NEW SPECIAL ISSUE BLOG SERIES: Blog 8 – Transformative Urban Policy

Special issue blog series on Transformational Change through Public Policy.

Joy VogelDr. Meghan Joy & Dr. Ronald K. Vogel

Cities today are facing multiple intersecting policy problems, constituting an urban crisis. These include, but are not limited to, growing poverty and inequality; social polarisation and violence; decaying infrastructure and public transit; climate change emergencies; unaffordable housing and homelessness; and the devastating impacts of COVID-19. In this context, the critical role of cities in solving pressing problems has garnered media attention, academic, and popular enthusiasm. This is the topic we explored in our article just published A future research agenda for transformational urban policy studies in the new Policy & Politics special issue on Transformational Change in Public Policy.

Yet, the urban crisis has not provoked wide scale transformative policy change. There remain serious gaps between the realities of urban problems and proposed solutions, which are often small-scale and unsustainable. Many solutions – such as inclusionary zoning to address housing unaffordability – continue to rely on capital markets and do not challenge dominant neoliberal urban approaches of minimal government, marketisation, and privatisation.

Addressing the urban crisis requires transformative policy change that: 1) directly tackles systemic inequities and their intersections; 2) is co-constructed with and supports those most marginalised in systems of inequity; and 3) expands public investment in social welfare and physical infrastructure to ensure social equity. This includes raising progressive taxes, building public infrastructure such as affordable and accessible housing and transportation, redesigning the city to meet the needs of diverse residents and natural environments, providing and expanding social welfare and cultural policies, and investing in employment training and job creation. The question is: How do we get there?

The answers to this question are already materialising in cities worldwide. In the 2000s, a wave of urban protests rose to challenge the failure of neoliberal urban governance around the world. There are currently examples of these movements institutionalising, including the socialist challenge to powerful economic actors such as Amazon in Seattle, new municipalism in cities like Barcelona, and city-building through Black liberation in Jackson. What distinguishes these movements is their grassroots democratic organisation and focus on the transformative potentialities of urban life rooted in solidarity, care, and equity.

These movements are about recapturing urban politics and policy for people over profit and should be of interest to academics in urban politics and policy studies. Yet, neither discipline has these movements on their research radar nor are they subject to much interdisciplinary collaboration. Part of the problem is that both disciplines continue to focus on formal politics and policy enacted by the liberal (nation) state. This provides an incomplete picture of the realities of urban life, where multiple forms of state, market, and community governance co-exist, conflict, and combine. While these governance relationships are problematised in urban politics, this focus is less developed in policy studies, which retains a core focus on the state. This has led to a rich tradition in policy studies of deconstructing the state, particularly through analysis on the redistributive and ideological natures and effects of public policies. This analysis, rarely applied to urban policy, could help transformative movements deconstruct and reconstruct urban politics and policy to build a more just society. We suggest a Transformative Urban Policy agenda that explores 1) activism and movement building in cities worldwide; 2) the redistributive and ideological content and effects of urban policy agendas; and 3) the nature of alternative urban governance processes and organisations. Developing such an integrated agenda could enhance the ability of urban politics and policy studies to tackle the urban crisis and support transformative policy change.


You can read the original research in Policy & Politics
Meghan Joy and Ronald K. Vogel. (2022) A future research agenda for transformational urban policy studies Policy & Politics DOI:


Table of contents for special issue on Transformational Change through Public Policy

Introduction to Transformational Change through Public Policy (Oscar Berglund, Claire Dunlop, Elizabeth Koebele and Chris Weible)

The impact of direct democracy on policy change: insights from European citizens’ initiatives (Jale Tosun, Daniel Béland & Yannis Papadopoulos)

The democratic transformation of Public Policy through community activism in Brazil (Rosana de Freitas Boullosa & Janaína Lopes Pereira Peres)

Lessons from policy theories for the pursuit of equity in health, education, and gender policy (Paul Cairney, Emily St Denny, Sean Kippin, Heather Mitchell)

A Future Research Agenda for Transformational Urban Policy Studies (Meghan Joy & Ronald K. Vogel)

Transforming Public Policy with Engaged Scholarship: Better Together (Leah Levac, Alana Cattapan, Tobin LeBlanc Haley, Laura Pin, Ethel Tungohan, & Sarah Marie Wiebe)

When do disasters spark transformative policy change and why? (Daniel Nohrstedt)

New pathways to paradigm change in Public Policy: Combining insights from policy design, mix and feedback (Sebastian Sewerin, Michael Howlett & Benjamin Cashore)

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Policy & Politics, the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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