Subsidiarity is a principle of governance that refers to making decisions at the most local level that is possible, practical, and effective. If a decision can be made at a lower level, the higher governance unit should cede the right to do so. Subsidiarity, combined with nesting, enables us to establish and govern sustenance systems at various scales.
Historically, subsidiarity has been an important organizing principle for federalism, including the United States, where sovereignty has been with the states and the federal government’s role has been subsidiary. Currently however, the central government’s role has expanded to be primary, especially in energy, transportation, and defense. It is fair to state that today federal government’s policies dominate most of our financial and social landscape. However, in the realm of urban planning the United States has experienced a rare level of decentralization, especially after the adoption of zoning by local governments via state enabling legislations, as mentioned earlier. Today most of the land use and infrastructure decisions are made by municipalities; counties, cities, towns and villages. However, the kind of localization advocated by hyperlocal urbanism of achieving self-sufficiency at walking shed scale, thus it requires fine levels of governance, decision-making, and management that bridge the gap between the individual household and the City Hall.
A well-structured governance system that coincides with the physical elements of the community (such as compounds, blocks, quadrants, neighborhoods) enables many varieties of roles and purposes. To work, they need to be formulated and stated clearly. This is easier when (a) the scale is more local, and (b) the level of interdependence clear. These two conditions help residents to engage in practical interaction, and fit the framework of localized sustenance systems in balance.
Hyperlocal urbanism calls for a zoning reform where a dynamic regulation culture is involved with a development code that is not a preconceived static document to been forced by a top-down authority, such as a municipality, but an evolving language spoken by the block, business row, and village scale managements to (a) guide the construction, (b) manage day-to-day enforcement of the land use restrictions, and (c) monitor the productive activities within the block and business row to maximize synergies between them. The code enforcement needs to merge into the management of the daily activities at local scales. Even though the details of the procedural structures will differ depending on the location and context, subsidiarity should be the guiding principle for structuring the review processes. For instance, building and occupancy permits for certain simple structures (determined by size, complexity and other criteria) may be issued by the block and business row management. Permits of the larger and more complex structures may be issued by the village and district managements. There may be multiple tiers in review processes as well; the block management may review and recommend approval of certain projects to the village or district management, and village and district management may issue the final approval.