Get access

Race, Urban Governance, and Crime Control: Creating Model Cities


  • This work would not have been possible without the work and assistance of Anne Frantilla at the Seattle Municipal Archives–many thanks to her and her staff. Special thanks to Carroll Seron for her generous editorial assistance and three anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. Many thanks also to Steve Herbert for continued guidance on this project. All errors are the responsibility of the author alone. Please direct all correspondence to Elizabeth Brown, Department of Criminal Justice Studies, San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway, San Francisco, CA 94132; e-mail:


In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the city of Seattle received federal Department of Housing and Urban Development “Model cities” funds to address issues of racial disenfranchisement in the city. Premised under the “Great Society” ethos, Model cities sought to remedy the strained relationship between local governments and disenfranchised urban communities. Though police-community relations were not initially slated as an area of concern in the city's grant application, residents of the designated “model neighborhood” pressed for the formation of a law and justice task force to address the issue. This article examines the process and outcome of the two law-and-justice projects proposed by residents of the designated “model neighborhood”: the Consumer Protection program and the Community Service Officer project. Drawing on the work of legal geographies scholars, I argue that the failure of each of these efforts to achieve residents' intentions stems from the geographical imagination of urban problems. Like law-and-order projects today, the geographical imagination of the model neighborhood produced a discourse of exceptionality that subjected residents to extraordinary state interventions. The Model cities project thus provides an example of a “history of the present” of mass incarceration in which the geographical imagination of crime helps facilitate the re-creation of a racialized power structure.