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Charting Change in the City: Urban Political Orders and Urban Political Development

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Cities are in a constant state of flux. Myriad changes—social, political, economic—can be identified at any particular time. But how might scholars differentiate between small-scale, fleeting changes and more substantial, decisive, and lasting change? This paper draws on the conceptual tools utilized in the subfield of American political development to argue the notion of urban political development—both with respect to “durable shifts in government authority” and to consequential ideational or discursive shifts —can help scholars to identify major, politically consequential shifts that occur at the urban level. It will further argue that urban political development is driven by “intercurrent” clashes among competing urban political “orders,” which are understood as political coalitions, driven by overarching purposes (or ideas) and that capture control of governing institutions. Building on insights of urban scholars Clarence Stone and Joel Rast, the aim of this paper is to reconceptualize urban change theoretically. I will illuminate this theoretical account with examples of urban austerity, and the wave of local minimum wage ordinances, and the rise of the carceral state to show how these important developments reflect underlying competition among neoliberal, progressive, and conservative political orders respectively.

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The term ‘urban crisis’ emerged in the USA in the 1950s. Ever since the term came into popular use, it has be mobilised to advance a range of political and economic interests. Utilising a genealogical approach, this article traces the evolution, uses and abuses of the concept. It suggests that the various meanings attached to the term are rooted in two overarching frameworks. While one finds the origins of urban crisis in structural, primarily material, forces, the other sees the crisis as grounded in culture and immorality. The article argues that the concept was deployed in the 1950s and 1960s to justify government intervention of various sorts to stimulate economic growth. However, it finds the fiscal crises of the 1970s gave rise to a dominant understanding of urban crisis that promoted the spread of urban neoliberalism.
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Across the broad field of heterodox political economy, ‘neoliberalism’ appears to have become a rascal concept – promiscuously pervasive, yet inconsistently defined, empirically imprecise and frequently contested. Controversies regarding its precise meaning are more than merely semantic. They generally flow from underlying disagreements regarding the sources, expressions and implications of contemporary regulatory transformations. In this article, we consider the handling of ‘neoliberalism’ within three influential strands of heterodox political economy – the varieties of capitalism approach; historical materialist international political economy; and governmentality approaches. While each of these research traditions sheds light on contemporary processes of market-oriented regulatory restructuring, we argue that each also underplays and/or misreads the systemically uneven, or ‘variegated’, character of these processes. Enabled by a critical interrogation of how each approach interprets the geographies, modalities and pathways of neoliberalization processes, we argue that the problematic of variegation must be central to any adequate account of marketized forms of regulatory restructuring and their alternatives under post-1970s capitalism. Our approach emphasizes the cumulative impacts of successive ‘waves’ of neoliberalization upon uneven institutional landscapes, in particular: (a) their establishment of interconnected, mutually recursive policy relays within an increasingly transnational field of market-oriented regulatory transfer; and (b) their infiltration and reworking of the geoinstitutional frameworks, or ‘rule regimes’, within which regulatory experimentation unfolds. This mode of analysis has significant implications for interpreting the current global economic crisis.
In 1983, Boston and Chicago elected progressive mayors with deep roots among community activists. Taking office as the Reagan administration was withdrawing federal aid from local governments, Boston's Raymond Flynn and Chicago's Harold Washington implemented major policies that would outlast them. More than reforming governments, they changed the substance of what the government was trying to do: above all, to effect a measure of redistribution of resources to the cities' poor and working classes and away from hollow goals of "growth" as measured by the accumulation of skyscrapers. In Boston, Flynn moderated an office development boom while securing millions of dollars for affordable housing. In Chicago, Washington implemented concrete measures to save manufacturing jobs, against the tide of national policy and trends. Activists in City Hall examines how both mayors achieved their objectives by incorporating neighborhood activists as a new organizational force in devising, debating, implementing, and shaping policy. Based in extensive archival research enriched by details and insights gleaned from hours of interviews with key figures in each administration and each city's activist community, Pierre Clavel argues that key to the success of each mayor were numerous factors: productive contacts between city hall and neighborhood activists, strong social bases for their agendas, administrative innovations, and alternative visions of the city. Comparing the experiences of Boston and Chicago with those of other contemporary progressive cities-Hartford, Berkeley, Madison, Santa Cruz, Santa Monica, Burlington, and San Francisco-Activists in City Hall provides a new account of progressive urban politics during the Reagan era and offers many valuable lessons for policymakers, city planners, and progressive political activists.
