In the spotlight

Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in Philadelphia and their Potential as Regional Actors

By Richardson Dilworth (Drexel University) | Business improvement districts (BIDs) are special service and assessment districts that typically cover territories as large as the downtown of a central city or as small as the commercial corridor of an outlying neighborhood. These organizations typically collect mandatory fees – assessments – from property owners within their areas to fund projects and provide services such as cleaning streets, providing security, installing streetscape improvements, and marketing the area. BIDs operate at a highly localized scale but, like many regional entities, they are a form of collective action that can cross jurisdictional boundaries. So, while they are rarely considered as a form of regionalism, they may have an overlooked role in cross-boundary governance. Furthermore, these cross-boundary BIDs are among the constellation of actors involved in governing American regions. In the context of this colloquium on American regionalism it is worth exploring the experience of BIDs, and their cross-boundary variants, and reflect on their place in urban and regional development. Read More
  • By Jen Nelles and Jay Rickabaugh | In this colloquium, we explore the variety of actors involved in the cross-boundary cooperation that we associate with American regional governance and the evolving connections and relationships between them. We aim to produce a cutting-edge review of the state of the field of American regionalism that is accessible, thought provoking, and forward looking. In bringing together scholarship on different mechanisms for cross-boundary cooperation, and highlighting common themes, we hope to transcend some of the barriers in our field and begin to develop a comprehensive, grounded, and modern understanding of the dimensions of regional governance. The contributing scholars approach this broad question of regional activity with original quantitative data, case studies, interviews, and new arguments for theory development or research. We further hope to spark some lively debate that can generate sustained interest in the important work happening in American regions.  Read More
  • By Soyoung Kim (Seoul National University of Science and Technology) | Around the globe, metropolitan regions provide increasingly important policy venues.  Metropolitan-level action has been deemed necessary to govern the fragmented landscape of cities, special districts, townships, counties, and other authorities.  An array of mechanisms are  available to address cross-boundary institutional collective action (ICA) problems that arise from the fragmentation of governmental authority in metropolitan regions (Feiock 2013).  The scale of these mechanisms is generally at the metro level or smaller, yet the geographic footprint of the urban problems these mechanisms are intended to address often extend far beyond the metropolitan region and impact multiple metropolitan areas.   Read More
  • By Margaret Weir (Brown University) | Generations of research by political scientists and historians paint a consistent – and deeply disturbing -- picture of the American metropolis.  From different directions, their work depicts a political patchwork designed to facilitate resource hoarding and enforce segregation by race and income. Long entrenched local government powers over land use have made racial and spatial inequality the defining feature of the American metropolis. Special districts, the most numerous boundary-spanning organizations, help the patchwork metropolis function but they are not known for challenging the economic and racial inequalities it protects (Savitch and Adhikari 2017). Are Metropolitan Planning Organizations, responsible for transportation planning and a variety of other regional responsibilities, any different? Have MPOs pushed against metropolitan inequalities and do they have the potential to do more? Read More
  • By George Dougherty (University of Pittsburgh) and Suzanne Leland (University of North Carolina at Charlotte) | Preserving leadership, institutional knowledge, and intergovernmental relationships are key to solving the wicked problems that do not stop at jurisdictional boundaries. Talent is a valued commodity and high turnover is a problem. Regional Intergovernmental Organizations (RIGOs) and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) are no exception. To continue leading collaboration in our regions, it is important to invest in future leadership and talent for future generations. As the population ages, contemporary organizations need to recruit and mentor new talent. However, we know little about the succession planning process in these organizations. So how do we know where to invest or if we are investing enough in public employees if there are no benchmarks? And to what extent is this a problem for the future of these organizations?  Read More
  • Squatter settlements dot the cities of the Global South, but they exhibit uneven access to public goods. Auerbach tackles this puzzle in Demanding Development, painting a revealing portrait of local claims making and problem-solving networks in India’s urban slums. In doing so, the author speaks to a central problem of development as public resources for infrastructure are limited and accessed through a complex web of political relationships. Read More
  • By Jein Park (Urban Institute) | In many cities across the United States, the retail sector has been in long decline and the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated permanent store and mall closures, bankruptcies, and job losses. Although commercial corridors have been recovering at non-generalizable rates, the disruption to small business activity caused many more storefront vacancies than cities know what to do with. The issue of focus in our paper, storefront retail, is highly valuable as it contributes to the quality of street life, pedestrian-oriented urban design, and active frontage that promotes social exchange. Commercial corridors with high presence of retail vacancies often report declining quality of sidewalks, increase in crime, and a viscous cycle of economic disinvestment. In our UAR paper, we provide some insight about storefront vacancies in urban neighborhoods from the perspective of business organizations. We interviewed business organizational leaders about the causes, impact, and mitigation of retail vacancies and summarize our findings in our paper. Read More
