Popular public policies often fail to address the needs of the disadvantaged in American cities
Neil Kraus evaluates both the influence of public opinion on local policy-making and the extent to which public policy addresses economic and social inequalities. Drawing on several years of fieldwork and multiple sources of data, including surveys and polls; initiatives, referenda, and election results; government documents; focus groups; interviews; and a wide assortment of secondary sources, Kraus presents case studies of two Midwestern cities, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Gary, Indiana. Specifically, he focuses on several major policy decisions in recent decades concerning education, law enforcement, and affordable housing in Minneapolis; and education and riverboat casino development in Gary.
Kraus finds that, on these issues, local officials frequently take action that reflects public opinion, yet the resulting policies often fail to meet the needs of the disadvantaged or ameliorate the effects of concentrated poverty. In light of citizens’ current attitudes, he concludes that if patterns of inequality are to be more effectively addressed, scholars and policymakers must transform the debate about the causes and effects of inequality in urban and metropolitan settings.
“This book continues in the footsteps of giants such as Robert Dahl, examining democratic governance in urban politics. Kraus shows that equal opportunity can be as threatened by majoritarian politics as it can by elite-dominated regimes. The argument is an important contribution to the urban politics scholarship, and the accessible writing and interesting case studies make it the rare scholarly work that will engage undergraduates as well.”
—Andrew L. Aoki, Augsburg College
“The author’s arguments that leaders need to initiate a public discussion aimed at pushing citizens toward a public-spirited approach to all these urban issues and that ‘it is time to bring the public back in’ are important to our urban and national future.”
—Dick Simpson, University of Illinois at Chicago
“Neil Kraus creatively marshals data to assess whether urban public policies are the product of the mobilization of majorities and whether these policy outcomes exacerbate or ameliorate economic and political inequalities. . . . Kraus tests Growth Machine, Regime, Pluralist and Public Choice theories, not only on the familiar ground of economic policy but on other areas that are crucial to citizens and scholars of public policy. This is a book that will enliven debate on the quality of urban democracy and empirically enrich discussions of comparative urban policy.”
—Richard Keiser, Carleton College