Stephen L. Elkin deftly combines the empirical and normative strands of political science to make a powerfully original statement about what cities are, can, and should be. Rejecting the idea that two goals of city politics-equality and efficiency-are opposed to one another, Elkin argues that a commercial republic could achieve both. He then takes the unusual step of addressing how the political institutions of the city can help to form the kind of citizenry such a republic needs. The present workings of American urban political institutions are, Elkin maintains, characterized by a close relationship between politicians and businessmen, a relationship that promotes neither political equality nor effective social problem-solving. Elkin pays particular attention to the issue of land-use in his analysis of these failures of popular control in traditional city politics. Urban political institutions, however, are not just instruments for the dispensing of valued outcomes or devices for social problem-solving-they help to form the citizenry. Our present institutions largely define citizens as interest group adversaries and do little to encourage them to focus on the commercial public interest of the city. Elkin concludes by proposing new institutional arrangements that would be better able to harness the self-interested behavior of individuals for the common good of a commercial republic.
Many of the oldest and largest Western cities today are undergoing massive economic decline. The State and the City deals with a key issue in the political economy of cities the role of the state. Ted Robert Gurr and Desmond S. King argue that theoreticians from both the left and the right have underestimated the significance of state action for cities. Grounding theory in empirical evidence, they argue that policies of the local and national state have a major impact on urban well-being. Gurr and King's analysis assumes modern states have their own interests, institutional momentum, and the capacity to act with relative autonomy. Their historically based analysis begins with an account of the evolution of the Western state's interest in the viability of cities since the industrial revolution. Their agument extends to the local level, examining the nature of the local state and its autonomy from national political and economic forces. Using cross-national evidence, Gurr and King examine specific problems of urban policy in the United States and Britain. In the United States, for example, they show how the dramatic increases in federal assistance to cities in the 1930s and the 1960s were made in response to urban crises, which simultaneously threatened national interests and offered opportunities for federal expansion of power. As a result, national and local states now play significant material and regulatory roles that can have as much impact oncities as all private economic activities. A comparative analysis of thirteen American cities reflects the range and impact of the state's activities at the urban level. Boston, they argue, has become the archetypical postindustrial public city: half of its population and personal income are directly dependent on government spending. While Gurr and King are careful to delineate the limits to the extent and effectiveness of state intervention, they conclude that these limits are much broader than formerly thought. Ultimately, their evidence suggests that the continued decline of most of the old industrial cities is the result of public decisions to allow their economic fate to be determined in the private sector."
Urban politics research usually lacks discussion of ontology and epistemology, but most research implicitly adopts a positivist understanding of social science. Despite the critical stance against the "positivist hegemony" taken by some urbanists (see Wyly Chapter 1, this volume), there remains implicit positivist orthodoxy in much urban politics research. Comparative and singlecase studies, large-N analyses, and survey research-the dominant methods in the field-all embrace positivism, either in a strong or, more commonly, weak form. In this chapter, I argue for return to discussions of ontology and epistemology in general, and for the explicit development of constructivist and interpretive approaches in urban politics research. These theoretical and methodological approaches, which stand in opposition to positivism, are well developed in the study of international relations and public policy, and have proved useful in examining inequalities and power disparities in political life, but are used infrequently to study urban politics. Bringing constructivism squarely into the study of urban politics would help to fill important gaps that mark our research on urban inequality, would expand the range of research methods used, and would build on, and contribute to, the tradition of critical inquiry in urban studies.
This article outlines the value of the American Political Development (APD) approach for scholars of urban governance. Despite recent enthusiasm for APD, I argue that the tools of the APD approach have not yet been clearly articulated or demonstrated for urban scholars. By combining the concept of “intercurrence” with a methodological focus on shifts in urban political authority, APD allows us to capture the dynamics of urban governance in tractable ways. This approach focuses on the historical construction of urban governance and the patterns of political authority that are embodied by those governance structures—long a key theme in the study of urban politics. I illustrate the promise of the APD approach in urban governance using a study of policy institutions in six Canadian cities and five policy domains from the nineteenth century to the present. I then discuss four specific areas of research to which an APD approach to urban governance will be especially well equipped to contribute.
