Spring 2018 - 60662 - PA 383C - Policy Development

Policymaking in Cities



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 just takes care of it. 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?”  This course attempts to explain some of that (apparent) stupidity.


We first take up issues of policymaking common to all units of government: Who rules and who really rules; the stages of policy development; the role of critical actors and interest groups framing problems, advocating policies, and implementing solutions. We then apply this basic framework to a variety of urban problems, examining potential solutions and the political machinations needed to get them 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. We will focus on problems of North American cities, but I suspect you will find that most of the principles apply to cities throughout (at least) the developed world.


Students will write an internal decision memo, an op ed, and a set of talking points for speakers. (Although each will be short – only 750 words or so – I think you will find it harder to write good short papers than equally good longer ones.) Students will also produce a longer written report and a formal presentation on an urban policy of their choosing, analyzing the sources of the problem, developing a solution, and (perhaps most important) working through a practical strategy for getting it adopted and implemented.