Alan Ehrenhalt served for 19 years as executive editor of Governing Magazine, and is currently one of its contributing editors. He has been a frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review and op-ed page, the Washington Post Book World, New Republic and The Wall Street Journal. He is the author of four books: The United States of Ambition, The Lost City, Democracy in the Mirror, and The Great Inversion. He was also the creator and editor of the first four editions of Politics in America, a biennial reference book profiling all 535 members of Congress. Alan Ehrenhalt is a 1968 graduate of Brandeis University and holds an MS in journalism from Columbia. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard from 1977-1978; a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1987-1988; a Regents’ Lecturer at UCLA in 2006; an adjunct faculty member at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, at the University of Richmond, from 2004 through 2008; and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Maryland Graduate School of Public Policy in 2009. In 2000 he received the American Political Science Association’s McWilliams award for distinguished contributions to the field of political science by a journalist. He is married, has two daughters, and lives in Arlington, Virginia.
The Strange, Troubled History of Pedestrian Malls
A few of them have worked out well. Most of them have been failures. But the idea of building new ones has never died, and there are signs of still another incarnation.
Crime and Anxiety in the Beverly Hills of the South
Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood is rich and mostly white, but the same jump in violent crime that many cities are seeing has alarmed its residents. Some of them think secession is the answer.
When It Comes to Judges, How Old Is Too Old?
Most states set a mandatory retirement age for their judges, typically 70. Does that still make sense in this day and time? The wisdom and stability of longevity are worth something.
Jaywalking and the Dilemma of ‘Victimless’ Crimes
How much authority should governments have to protect people misbehaving in ways that are, in most cases, dangerous only to themselves?
Can a Virtual Legislature Be a Real Legislature?
Lawmakers in much of the country will be doing their work next year by remote control. That will make a tough job even tougher.
Chicago’s L: the Ugly Duckling that Made a City
By defining the downtown Loop more than a century ago, elevated trains and tracks gave the city a vibrant economic and cultural center. It's a core element that other cities don't have.
When Young Turks Take Over a Government
Charlotte's majority-millennial city council has accomplished a few things, but mostly what its members have done is squabble with each other. Succeeding as a 'change agent' is harder than it might seem.
Will We Ever Slay the Evil Gerrymander?
One state took a small step this week , but we're a long way from eliminating noncompetitive districts and partisan malfeasance.
Is Our Love Affair with the Single-Family Home Over?
It may depend on what millennials really want. But none of the ideas aimed at that generation would make more than a dent in America's acute housing shortage.
Too Much Government? Or Just Too Many Governments?
Efforts to merge municipalities make a lot of sense, particularly in this virus-plagued, cash-poor moment. But they usually don't succeed. Three struggling Illinois towns are about to try it anyway.
Could We Please Stop Pontificating About the American Dream?
It means different things to different people. In the end, it doesn't really mean much at all. And there's very little that politicians or government can do to uphold or restore it.
American Cities and the Cure for Machine Mischief
Cities keep lurching between electing their governing bodies from districts and choosing them at large. The district approach is gaining, but its fragmentation doesn't promote a broad view of community needs.
THE FUTURE OF Community Design
The De-Walling of Our Public and Private Spaces
For decades, we've embraced openness in everything from city planning to the way our homes are built and our schools and offices are arranged. But the age of openness may be winding down.
The Wildly Improbable Public Life of Jerry Brown
Over a half-century in office — and running for office — this man of paradox broke virtually every rule in the politico's rulebook. Californians loved him for it.
The Pandemic and the Suburbs’ Second Chance
They've been trying for a long time to attract city dwellers by installing amenities that urbanites crave. COVID-19 fears are providing them with a new opportunity to get it right.
Is Houston the American City of the Future?
A scholar who's been studying the place for half a century thinks so, and it does seem to be ahead of other cities in some respects. But there also are some ways it's behind the curve.
Cities and the Forgotten World of Archie Bunker
White blue-collar families and their racial fears defined the urban landscape of 50 years ago, as Black Americans struggled through destabilizing change. The cities of today are very different places.
Winners and Losers in Post-Coronavirus Government
We used to look to Washington for leadership in times of national crisis. Those days are gone, and we're seeing a transfer of power. Which level of government will come out on top?
Will COVID-19 End the Downtown Comeback? Don't Bet on It.
The factors that led to the revival of our city centers will still be there in the aftermath of the coronavirus shutdown: low crime, a craving for entertainment and the desire for physical proximity.
Will We Look Back Fondly on This Terrifying Period?
It may seem hard to believe that the time of a deadly pandemic might one day be remembered wistfully by those who lived through it. But something like that has happened before in American life.
