The Rebirth of Urban Democracy

Brookings Institution Press
1

In an era when government seems remote and difficult to approach, participatory democracy may seem a hopelessly romantic notion. Yet nothing is more crucial to the future of American democracy than to develop some way of spurring greater citizen participation. In this important book, Jeffrey Berry, Ken Portney, and Ken Thompson examine cities that have created systems of neighborhood government and incorporated citizens in public policymaking. Through careful research and analysis, the authors find that neighborhood based participation is the key to revitalizing American democracy. The Rebirth of Urban Democracy provides a thorough examination of five cities with strong citizen participation programs--Birmingham, Dayton, Portland, St. Paul, and San Antonio. In each city, the authors explore whether neighborhood associations encourage more people to participate; whether these associations are able to promote policy responsiveness on the art of local governments; and whether participation in these associations increases the capacity of people to take part in government. Finally, the authors outline the steps that can be taken to increase political participation in urban America. Berry, Portney, and Thomson show that citizens in participatory programs are able to get their issues on the public agenda and develop a stronger sense of community, greater trust in government officials, and more confidence in the political system. From a rigorous evaluation of surveys and interviews with thousands of citizens and policymakers, the authors also find that central governments in these cities are highly responsive to their neighborhoods and that less conflict exists among citizens and policymakers. The authors assert that these programs can provide a blueprint for major reform in cities across the country. They outline the components for successful participation programs and offer recommendations for those who want to get involved. They demonstrate that participation systems can influence citizens to become more knowledgeable, more productive, and more confident in government; and can provide more governments with a mechanism for being more responsive in setting priorities and formulating polices that closely approximate the true preferences of the people.
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About the author

Jeffrey M. Berry is John Richard Skuse Class of 1941 Professor of Political Science at Tufts University. His most recent book, The New Liberalism: The Rising Power of Citizen Groups(Brookings, 1999) won the Policy Studies Organization's 1999 best book award. Kent E. Portney is a professor of political science at Tufts University. Ken Thompson is director of the Center for Strong Democracy.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Brookings Institution Press
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Published on
Sep 13, 2002
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Pages
342
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ISBN
9780815723660
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Political Science / American Government / Local
Political Science / Civics & Citizenship
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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In early 2012, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student who advocated for insurance coverage of contraceptives, "wants to be paid to have sex." Over the next few days, Limbaugh attacked Fluke personally, often in crude terms, while a powerful backlash grew, led by organizations such as the National Organization for Women. But perhaps what was most notable about the incident was that it wasn't unusual. From Limbaugh's venomous attacks on Fluke to liberal radio host Mike Malloy's suggestion that Bill O'Reilly "drink a vat of poison... and choke to death," over-the-top discourse in today's political opinion media is pervasive. Anyone who observes the skyrocketing number of incendiary political opinion shows on television and radio might conclude that political vitriol on the airwaves is fueled by the increasingly partisan American political system. But in The Outrage Industry Jeffrey M. Berry and Sarah Sobieraj show how the proliferation of outrage-the provocative, hyperbolic style of commentary delivered by hosts like Ed Schultz, Bill O'Reilly, and Sean Hannity- says more about regulatory, technological, and cultural changes, than it does about our political inclinations. Berry and Sobieraj tackle the mechanics of outrage rhetoric, exploring its various forms such as mockery, emotional display, fear mongering, audience flattery, and conspiracy theories. They then investigate the impact of outrage rhetoric-which stigmatizes cooperation and brands collaboration and compromise as weak-on a contemporary political landscape that features frequent straight-party voting in Congress. Outrage tactics have also facilitated the growth of the Tea Party, a movement which appeals to older, white conservatives and has dragged the GOP farther away from the demographically significant moderates whose favor it should be courting. Finally, The Outrage Industry examines how these shows sour our own political lives, exacerbating anxieties about political talk and collaboration in our own communities. Drawing from a rich base of evidence, this book forces all of us to consider the negative consequences that flow from our increasingly hyper-partisan political media.
Today at least twenty-five major U.S. cities have pursued some form of sustainability initiative. Although many case studies and "how-to" manuals have been published, there has been little systematic comparison of these cities' programs and initiatives. In this book Kent Portney lays the theoretical groundwork for research on what works and what does not, and why. Distinguishing cities on the basis of population characteristics and region for his analysis, Portney shows how cities use the broad rubric of sustainability to achieve particular political ends. Cities that take sustainability seriously, such as Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle, use broad definitions that go well beyond concern for the physical environment or creating jobs. They pursue sustainability at many levels and integrate concern for economic development, the environment, and quality of life across all activities of city government. Cities that take sustainability less seriously, such as Cleveland, Boston, and Orlando, confine it to such issues as solid waste disposal, brownfields, redevelopment, and neighborhood beautification. Still other cities, such as New Haven, Brownsville, and Milwaukee, do considerably less to work toward sustainability. Portney begins by reviewing the conceptual underpinnings of sustainable development and sustainable communities. The comparisons that follow provide a foundation for assessing the range of what is possible and desirable for sustainability initiatives. In the book's conclusion, Portney assesses the extent to which cities can use the pursuit of sustainability either to foster change in public values or merely to reinforce values that are already reflected in systems of governance.
In an era when government seems remote and difficult to approach, participatory democracy may seem a hopelessly romantic notion. Yet nothing is more crucial to the future of American democracy than to develop some way of spurring greater citizen participation. In this important book, Jeffrey Berry, Ken Portney, and Ken Thompson examine cities that have created systems of neighborhood government and incorporated citizens in public policymaking. Through careful research and analysis, the authors find that neighborhood based participation is the key to revitalizing American democracy. The Rebirth of Urban Democracy provides a thorough examination of five cities with strong citizen participation programs--Birmingham, Dayton, Portland, St. Paul, and San Antonio. In each city, the authors explore whether neighborhood associations encourage more people to participate; whether these associations are able to promote policy responsiveness on the art of local governments; and whether participation in these associations increases the capacity of people to take part in government. Finally, the authors outline the steps that can be taken to increase political participation in urban America. Berry, Portney, and Thomson show that citizens in participatory programs are able to get their issues on the public agenda and develop a stronger sense of community, greater trust in government officials, and more confidence in the political system. From a rigorous evaluation of surveys and interviews with thousands of citizens and policymakers, the authors also find that central governments in these cities are highly responsive to their neighborhoods and that less conflict exists among citizens and policymakers. The authors assert that these programs can provide a blueprint for major reform in cities across the country. They outline the components for successful participation programs and offer recommendations for those who want to get involved. They demonstrate that participation systems can influence citizens to become more knowledgeable, more productive, and more confident in government; and can provide more governments with a mechanism for being more responsive in setting priorities and formulating polices that closely approximate the true preferences of the people.
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