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The community power debate concluded with each side believing they had won. Political theorists have generalized power, making empirical investigation very difficult; urban scholars have turned their attention to more manageable empirical problems. Rational choice advances the debate, exposing the errors of all sides and facilitating a new approach which transcends structural versus individualist methods. By separating various aspects of power in urban contexts, complementary techniques such as network analysis in a bargaining framework, semi-structured interviewing and the use of text databases permits a comprehensive investigation of agenda-setting and the mobilization of bias. The paper demonstrates the utility of this approach by comparing it to ‘regime theory’, the latest paradigm of urban research.