Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Citizen Participation and the Neighborhood Context: A New Look at the Coproduction of Local Public Goods

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Citizen Participation and the Neighborhood Context: A New Look at the Coproduction of Local Public Goods

Article excerpt

In this article I examine citizen participation in the realm of local service delivery, addressing two fundamental questions. First, in what ways do individual- and neighborhood-level factors shape citizens' perceptions of crime and education as serious problems? Second, what leads individuals to get involved in activities and organizations related to these two local public services? I examine these question by merging two distinct strands of research-the theory of coproduction and studies of political participation-and conduct an empirical analysis using survey data from the 1989 Detroit Area Study (Rosenstone 1989) and tract-level data from the 1990 Census of Population and Housing. My findings underscore the importance of formal recruitment, neighborhood context, and incentives in understanding why individuals participate in local efforts to improve schools and mitigate crime.

Since the early 1990s, crime and education have consistently appeared at the top of Americans' list of the most important problems confronting the nation (Hess and McGuinn 2002; Hochschild and Scott 1998; Marschall and McKee 2002; Warr 1995). The continued salience of both issues notwithstanding, studies of political behavior have largely ignored the question of why Americans participate in activities and organizations related to schooling and public safety. Instead, most studies have focused primarily on electoral behaviors and political organizations. Given Americans' growing concerns about crime and education, in this article I explore citizen participation in these policy domains and investigate two fundamental questions. First, in what ways do individual- and neighborhood-level factors shape citizens' perceptions of crime and education as serious problems? Second, what leads individuals to get involved in activities and organizations related to schooling and public safety?

To answer these questions I rely on a relatively unknown theory from public administration called coproduction, which focuses on the role of citizen involvement in the provision of local public goods and the ways in which institutional arrangements foster this participation (see e.g., Pammer 1992; Sharp 1980), and the more traditional literature on political behavior. As 1 discuss in the first part of this article, combining insights from the theory of coproduction, with traditional models of political participation offers a more comprehensive picture of what citizen participation means, how neighborhood context shapes incentives and action, and why recruitment and mobilization are especially crucial for stimulating citizen action.

My empirical analysis relies on survey data from the 1989 Detroit Area Study (Rosenstone 1989) and tract-level data from the 1990 Census of Population and Housing. The 1989 Detroit Area Study (DAS) is ideal for my analytic purposes not only because it focuses on the nature and extent of citizen involvement in community activities and organizations, but also because it contains sufficient numbers of observations at both the individual- and neighborhoodlevels. I estimate fixed effects models using the generalized estimating equations (GEE) method to examine how individual- and neighborhood-level factors influence residents' perceptions of neighborhood problems and involvement in school and public-safety activities.1 My findings shed new light on why individuals not only participate in local efforts to fight crime and improve schools, but also engage in civic affairs more generally.

CITIZEN PARTICIPATION AND THE PROVISION OF PUBLIC GOODS

Although some research in public administration and urban politics has focused exclusively on questions of how and why citizens participate in organizations and activities associated with the provision of public goods and services (see e.g., Levine 1984; Ostrom 1996; Percy 1984; Sharp 1980), this area of inquiry remains relatively untouched by participation scholars, who tend to study so called 'mainstream' political behaviors-voting, campaigning, contributing. …

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