American State and Local Politics: Directions for the 21st Century

By Ronald E. Weber; Paul Brace | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THIRTEEN
Policy Change in American Cities and Counties

Elaine B. Sharp

THIS CHAPTER EXPLORES the topic of changing public policy at the local government level. Much of the research on urban policymaking adopts quite a different focus, emphasizing differences across local governments in the United States rather than change over time in subnational policymaking. There are good reasons for that focus, because the tremendous differences in the policies of the thousands of municipal and county governments in the United States may in some respects dwarf the concept of change in local policy over time. The magnitude, and perhaps the character, of New York City's policy response to homelessness would be expected to differ from that of Scranton, Pennsylvania because of the vast differences in the scope of the problem in each setting as well as in the institutional infrastructure and local political history. Similarly, we might expect substantial differences in the economic development policies of Detroit and Colorado Springs because of major contrasts in the economic outlooks for each region and important differences in the local political situations.

Furthermore, any effort to describe change in the public policy of local governments will confront the problem of generalizing across cities and counties that differ not only in their policy profile at a particular time point, but also in their policy dynamics. Indeed, much of the literature on policy innovation at the subnational level is organized around the attempt to explain why some governments adopt policy innovations while others do not, or why some governments adopt policy innovations so much sooner than others. This chapter attempts to accommodate both the comparative and dynamic perspectives by grounding the discussion of overall policy trends in an acknowledgment of dissimilarities across local governments that may stem from cities' being at different points in a policy innovation cycle.


Perspectives on Policy Change

Should we even expect to find change in the policies of American local governments? And if so, what kind of change? Existing theory and em-

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