In recent years, interest has grown in collaboration in public policy. Responding to the complex issues now playing out in cities, scholars are focusing on localized governance relations that blur boundaries between public, private, and community sectors. This article introduces discursive localism as a framework to understand better collaborative urban governance. It argues that ideas play a pivotal role in motivating collective action, channeling policy resources, and shaping governance relations. Although recent urban-focused accounts of collective action suggest a role for ideas, systematic attention to their normative-philosophical and cognitive-programmatic dimensions reveals how different policy discourses frame incentives and institutions for collaboration. Applying discursive localism to Toronto, Canada, the article describes change processes across three complex policy fields. Governance arrangements are argued to flow from the operative policy discourses, especially whether their normative and cognitive dimensions are integrated, dissociated, or fragmented.
Once America's "arsenal of democracy," Detroit is now the symbol of the American urban crisis. In this reappraisal of America's racial and economic inequalities, Thomas Sugrue asks why Detroit and other industrial cities have become the sites of persistent racialized poverty. He challenges the conventional wisdom that urban decline is the product of the social programs and racial fissures of the 1960s. Weaving together the history of workplaces, unions, civil rights groups, political organizations, and real estate agencies, Sugrue finds the roots of today's urban poverty in a hidden history of racial violence, discrimination, and deindustrialization that reshaped the American urban landscape after World War II. This Princeton Classics edition includes a new preface by Sugrue, discussing the lasting impact of the postwar transformation on urban America and the chronic issues leading to Detroit's bankruptcy. © 1996, 2005 by Princeton University Press. All rights reserved.
The huge prison buildup of the past four decades has few defenders today, yet reforms to reduce the number of people in U.S. jails and prisons have been remarkably modest. Meanwhile, a carceral state has sprouted in the shadows of mass imprisonment, extending its reach far beyond the prison gate. It includes not only the country’s vast archipelago of jails and prisons but also the growing range of penal punishments and controls that lie in the never-never land between prison and full citizenship, from probation and parole to immigrant detention, felon disenfranchisement, and extensive lifetime restrictions on sex offenders. As it sunders families and communities and reworks conceptions of democracy, rights, and citizenship, this ever-widening carceral state poses a formidable political and social challenge.In this book, Marie Gottschalk examines why the carceral state, with its growing number of outcasts, remains so tenacious in the United States. She analyzes the shortcomings of the two dominant penal reform strategies—one focused on addressing racial disparities, the other on seeking bipartisan, race-neutral solutions centered on reentry, justice reinvestment, and reducing recidivism.In this bracing appraisal of the politics of penal reform, Gottschalk exposes the broader pathologies in American politics that are preventing the country from solving its most pressing problems, including the stranglehold that neoliberalism exerts on public policy. She concludes by sketching out a promising alternative path to begin dismantling the carceral state.
This book seeks to analyze the issue of race in America after the election of Barack Obama. For the author, the U.S. criminal justice system functions can act as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it adheres to the principle of color blindness.
The 25th anniversary of the publication of Clarence Stone’s Regime Politics presents an opportunity to consider ways of moving forward theoretically in a world that has begun to look much different from postwar Atlanta. In recent years, Stone has turned his attention from stability to change in urban governing arrangements, proposing American political development (APD) as a promising theoretical approach. While broadly in agreement with Stone about the advantages of APD for the study of urban political change, I identify some potential problems with his efforts to combine APD and regime analysis. In particular, I suggest that Stone more fully embrace APD’s emphasis on friction and disorder as a driver of change in governing arrangements and that the role of institutions, in addition to informal arrangements, be considered more directly in arguments about how change occurs.
With hindsight covering a quarter of a century of Regime Politics, this reflection calls for refashioning the concept of an urban regime into a more encompassing idea of a multitiered political order. As an approach to political change, cross-time comparisons suggest that periodization can highlight how forces conjoin in different ways as political development unfolds. From this perspective, there is little reason to expect to find in today's cities a stable and cohesive governing coalition held together around a high-priority agenda. Yet the need for resources to be commensurate with policy goals and the strength of purpose in the face of an established mind-set are key lessons to be retained from the past experiences of Atlanta and other cities. While systemic inequality continues as an overarching reality, mitigating responses can be worked out in the middle ground between structure and agency.
Municipal governments play a vital role in American democracy, as well as in governments around the world. Despite this, little is known about the degree to which cities are responsive to the views of their citizens. In the past, the unavailability of data on the policy preferences of citizens at the municipal level has limited scholars’ ability to study the responsiveness of municipal government. We overcome this problem by using recent advances in opinion estimation to measure the mean policy conservatism in every U.S. city and town with a population above 20,000 people. Despite the supposition in the literature that municipal politics are non-ideological, we find that the policies enacted by cities across a range of policy areas correspond with the liberal-conservative positions of their citizens on national policy issues. In addition, we consider the influence of institutions, such as the presence of an elected mayor, the popular initiative, partisan elections, term limits, and at-large elections. Our results show that these institutions have little consistent impact on policy responsiveness in municipal government. These results demonstrate a robust role for citizen policy preferences in determining municipal policy outcomes, but cast doubt on the hypothesis that simple institutional reforms enhance responsiveness in municipal governments.
