The failure of top‐down imposed institutional reform for metropolitan areas in the western world has called for new conceptions of institution‐building. A bottom up, governance type approach is now considered in various countries which focuses on flexible, voluntary and partnership elements of collective action through which institution is no longer considered as a ready‐made object but as a process. A large part of the literature insists upon the effectiveness of this approach through the search for consensus and highlights its internal elements as conditions of success. However, this conception forgets the political and ideological dimensions of institution‐building and, consequently, the likely conflicts and obstacles unresolved by governance. This article discusses the relationships between metropolitan government and governance taking a few western urban areas as examples and questions the apparent success of the ongoing metropolitan experiences.