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Spring 2011 - 61872 - PA383C - Politics and Process

Policymaking in Cities

Instructor(s): Spelman, William
Unique Number: 61872
Day & Time: F 9:00 - 12:00 pm
Room: SRH 3.214
Waitlist Information:For LBJ Students: UT Waitlist Information
Course Overview

This course acquaints students with how public policy develops and is adopted in the American governmental system. It is normally taken during the first year. The course helps students understand the different settings in which policy develops and the factors that influence its development. Each section of the course uses different substantive policy concerns such as international affairs, social policy, community engagement, and resource and environmental regulation to explore how individuals and institutions initiate and/or give legitimacy to public policy, including the executive and legislative branches, the courts, interest groups, and individual citizens. The course also covers the dynamics of the policy process by focusing on the roles of and relationships among various levels of government and the concepts and models used to describe these aspects of policy development. The roles of ideas, concepts, and formal methods of analysis in policy development are discussed. Reading assignments and class discussion focus on case studies, legislative hearings, policy-issue briefs, court decisions, and theoretical works which highlight and explain the development of particular public policies.

Section Description

Most of the time, most of us take city government for granted. We drive on the streets, flush the toilet and put out the trash, call 911 on the loud party next door – and somebody takes care of it for us. Sooner or later, however, something unpleasant and unexpected happens: We’re late to work and get caught in traffic; the sewer backs up into our front yard; a cop shoots an unarmed kid in the back and a whole community is up in arms. Even if you’re primarily interested in international development, foreign policy, or state or federal domestic policy, at some point in your life you will ask, “How could the city be so stupid?” For better or worse, this course attempts to explain some of that stupidity.

We first take up issues of policymaking common to all units of government: Who rules and who really rules; the stage model of policy development; the role of critical actors in problem framing, policy advocacy, and implementation. We then apply this basic framework to a variety of urban problems, examining potential solutions and the political machinations needed to get the solutions adopted and implemented. Problems considered include the urban underclass and the persistence of poverty, crime, and social disorder; suburbanization and sprawl, regionalism, and transportation; economic and population growth, affordability, and sustainability. Although we will focus on problems of North American cities, I suspect you will find that most of the principles apply to cities throughout (at least) the developed world.

Combination of general and specific: There have been some great books written about urban problems. I’ll ask you to read a few of them from cover to cover, and parts of many more. We’ll read the usual panoply of scholarly articles (some of which are classics). Think of this stuff as a low-resolution road map: It shows where the interstate highways are, but leaves out the city streets and alleys. The real work of urban policymaking is in the details, so I’ll also ask you to apply this basic information to some very specific cases. You’ll need to channel your inner Harold Washington and figure out how to handle a racial crisis over home values in Chicago; similarly, you’ll evaluate New Jersey’s smart growth proposal and the Los Angeles transportation plan, and get to second-guess Henry Cisneros’ fiscal justification for the San Antonio Alamodome. I believe the combination of general and specific will be more valuable to you in the long run than either would be alone.

Deliverables: As usual in a small seminar, you’ll be doing your comrades a favor by keeping up with the reading and participating extensively (but not too extensively) in class. In addition, I’ll ask you to take and defend a position on issues raised by several of the case studies. Like public officials, you’ll need to communicate your position in a variety of ways, including internal decision memos, an op ed article, and a set of “talking points” for a press conference. Finally, I’d like you to choose an urban policy problem on your own, analyzing the sources of the problem, developing a solution, and – most important – working through a strategy for getting it adopted and implemented. On the last class day, you’ll have a chance to explain what you’ve been working on to your colleagues and get their feedback on your analysis, solution, and strategy.