Fall 2009 Course Description

Advanced Topics in Public Policy

Section Title: Urban Growth and Its Discontents
Instructor(s): William Spelman
Course: P A 388K - Advanced Topics in Public Policy
(previously Seminar in Topics in Public Policy)
Unique Number: 63051
Day & Time: Fridays, 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM
Room: SRH 3.314
Waitlist Information:For LBJ Students: UT Waitlist Information

This course fulfills requirements for the following specialization(s):

Description: We all know what happens to a city when it contracts. Michael Moore made the troubles of Flint, Michigan famous, but the economic and social distress of the Rust Belt had been well-known for decades. The problems were most acute for small cities (think Youngstown, Erie, Lowell), but in the 1970s and 1980s cities like Cleveland and Philadelphia showed that size and complexity was no guarantee against a dramatic crash and burn.

So economic growth is good, right? Not so fast. In Cincinnati, job growth has been slow Ė only about 1 percent per year Ė but awe-inspiringly steady. Cincinnati hasnít had a year-long recession since (at least) the 1960s. In contrast, San Jose has been a star, at 2.5 percent job growth per year, but itís also gone through three serious recessions (in 1986, 1991-92, and a particularly nasty one between 2001 and 2004). San Joseís giddy success during the 1990s did little to mitigate the pain of the last few years.

And there are reasons to expect some measure of pain, even during the successful periods. More jobs mean more people, more cars on the highway, more households bidding up the price of housing. Often, a fast-growing population is associated with urban sprawl and all the environmental damage and infrastructure costs that come with it. Some have argued that cities full of transients and out-of-towners are less pleasant and fulfilling places to live. Who can you invite to your backyard barbecue if you donít know your neighbors?

In this course we will explore the effects, good and bad, of urban growth on the quality of life and the cost and quality of urban services. Weíll consider economic development, land use and transportation, the housing market, and a variety of other characteristics that can make a city a great place to live or a very unpleasant one.

This is theory, but permeating the course will be a unique element of practice. Austin, Texas, is a (still) fast-growing city with a lot of problems. Iím a working (if unpaid) public official. You have (I presume) a lot of good ideas. So we can treat Austin as a laboratory. The primary assignment is to develop new programs, changes in standard operating procedures, or changes in the Austin City Code that solve or mitigate one or more recurring problems in the City of Austin. If youíve got a good idea, I can round up four votes to try it out. I look forward to seeing what we can come up with.

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