Why live under an “unfair” and unresponsive democratic government when one can create one’s own for less?
In the edge, people come to expect that they will get what they have paid for. Life consists of one consumer choice after another, both at work and at play. The Edge City dweller values, above all else, his private space. This includes both his home and children. Edge Cities offer security, both in their spaciousness and thanks to the work of their little governments. Edge City also offers plenty of money, since most Edge City jobs are grey- or white collar. That is a good thing, since the cost of living there is huge.
The problem with this migration to extraurban areas is that, out there, there is no government ready for it. Edge cities grow up spontaneously in the peripheries. In small towns, the open space is in the outskirts, so Edge Cities fill these in, often crossing multiple municipal boundaries. It is difficult here to say exactly which town one lives in. This leads to problems with the tax base since towns traditionally bring in money from property taxes. Towns are also faced with the tough question of whether or not to preserve their old downtown or try to cater to the emerging edge and hope for economic growth.