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Reforming the City: The Contested Origins of Urban Government, 1890–1930, Ariane Liazos

Reviewed by Craig M. Burnett

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The Progressive Era ushered in a number of reforms across the country, including the adoption of direct democracy in almost half the states, the direct election of senators, women’s suffrage, the income tax, and the prohibition of alcohol. While both academic and pedagogical sources have provided substantial coverage of these national- and state-level reforms, most high school graduates would struggle to identify one of the most successful Progressive Era reforms at the local level: the widespread adoption of the council-manager form of government. Such a deficiency in knowledge is unfortunate, as local governments tend to have an outsized impact on most citizens’ lives compared with state and national government. In Reforming the City: The Contested Origins of Urban Government, 18901930, Ariane Liazos has written a definitive account of how the council-manager system of governance—usually paired with at-large nonpartisan elections—became the dominant form of local governance, ultimately replacing ward-based partisan elections in many localities.

While the book does not explicitly approach its subject as a puzzle of policy diffusion, scholars of state, local, and urban politics will recognize that all policy innovations follow some pattern of diffusio

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