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The Great Defection: How New City Clusters Form To Escape County Governance

Author: LEORA WALDNER and RUSSELL M. SMITH
Published in PAQ, Vol. 39 No. 2

For 50 years, scholars have known that new cities often form in clusters. Prior research suggested these clusters form in response to aggressive annexation attempts by existing cities. By pairing statistics with four in-depth case studies, we find that contrary to prior research, new urban city clusters do not form to ward off annexations. Rather, new urban city clusters form to escape county governance, incited to do so by pioneer cities that serve as a powerful catalyst for subsequent municipal incorporations in the region. Tracing the cluster development mechanisms, we find clear evidence that the pioneer incorporating cities directly mentor and reduce transaction costs for subsequent incorporations. This mass defection from the county comes at a steep price, however--including a severely eroded county tax base, creation of difficult-to-serve pockets of unincorporated areas, and other potential impacts ranging from loss of policing expertise to diminished county credit ratings.

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