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Are county governments capable stewards of urban life? Across the country, millions of low-income households live in urban enclaves that rely on county government for their most proximate tier of general purpose local government. Material conditions in many of these neighborhoods are reminiscent of early twentieth-century rural poverty, while others are a dystopic vision of twenty-first century urbanity, with clusters of housing tucked in between landfills, industrial plants, and freeways. This Article provides a vocabulary and a conceptual baseline for understanding this national pattern of unincorporated urban areas and presents a qualitative study of these neighborhoods in California, Texas, Florida, and North Carolina. It explores the governmental status of these communities, and asks, for the first time, whether two tiers of general purpose local government—a city and a county—offer urbanized areas greater participatory voice, stronger protection from undesirable land uses, improved collective services, and greater housing choice than county rule alone. Providing a framework for evaluating local government, this Article posits that housing-market mobility, neighborhood habitability, and political voice are the three pillars of adequate local government. By this metric, we can no longer assume that county governments are equivalent to municipalities.

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