Stability and change in US city policymaking: evidence and a path forward
A central issue in urban political analysis is the way in which city-governing institutions prioritize and react to changing demands for policies and services. In this article, we examine these dynamics in American city governments through the lens of two policy process frameworks: incrementalism and punctuated equilibrium. Using panel data from all 278 Michigan cities from 2005 to 2011, the empirical analysis mostly finds evidence of punctuated processes, though the degree of punctuatedness varies systematically across city governments and by issues domain. Considerable stability is a central feature of US city policymaking; but so too are rapid and extreme changes in policy priorities – particularly in domains outside the ‘basic maintenance’ functions of American city governments, such as community development, social welfare, and recreation and culture. Ultimately, this research challenges incremental models of city policymaking, while adding breadth to the growing literature on punctuated equilibrium in national and subnational governments.
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