Detroit is bankrupt, and very little of the theorizing and editorializing about this watershed event has contemplated municipal boundary law as a contributing factor. To the extent that it has, the analysis fails to grasp how essential municipal boundaries are to the creation of economic and social value in the modem metropolis. It has been almost 20 years since Richard Briffault, Gerald Frug, and Richard Ford released their path-breaking scholarship on the municipal boundary problem, yet metropolitan regions continue to fragment in much the same way Detroit did throughout the twentieth century.

The persistent fragmentation evident in many metropolitan areas raises familiar questions about the meaning and function of municipal boundaries and how local government law should respond. At the center of the contemporary metropolitan boundary problem are the localist ambitions of the cityhood and annexation movements. Their appeal underscores the extent to which the politics around metropolitan area location, autonomy, and identity (specifically in relation to the suburbs) are understood, expressed and defended by laymen and courts alike in the rhetoric and logic of property rights. The relationship between private property rights and the perceived right to autonomous local government has taken on popular meanings that, while not always grounded in actual law, do have a real impact on politics. That perceived entitlement forms the ideological basis for what is essentially a socially constructed property right in municipal identity. Municipal identity as property is largely a reflection of the high-stakes nature of contemporary suburban identity. Suburban residents feel particularly threatened by the prospect of being swallowed up by their metropolitan area central city, or, even worse, ending up in an unincorporated, undervalued location. The extent to which residing in a particular municipality is understood as highly consequential for wealth building, quality of life, family security, and status is a key feature of the contemporary suburban identity and experience. Battles over municipal boundaries reveal the ways in which suburban residents express what amounts to a deeply felt entitlement to separate government.

While notions of municipal identity as property reflect the cumulative weight of twentieth-century social and economic developments, the courts have played a role as well. Legal rhetoric and legal reasoning are essential components of the property rights expectations that municipal identity fosters. This Article explores how municipal boundary law, social developments, and jurisprudence have bolstered a perceived property right in municipal identity and its role in shaping the modem metropolis.



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