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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Governing the Capital — Comparing Institutional Reform in Berlin, London and Paris


The paper examines institutional changes in the political and administrative structures governing the cities of Berlin, London and Paris. In doing so, it analyzes the extent to which convergent trends – driven by forces related to increased international competition and European integration – have shaped recent reforms of the governance systems of these European capital cities.

In particular, the analysis focuses on the vertical dimension of centralization vs. decentralization as reflected in the power balance between city-wide authorities and lower-tiers of government (such as Bezirke, boroughs or arrondissements). In view of the two-tier system of government, there are many clear lines of comparison between the sample cities. Traditionally, however, in each case government reform has followed conspicuously different routes. While Paris represents a classical example of a centralized-unitary city government, London’s system of government – despite the recently installed Greater London Authority – illustrates vividly a pluralistic and borough-centered approach. On the spectrum between these polar ends, Berlin’s variant of urban governance appears to take a middle position featuring both a well-established city-wide government and a relatively autonomous – and recently strengthened – level of district authorities.

The sample cities also capture and encapsulate three distinct national and urban administrative cultures which are expected to be significant factors in shaping institutional developments by defining a corridor of path-dependent reform trajectories.

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