Much important work on American political development does not feature the study of political ideas. This article sketches a general framework of how politics proceeds, the “spiral of politics.” It suggests how and why idea generation and reformulation may comprise a crucial stage in politics. It thereby highlights the need for interpretive studies of ideas, while also indicating how different sorts of political science research can be constructively connected.
Many scholars note that racial policy issues now focus on color-blind versus race-conscious approaches to racial inequalities, but they have not adequately explained how this development occurred or its consequences. Using work theorizing the role of ideas in politics, this article argues that these changes represent a "critical ideational development." Diverse strains in earlier racial policy positions were reformulated to advance not just old racial goals but new ones. This critical ideational development produced advantages for conservative coalition building and Republican electoral campaigns, thereby contributing to the Reagan Revolution and later polarization and gridlock, and it helped drive racial issues out of campaigns and into other venues, especially legislative, administrative, and judicial hearings. It has not been associated with great progress in reducing racial inequalities or promoting racial harmony.
American political development (APD) has claimed in recent years the attention of a growing band of political scientists, and scholars have begun to speak of –APD— as a subfield within the discipline. This book provides a justification for studying politics historically, not only for what it reveals about the roots of political affairs at the present time but what it teaches about politics as an ongoing activity. Placing the character of political institutions at the center of analysis, the authors survey past and current scholarship and outline a course of study for thefuture.
Scholarship on path dependence, policy feedback, timing and sequence, and punctuated versus incremental change has fueled new debates and produced new theoretical insights into how time and history factor into political and social outcomes. This work has done much to clarify why history matters in social scientific investigation. However, it appears to have gone largely unnoticed by most contemporary urban political scientists and sociologists, who are far more likely to focus on the present or the recent past than to pursue genuinely historical approaches. This article examines certain causal mechanisms that operate in time and shows how their application to the study of urban settings can enhance what scholars know about urban political processes.
Institutional approaches to explaining political phenomena suffer from three common limitations: reductionism, reliance on exogenous factors, and excessive emphasis on order and structure. Ideational approaches to political explanation, while often more sensitive to change and agency, largely exhibit the same shortcomings. In particular, both perspectives share an emphasis on discerning and explaining patterns of ordered regularity in politics, making it hard to explain important episodes of political change. Relaxing this emphasis on order and viewing politics as situated in multiple and not necessarily equilibrated order suggests a way of synthesizing institutional and ideational approaches and developing more convincing accounts of political change. In this view, change arises out of “friction” among mismatched institutional and ideational patterns. An account of American civil rights policy in the 1960s and 1970s, which is not amenable to either straightforward institutional or ideational explanation, demonstrates the advantages of the approach.
Racist and liberal ideals are said to anchor competing political traditions in America, but a juxtaposition of ideals obscures key processes of change in the cultural lexicon and misses much about how a political tradition comes to bear on the development of a polity. Attention to the reassociation of ideas and purposes over time points to a more intimate relationship between racism and liberalism in American political culture, to the conceptual interpenetration of these antithetical ends. Cuing off issues that have long surrounded the reassociation of John C. Calhoun's rule of the concurrent majority with pluralist democracy, this article examines another southerner, Woodrow Wilson, who, in the course of defending racial hierarchy, developed ideas that became formative of modern American liberalism. Analysis of the movement of ideas across purposes shifts the discussion of political traditions from set categories of thought to revealed qualities of thought, bringing to the fore aspects of this polity that are essentially and irreducibly “American.”
The politics of race is generally viewed as a conflict among ideas about color blindness and race politics. By contrast, analysts of policymaking generally consider political institutions to be the primary factor behind policy outcomes. Recent developments in American race policy, particularly the evolution and political career of affirmative action, defy both ideational and institutional characterizations. A perspective that incorporates both ideas and institutions provides a more accurate and nuanced account of American race policy.
