The sound of constitutional silence: urbanization, megacities, and the urban/rural divide

Ran Hirschl


More than half of the world‘s population lives in cities; by 2050, this number will rise to more than three quarters. Projections suggest that megacities of 50 million, or even 100 million, inhabitants will emerge by the end of the century, mostly in the Global South. This shift marks a major and unprecedented transformation of the organization of society, both spatially and geopolitically. Our constitutional institutions and imagination, however, have failed to keep pace with this new reality. Cities have remained virtually absent from constitutional law and constitutional thought, not to mention from comparative constitutional studies more generally. In this project, a new place for the city is carved in constitutional thought, constitutional law, and constitutional practice. To that end, the project combines rigorous empirical research of constitutional texts and comparative constitutional jurisprudence; social, political, and economic data on urban expansion and its consequences worldwide; and insights from political and constitutional theory in order to achieve the following: (i) explore the reasons for the constitutional silence concerning the metropolis; (ii) probe the constitutional relationship between states and (mega)cities worldwide; (iii) examine patterns of constitutional change and stalemate in city status; (iv) consider the unique characteristics of large urban centers (e.g., extreme density, super-diversity, democratic stake-holding, systemic political under-representation, deep socio-economic inequality) that may justify a constitutional realization of the right to the city and/or recognition of large urban centers as constituent units and as an autonomous order of government in both federal and unitary states; and (v) examine the possibilities of drawing on innovative institutional and constitutional designs to address one of the main challenges in contemporary politics: the resurgence of the rural/urban divide in the context of today’s rising populist nationalism and the accompanying threats to constitutional democracy.

Go to Editor View