  • By David J. Amaral (University of California, Santa Cruz) | Homelessness is a pressing concern facing cities throughout the United States but is especially pronounced in urban California. The state is home to roughly a quarter of all people experiencing homelessness in the country, more than two thirds of whom are unsheltered (about double the national rate). In his 2020 State of the State address, California Governor Gavin Newsom devoted the bulk of his attention to the issue of homelessness, claiming that “the California Dream is dimmed by the wrenching reality of families, children and seniors living unfed on a concrete bed.” This year, following the social and economic disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, the governor’s 2021 budget dedicated $4.8 billion to addressing the state’s homeless crisis, representing a dramatic increase in homeless-related spending at the state level. Read More
  • By Xi Huang (University of Central Florida) | With decades of deindustrialization and the hard hit of the Great Recession, Detroit is characterized by urban blight, racial tension, residential segregation, and poverty. The region’s leaders have tried several countermeasures including economic diversification and “eds and meds” anchoring, and immigrant attraction appears to have become a sought-after strategy to address the region’s economic and demographic declines. This study examines whether this strategy has brought desirable outcomes, mainly focusing on the efforts led by Global Detroit that started in 2010. Using the synthetic control method that compares Detroit to a synthetical Detroit between 2011 and 2014, it finds that the immigrant-welcoming efforts have increased the immigrant share of the population in the Detroit region during the post-intervention period of 2011-2014. The share of high-skilled immigrants in the local population also increased during this time, albeit with weak statistical significance. Read More
  • Urban Affairs Review is sponsoring a $250 award given by the the Urban and Local Politics Section for the Best Paper in Urban or Regional Politics presented at the 2021 American Political Science Association conference. We encourage chairs of all Urban and Local Politics Section panels to nominate papers. We also welcome self-nominations. Papers presented on any panel associated with the conference are eligible for this award. Read More
  • By Germaine R. Halegoua (University of Michigan) and Bonnie J. Johnson (University of Kansas) | In cities around the world, informal mutual aid networks are stepping up to help local communities in the midst of a global pandemic. With stay-at-home orders in effect, neighbors are providing services to other residents such as trips to the grocery store and childcare, sharing food, homemade masks, and other amenities. What are the keys to facilitating this mutual aid? Past studies have shown that during times of crisis neighbors often band together to solve problems or mobilize to support one another and improve quality of life. Even if these collaborations are only temporary, neighbors will work together during times of immediate or urgent need in order to ameliorate or deliberate about political concerns or social problems that affect them directly. Our study indicates that observability is also important to activating innate desires for neighbors to provide mutual aid. For this particular crisis, people are staying at home but they are not necessarily staying inside, they are outside walking their dogs, riding bicycles, gardening, or playing in their front yards. Neighbors can easily observe other neighbors and are able to have brief casual encounters to check in with each other and provide assistance. Read More
  • By Mahesh Somashekhar (University of Illinois at Chicago) | Many people think that gentrification leads to displacement, but academic research shows that is not always the case. Many impoverished households in gentrifying neighborhoods try and stay put because they hope to take advantage of the new amenities that gentrification brings, like new grocery stores or city parks. Even more, people in poverty move around a lot – due to eviction, unstable family arrangements, the struggle to find work – so it is hard to determine whether an impoverished person moving out of a gentrifying neighborhood is really moving due to displacement or for another reason. Read More
  • UAR's home institution, the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, invites applications and nominations for the position of Dean of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs. Read More
  • By Andrew Foell (Washington University in St. Louis) and Kirk A. Foster(East Carolina University) | Urban “redevelopment” has been a buzzword for decades – from the post-war urban renewal programs that forced many low-income African Americans from their neighborhoods to modern gentrification fueled by a middle- and upper middle-class push to reduce commute times. Such redevelopment efforts, historically, have been done absent of the residents themselves who must live with the consequences. The result is often social and cultural displacement of longtime residents. Atlanta’s West End neighborhood is a good example, particularly because of its significant place in African American history and culture and recent target of economic investment. Increased development interests spurred by the Atlanta BeltLine, a roughly $5-billion-dollar green infrastructure initiative, has heightened neighborhood concerns over issues of gentrification, resident displacement, and equitable development. With potential to be a vehicle for positive community change, the BeltLine is also emblematic of a historic legacy of racialized neighborhood disinvestment and urban renewal. Read More
