Sunday, June 28, 2009

Separated at Birth? Suburban Louisville & the Holy Roman Empire

The political evolution of both led to colorful, jigsaw puzzle maps of minor and major political entities intertwined with each other:

Suburban Louisville:

The Holy Roman Empire:
As Voltaire famously quipped, the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire; it was (mostly) what we call today “Germany and Austria”.

The Holy Roman Empire (or HRE) consisted of a multitude of microstates of various types; counties, principalities, landgraviates, commanderies, free cities, lordships, abbacies, etc with only a few large enough or prosperous enough to have real power. The last survivors of this colorful mess are the principality of Lichtenstein and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

Yet these microstates had the trappings of sovereignty; taxes, coinage, a small army.

The situation is similar in Louisville. Suburban cities come in various “classes”, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th class, depending on population, which can be quite small. Area can be small, too, with a “city” being just a few square blocks. And these cities can levy taxes and have police. And just like the minor armies of the HRE petty states, the micro-suburbs of Louisville might have a police force of one or two police cars.

The petty states had little real power. Certain legal affairs was under the Empire, adjudicated at the imperial court in Wetzlar, and a form of regional governance and representation existed via the Reichkriese (“Imperial Circles”). In Louisville infrastructure issues like water, sewer, planning and zoning, and criminal investigations were the responsibility of the county or countywide special purpose districts. The smallest micro-suburbs had little to do except keep side streets paved and collect the trash.

Which is the big difference with Dayton, as Dayton suburbs are considerably more self reliant. A lot of the things that are county-wide in Louisville are the responsibility of individual suburbs in Dayton, which are large enough to generate revenue to cover the full panoply of municipal services. Thus, city/county merger here less likely than it was in Louisville.

The Strathmoors: The Start of the Louisville Micro-suburb.

The minor suburbs of Louisville are perhaps unique in the US since very few suburbs are this small. So a brief history.

It all started in the Strathmoor area, a suburban area of the 1920s & 30s. When the city tried to annex this area after WWII, the subdivisions that made up Strathmoor decided to take advantage of the new Kentucky municipal law, and incorporated as minor cities. But they didn’t incorporate as one large suburb of “Strathmoor”, rather as smaller suburbs: Strathmoor Gardens, Strathmore Manor, Strahmoor Village, plus two other British-sounding names, Kingsley and Wellington. And some plats didn’t incorporate at all, and were annexed by Louisville.

This is quite a bit different than what happened in Dayton during the same area. At that time Southern Hills was investigating incorporation to avoid annexation by Dayton. Instead of incorporating as one smaller suburb of Southern Hills (which would have been the size of Oakwood), they followed their consultants recommendation and attempted to incorporate all of Van Buren Township as one big super-suburb, which became the model for future suburban incorporations and mergers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I lived in Louisville for a while (near the intersection of Hurstbourne and Taylorsville roads) and was really impressed by the nature of the government there - the tiny towns, the quality of the overall schools, and the overall arrangement of larger services. Louisville has among the best inner-city schools in the country, largely because of this strange political arrangement. It prevented the city from losing too much income as people moved to the suburbs.

The arrangement is confusing at first, but really works.