Recent contributions by geographers on the relationships between states and citizens have documented the rise of rolled-out neoliberalism. Development agendas are, it is argued, increasingly dominated by the principles of market-driven reforms, social inequality, and a drive towards enhancing the economic competitiveness of the supply side of the economy. However, at the same time, a parallel set of discourses has emerged in the development literature which argues that it is principles of sustainable development that have, in practice, become dominant. The emphasis is, instead, on democratic empowerment, environmental conservation, and social justice. This paper examines the relationships between these ostensibly very different interpretations of contemporary development with an assessment of one of the Labour government's most ambitious planning agendas—the publication in February 2003 of the document Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future. The proposals are promoted as a “step change” in the planning system with a new emphasis on tackling shortages of housing in the South East and reviving the economy of the Thames Gateway area. The paper assesses the different ways in which such programmes can be interpreted and argues that contemporary development practices in countries such as Britain are constituted by a hybridity of approaches and rationalities and cannot be reduced to simple characterisations of rolled-out neoliberalism or sustainable development.
the American Political Tradition
the American Political Tradition," American Political Science Review 100, no. 3 (August 2006): 385-401.
  • Lieberman
Lieberman, "Ideas and Institutions in Race Politics," in Ideas and Politics in Social Science Research, ed. Daniel Béland and Robert Henry Cox (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 209-27; Daniel Béland and Robert Henry Cox, eds., Ideas and Politics in Social Science Research (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); Desmond 47 Smith, "Which Comes First, the Ideas or the Institutions?," 2006, 108. 48 Rast, "Urban Regime Theory and the Problem of Change," 143.
In some respects, I may be guilty of this tendency in my account of the emergence of neoliberalism in Philadelphia. See Weaver, Blazing the Neoliberal Trail: Urban Political Development in the United States and the United Kingdom
  • Susan S Fainstein
Susan S. Fainstein, The Just City (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010); In some respects, I may be guilty of this tendency in my account of the emergence of neoliberalism in Philadelphia. See Weaver, Blazing the Neoliberal Trail: Urban Political Development in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Sustainable Development Rolled-out Neoliberalism and Sustainable CommunitiesVariegated Neoliberalization: Geographies, Modalities, Pathways
  • Jamie Raco
  • Nik Peck
  • Theodore
Raco, "Sustainable Development, Rolled-out Neoliberalism and Sustainable Communities," Antipode 37, no. 2 (March 1, 2005): 324-47; Neil Brenner, Jamie Peck, and Nik Theodore, "Variegated Neoliberalization: Geographies, Modalities, Pathways," Global Networks 10, no. 2 (April 1, 2010): 182-222.
  • J D Loïc
  • Wacquant
Loïc J. D. Wacquant, Prisons of Poverty (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009);
Arresting Citizenship: The Democratic Consequences of American Crime Control
  • Amy E Lerman
  • Vesla Weaver
Lerman, Amy E., and Vesla Weaver. Arresting Citizenship: The Democratic Consequences of American Crime Control. Chicago, 2014.
Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics
  • Lester K Spence
Spence, Lester K. Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics. Punctum Books, 2015.
Which Comes First, the Ideas or the Institutions?
  • Smith
Smith, "Which Comes First, the Ideas or the Institutions?," 2006, 108.
The Ground Beneath Our Feet: Language, Culture, and Political Change
  • Joseph Lowndes
  • Victoria Hattam
Lowndes, Joseph, and Victoria Hattam. "The Ground Beneath Our Feet: Language, Culture, and Political Change." In Formative Acts: American Politics in the Making, edited by Stephen Skowronek and Matthew Glassman. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.
Urban Nightmares: The Media, the Right, And the Moral Panic Over the City
  • Steve Macek
Macek, Steve. Urban Nightmares: The Media, the Right, And the Moral Panic Over the City. University of Minnesota Press, 2006.
Sustainable Development, Rolled-out Neoliberalism and Sustainable Communities
  • Paul E Peterson
  • City Limits
  • Chicago
Peterson, Paul E. City Limits. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981. Raco, Mike. "Sustainable Development, Rolled-out Neoliberalism and Sustainable Communities." Antipode 37, no. 2 (March 1, 2005): 324-47.
Blazing the Neoliberal Trail: Urban Political Development in the United States and the United Kingdom
  • Timothy P R Weaver
Weaver, Timothy P. R. Blazing the Neoliberal Trail: Urban Political Development in the United States and the United Kingdom. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016. ---. "By Design or by Default: Varieties of Neoliberal Urban Development." Urban Affairs Review, December 22, 2016, 1078087416683448. doi:10.1177/1078087416683448.