This chapter points to the importance of viewing urban politics in the United States through the lens of political power. An examination of the formal institutions and procedures of municipal government provides only an incomplete understanding of local politics, as cities and suburbs are often constrained by actions from outside of a municipality’s government—actions taken by the national and state governments and by the heads of private corporations and other major private-sector actors. A case study of the lead poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan, points to the extent to which cities are affected by the decisions made by others. Race also plays a significant role in the urban arena, as indicated not only in Flint but in the national “Black Lives Matter” movement.

Postindustrial cities have followed a variety of trajectories. Global Cities have emerged as vital hubs in a new global economy. Tourist Cities have sought jobs in the entertainment, sports, and tourism industries to replace lost manufacturing jobs. Bankrupt Cities have not been able to reverse their long-term decline and fiscal crisis as well as the inability to provide basic services to residents. Economic development concerns have gained a dominant position in the local political arena. The chapter also observes a new trend: the rising political activism of cities in areas that have not always been at the center of urban politics.