Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Everyday Law on the Street

Jotwell's legal history section recently posted a review by Elizabeth Dale of Mariana Valverde, Everyday Law on the Street: City Governance in an Age of Diversity (University of Chicago Press, 2012). I heard Valverde present some of her work on land use regulation in Toronto at a conference a while back; she deals with an area of law with decisive importance for the environment, yet one that is not studied nearly enough from a historical perspective.

Dale writes that she started reading the book,
a study of street-level urban governance in Toronto, because it promised a law and society alternative to [Jane] Jacobs’ work [Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961)]. But while I came, so to speak, for the law and society recasting of Jacobs, I stayed for the reminders her work offers legal historians.
Of course, there have been important legal histories of cities before; one thinks of Dirk Hartog’s Public Property and Private Power (1989). Valverde’s book, although not directly a history (though history plays a role in her account), is clearly in that vein. But her book is more than a reminder of important law and society contributions to the legal history of urban life. It is a constitutional story of how people negotiate multi-layered sovereignty (from the local to international) that shows us how historical actors are shaped by, and shape, a mix of legal regimes. Her descriptions of the grey and informal spaces where laws, regulations, government agents, and members of the public interact, demonstrate how blurry the lines between formal law and popular constitutionalism or extralegal justice can often be.

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