  • By Laureen D. Hom (California State Polytechnic University, Pomona) | Throughout my fieldwork in Los Angeles Chinatown, I was fortunate to meet many different stakeholders to try to understand how gentrification was impacting the neighborhood. As I visited different community organizations and attended public meetings, community leaders shared their different experiences being a part of Chinatown, which led to very diverse, and often conflicting, perspectives of gentrification. At one meeting held at the local elementary school, I was introduced to a city planner, and we casually talked about our observations about gentrification in Los Angeles. As we were ending our conversation, he briefly mentioned to me how they were not just looking at demographic shifts and property value changes, but were trying to “capture the sentiment” of communities. This fleeting comment stuck with me as I realized that he may have been doing that right now at this event as he briefly spoke with almost all the different community leaders. This resonated with me throughout my fieldwork as I learned more about the community – and continues as I visit Chinatown today. When I walk through the neighborhood, my understanding of an apartment complex, the public library, or shopping plaza has completely transformed from what I thought a few years ago. I associated it with certain people and their stories, that shaped my understanding and attachment to these places. Read More
  • By Seungbeom Kang (University of Florida) | For the last few decades, rent hikes and stagnated incomes in the United States have consistently fueled a nationwide force that makes it hard for low-income households to be stably housed. According to the recent report by Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, 10.9 million renters—or one in four—spent more than half their incomes on housing in 2018 and many low-income renters’ housing situations may be easily destabilized by minor financial shocks. Read More
  • By Loren Collingwood (University of California, Riverside) and Sean Long (University of California, Riverside) | California passed its own version of the Voting Rights Act (CVRA) in 2001, aiming to diversify local elected offices. At the time, 449 of California’s 476 cities employed at-large districts to elect candidates to the city council. The CVRA compels at-large cities to transition their city council elections to a by-district basis if plaintiffs can demonstrate the presence of racially polarized voting (i.e., Latinos preferring one candidate, and Whites/Anglos another). Read More
  • By Markie McBrayer (University of Idaho) | Wichita Falls Independent School District (WFISD)—a school district in North Texas—was recently under scrutiny for unequal distribution of bilingual funding among their schools. In their school district, campuses with greater numbers and proportions of bilingual students received less total bilingual funding from the district. For instance, Zundy Elementary in WFISD received $32,000 for their 140 qualifying bilingual students, while Southern Hills Elementary received $236,000 in bilingual funding for their 88 qualifying students, suggesting vast inequities in the school district. Deborah Palmer, a professor of education equity and cultural diversity at the University of Colorado in Boulder, stated that unequal distributions of bilingual resources, like those seen in WFISD, are “fairly drastic inequities” and should be considered “a serious issue.” Read More
  • By Hao Chen (Nanjing University), Lili Wang (Southern University of Science and Technology), and Paul Waley (University of Leeds) | Our study takes place in Laochengnan (old city south, literally translated), a historic area in the old city of Nanjing, China. Nanjing used to be the ancient capital of China's ten dynasties and is famous for its historic heritage. The Laochengnan area is located in the south of the old city, comprised of thousands of traditional houses inherited from Ming or Qing dynasties. Because of its long-standing history and rich folk culture, many local people and scholars regard it as the cultural root of Nanjing. As in many other Chinese cities, Laochengnan faced the threat of redevelopment. Since 2006, the local government has tried to transform the area into a high-end residential area and a commercial and business district. Such entrepreneurial plans triggered widespread and intense tensions and conflicts between local governments, local cultural activists, national cultural elites, the central government, and local residents. These tensions and conflicts are, our research shows, organized around three competing urban visions – entrepreneurial redevelopment, historical conservation, and community conservation. Read More
  • By Eric Stokan (University of Maryland, Baltimore County), Aaron Deslatte (Indiana University Bloomington), and Megan E. Hatch (Cleveland State University)| Local governments play a central role in promoting the economic health and vitality of their community.  Ensuring adequate jobs and bolstering revenues falls squarely within the purview  of municipal governments, and they have the capacity to use a range of policy tools to this end (tax abatements, tax increment financing, business incubators, etc.).  Research has noted a shift in the type of policies that have been used over time, referencing distinct economic development “waves” where local governments in the United States have shifted focus from business attraction to retention to entrepreneurship and more recently to promoting equity and sustainability.  This is reflected in the type of policies they use, from traditional financial tax incentives like property tax abatements to retention surveys to business incubators and finally to community development loans and provisions to ensure affordability of housing and the formation of community development corporations.  Researchers have long been curious about the factors that drive the decision to use certain types of policies and why local governments would place greater weight on goals related to economic growth than on equity or sustainability. Read More
  • We are pleased to announce that our two-year Journal Impact Factor score has increased from 2.192 to 3.032 and our five-year impact score increased from 2.551 to 3.629. This is the fifth consecutive year our scores have increased and these are our best numbers yet. Thank you to everyone who supports UAR as an author, reviewer, or reader! Read More