What If We Had City-States?

How would things change if you took the top 50 cities in the US, made them into “city-states” (but with only one senator, not two), politically removed them from the states themselves, and reapportioned congress and representation amongst those states?

Sure, California would gain senators and possibly lose congressmen, but what else would happen? The boundaries of “metropolitan areas” would certainly change and start to take on meaning. City-states would try to absorb the populous suburban areas, and perhaps the red state/blue state issues would become crystal clear: population centers tend to attract and retain people who vote Democrat; rural areas and suburbs tend to attract and retain people who vote Republican.

The electoral college would also change, since the electors there are determined by the number of congressmen and senators from a state. Would it more accurately follow the popular vote? Would cities gain influence?

Would states whose politics are subverted by the cities change radically? Imagine New York without New York City, or Illinois without Chicago, or Michigan without Detroit. The biggest impact would be on these state governments. They would both lose a large tax base and a large expense sinkhole.They would, however, be in charge of most of the resources needed to support cities. Most source of water and energy are not inside the cities themselves. Massive political tugs-of-war would change, for example statewide preemption statutes intended to keep liberal city politics from affecting everyone else. Imagine states maintaining those nice long stretches of interstate highway without having to deal with the congestion centers of the cities. Imagine cities with a federal highway apportionment directly related to the problems they are having.

In my own case, imagine Vancouver, WA and Portland, OR being the same state and getting the bridge problem over the Columbia River fixed!

Would people move? Would zoning restrictions change? Would there be a mad scramble to make sure your area was in the Top 50 come census time? The response to the War on Terror tends to differ greatly based on population centers as well, perhaps this would help.

I think this is a fascinating idea.

Update: What if we made the cut off point the population of the least populous state? Right now that's Wyoming at 493,782. That would drop 17 cities of my top 50 list. However, once we start doing this as a cut-off we start running in circles.

In a similar vein, I think just picking the largest city in each state would have negative consequences too.

My goal is to apply a special case to the big metropolitan areas, and many of those are on state borders.

Josh Poulson

Posted Sunday, Aug 20 2006 11:25 AM

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