Editor’s Note (Jered Carr): We wanted to take this opportunity to highlight three important books published last year on urban politics. Michael Craw of The Evergreen State College chaired the committee responsible for selecting the recipient of the Dennis Judd Best Book Award given by the Urban and Local Politics Section of the American Political Science Association in August 2019. In this post, he briefly describes the committee’s top three choices for best book published in 2018.
In addition to being a leading scholar of urban politics and a long time faculty member at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Dennis also served as the Editor of the Urban Affairs Review from 1985- 2002.
Mike Craw (The Evergreen State College)
I had the honor and pleasure this year to serve as chair of the committee for the APSA urban and local politics section’s Dennis Judd award recognizing the best urban politics book published in 2018. Stefanie Chambers (Trinity College), Eric Zeemering (University of Georgia), and I reviewed fourteen books that came out of our sub-discipline last year. For each of us the experience of reviewing so much new scholarship has given us a new perspective on the work we are accomplishing as a field of study. For me what stands out is just how much of the work produced in urban and local politics has direct applications to public and nonprofit sector professionals.
The Judd-award winning book, Daniel O’Brien’s The Urban Commons, exemplifies our field’s bent towards practice. O’Brien’s goal is not so much to make an argument as it is to illustrate a broad methodology by which urban political science can support the work of urban professionals and public administrators. In my view, the book makes two major contributions to urban politics. First, it articulates and illustrates the opportunity presented to urban political science and public administration from the de-siloing of local administrative data. Urban political science has always had a significant advantage in the volume of data and cases available compared to other sub-disciplines. O’Brien provides a road map for making use of the much more detailed data that is now becoming available to us to use. This contribution is not unique to O’Brien, of course, but his book does an effective job at illustrating the value of this data, both for scholarly and applied research. For instance, it succeeds in providing some language (such as “urban informatics”) by which we can discuss this in the discipline.
O’Brien’s second contribution is in the study of sub-local governance. In particular, he articulates and reinforces the idea that we can view many urban problems as collective action dilemmas, and particularly tragedies of the commons. He builds a bridge between two key theoretical perspectives that underlay thinking about social order and disorder at the neighborhood level: Sampson’s collective efficacy theory (which builds from social disorganization theory and a more sociological tradition) and collective action theory (represented by Ostrom’s work on governance of natural resource systems, which has its foundations in political science). By grounding his theory with Ostrom’s, he demonstrates how urban political science is relevant to the political science discipline as a whole and illustrates why the study of governance cannot ignore urban governance.
The two finalists for the Judd award, Domingo Morel’s Takeover and Clayton Nall’s The Road to Inequality, make similar contributions to the practice of urban and local governance. Of the three finalists, Takeover had the most compelling policy story to tell. It directly addresses an important question that has been understudied: why are some school districts subject to state takeover rather than others? And Morel offers an answer that should concern everyone: that race within the school district matters in determining where takeovers happen. There is room to build off Morel’s analysis in a number of ways that can deepen analysis of state takeovers and to use takeovers as a unit of analysis to study the effect of school takeovers on a community.
Nalls’ The Road to Inequality investigates the emergence of the contemporary partisan cleavage that exists between urban and suburban areas. His argument is that the development of interstate highways was a primary causal factor in the emergence of this cleavage. The observation that interstate highways facilitated white flight and thus income and racial segregation is not new. But Nall’s analysis demonstrates that interstate highways also greatly facilitated the emergence of partisan cleavage. Moreover, it speaks directly to how urban policy has shaped the politics of urban areas, particularly partisan politics. In that way, the book reiterates the relevance of urban politics and policy to the broader field of American politics. His work opens the door to illustrating how geographic information systems (GIS) can be used to analyze the consequences of highway development at the level of the neighborhood.
As someone who teaches in both public administration and political science, it is refreshing to see such excellent work that advances political science scholarship while speaking to methods and data that will benefit the public sector. Congratulations to our Judd Award winner and the finalists!
Image: Michael Craw gives the Dennis Judd Best Book Award to Daniel O’Brien at the 2019 APSA conference, courtesy of Urban and Local Politics (Section 13)
Mike Craw is Director of the Master of Public Administration Program at Evergreen State College . His research focuses on urban equality, local public finance, and community development. His work has appeared in UAR and the American Journal of Political Science.