City Strength Lies in Local Urban Policy Making

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City Strength Lies in Local Urban Policy Making

Depending on an individual’s social and economic status, local urban policy can have a major or minimal impact on their life.  The strength of a city’s success rests in its approach to local urban policy. For business elites, the development of the city and the opportunity to further growth may be an important policy consideration.  A middle-class resident might be concerned about policy outcomes and their effect on the quality of schools, neighborhood cohesiveness, and property values.  A lower-income resident may be concerned with polices that increase wages, support child care, create better jobs and housing, and provide much needed services to the community.

In short, whatever one’s interest, local public policy concerns vary among different groups of people. The one common thread is that as a society, when we think of how public policy is developed, we often envision our elected representatives carrying out the tenets of democracy, participation, and citizenship at the local level.

This can be a confusing process for many citizens when policy outcomes do not reflect the expressed need of its citizens. Within this overall context, the public policy-making  is often viewed as a process in which policy actors utilize various strategies to further the interest of their interest groups.

While most public policy changes usually take place incrementally, the chances of local urban policy actors succeeding in achieving their policy outcomes is enhanced by their knowledge of the process, access to individual decision-makers, obtaining community support, and generating the monetary resources to support political campaigns.

All of these are important elements in affecting policy outcome.  However, this is only part of the process.  It is just as important to understand the environment and context in which local policy decisions are made.  Two important factors affect policy; the historical context and the current general context, which includes the political culture, public opinions, social setting, economy, and spatial patterns.

When the factors listed in Table 1 are considered, it helps us as local citizens understand that local urban policies are not created in a vacuum.  Oftentimes the ability to implement polices to address local demand is determined by the context and environment in which policymakers operate. As a citizen seeking to be engaged, its important to understand this context in that the success of any city depends on alignment of this process.

Table 1.       Context for Local Urban Policy-Making
Urban Context  Urban Factors
History Limited government

Support for business

Government dependence on other levels of government

Urban Political Culture  

Estrangement from policy as basic decisions are made outside the city

Rising expectations about government services

Varying expectations about government services in different cities and regions

Public Opinion Limited scope

Great intensity

Social Setting  




Characteristics of population

Economic Setting Fiscal constraints or wealth of community

Capitalist ideology

Conversion of economic power to political influence

Spatial Setting Location


Source:  Kweit and Kweit, 1999.

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