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Federalism, the Purse and the City: Explaining the Evolution of Urban Policy in the US and in the EU

Piero Tortola
University of Oxford
Piero Tortola
University of Oxford
Open Panel

Abstract

This paper presents a theoretically informed comparative analysis of the evolution of urban development policies in the EU and in the US. After briefly examining the two programmes at the centre of the EU and the US’ early urban policy—respectively URBAN and Model Cities—and the isomorphic pressures that led to their striking similarities, I explain their divergent historical path through a historical institutionalist model based on critical junctures at two levels: the ‘politico-constitutional’ and the ‘policy’ one. The prescriptiveness and competitiveness of both Model Cities and URBAN, I posit, made these programmes unstable and vulnerable to political attack. These attacks, however, had very different outcomes in the two multi-level systems. In the US, the previous occurrence of a politico-constitutional juncture in the form of the creation of HUD meant that Nixon could not threaten the existence of urban policy, but only change its form, which he did by creating the CDBG. Due to its decentralized and extensive character the latter marked a second, policy-level critical juncture by generating a vast alliance of stakeholders that have precluded substantial change to this day. In the EU, conversely, the lack of a ‘top’ institutional anchor in the form of an urban DG, left urban policy without defenders in the central institutions. Consequently, the termination of URBAN through its ‘mainstreaming’ in regional policy, left the Union without an autonomous urban policy.