This is a coherent and integrated set of essays around the theme of governance addressing a wide range of questions on the organisation and legitimation of authority.
At the heart of the book is a set of topics which have long attracted the attention of urbanists and urban historians all over the world: the growth and reform of urban local government, local-centre relationships, public health and pollution, local government finance, the nature of local social elites and of participation in local government.
Approaching these topics through the concept of governance not only raises a series of new questions but also extends the scope of enquiry for the historian seeking to understand towns and cities all over the world in a period of rapid change. Questions of governance must be central to a variety of enquiries into the nature of the urban place.
There are questions about the setting of agendas, about when a localised or neighbourhood issue becomes a big city or even national political issue, about what makes a 'problem'.
Public health and related matters form a central part of the 'issues' especially for the British; in North America fire and the development of urban real estate have dominated; in India the security of the colonial government had a prominent place. The historical dynamic of these essays follows the change from the chartered governments of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries towards the representative regimes of the nineteenth and twentieth.
However, such historical change is not regarded as inevitable, and the effects of bureaucratic growth, regulatory regimes, the legitimating role of rational and scientific knowledge as well as the innovatory use of ritual and space are all dealt with at length.