The Search for Slogan Magic
With an eye on tourism and development, states keep trying to come up with evocative new taglines. Sometimes they stumble.
The Mayoral Balancing Act
Tension between downtowns and neighborhoods isn’t going to go away.
The Democrats’ Biggest Problem for 2020 — and Beyond
By clustering in cities, even small ones, they have weakened their political impact.
The Fables of Gentrification
A lot of what we think we know about it turns out to be wrong.
It's Been a Rough Year for Mass Transit
With falling ridership and scrapped expansion projects, urban transit faces an uncertain future.
Does a City Need a Mayor?
Well-run governments must have clear lines of leadership. Just ask Pueblo, Colo.
'Vertical Villages' May Be the Future of Urban Living. That's Scary.
They take mixed-use development to an extreme with buildings that residents may never need to leave.
The Business Fad States Should Steal
For the most part, it’s a bad idea for governments to copy private-sector trends. But there may be one exception.
How Will Driverless Cars Really Change Cities? Who Knows.
There are plenty of theories about how they will reshape urban areas. But it’s anybody’s guess.
Why ‘Nudge’ Policies Should Be Used Gently
Behavioral economics is a powerful tool to encourage people to make certain decisions, but governments need to use it with caution.
Is Statehouse News Actually Declining, or Just Different?
There’s still plenty of coverage of governors and legislatures. But the void of newspaper reporters has been filled with partisan-slanted bloggers.
When Citizen Engagement Becomes Too Much
Politicians say they want citizens to be involved. But it can make things harder to achieve.
How Cities Became the New Laboratories of Democracy
The ascent of cities is real, though things may not be as rosy as some suggest.
2 Southern Cities, 2 (Very) Different Approaches to Transit
When it comes to transportation planning, Atlanta and Nashville are both at a crossroads.
Should Jury Convictions Be Unanimous? It's Complicated.
Two states still allow split-verdicts to send people to prison. That may change soon. But maybe it shouldn't.
Why Some Cities Want Graffiti
Instead of scrubbing spray-painted tags, many places are now encouraging murals and other colorful street art.
City or Suburbs? What Do Millennials Really Want?
Turns out, the answer isn’t either-or. Rather, it’s a question with 80 million answers.
States' High-Stakes Game of Chicken
States are hoping to bring their case over animal welfare and interstate commerce to the Supreme Court.
A City's Collision of Histories
Can Alabama’s capital honor both civil rights and the Confederacy? It thinks so.
Should Governments Measure People's Happiness?
Their citizens' sense of well-being may tell a lot about whether a community is thriving.
The Plight of America's Overlooked Industrial Cities
Whether you're talking about Detroit or Youngstown, Ohio, so-called legacy cities have similar problems with no simple solution.
What Do States Have Against Cities, Anyway?
Legislatures regularly interfere with local affairs. The reasons, according to research, will surprise you.
Why Neighborhood Nicknames Matter
They can have a big impact on economic fortunes and social cohesion, which explains the controversy that often surrounds them.
What’s Changed (and What Hasn’t) Since Governing Started 30 Years Ago
We first published in 1987, a year when states and cities seemed poised for innovation.
What Today's Democratic Party Can Learn From Yesterday's GOP
In 1977, the GOP faced an identity crisis. It eventually found a winning formula and returned to power.
What Judges Don’t Understand About Transportation
There are no crystal balls, yet some judges expect planners and policymakers to predict the future anyway.
How Much Can Cities Do About Walkability?
A lot of what fosters it is out of their control, but a little audacity goes a long way.
Elected as a Tea Party Conservative But Governing as a Centrist
A lot of the hard-line GOP governors who won in 2010 have surprised their supporters with a shift toward pragmatism. What’s driving the change?
Is Syracuse Necessary?
Some want to save the fiscally challenged city in New York by effectively abolishing it.
Are We Repeating Our Public-Housing Mistakes?
In the past, politicians have ignored the realities that exist in big cities. They seem to be doing it again.
The Limits of Café Urbanism
Hip restaurants have helped revive cities. But is the boom fizzling out?
Shopping Inside Is Out
For centuries, commerce and fresh air went together. They’re starting to again.
What Does State Legislatures' Past Say About Their Future?
A look back at their evolution may offer some idea of what lies ahead.
Cities and states have very different ideas for fixing decrepit urban highways.
The Reality of Mayors’ Economic Promises
They vow to rev up the local economy all the time, exposing their misunderstanding of cities and political office.
For Economic Development Gold, Listen to the Music
The stadiums that cities invest in often end up losing money. There’s another, more profitable option: music festivals.
Will Civics Education Make People Better Voters?
It's making a comeback in public schools. But to really make voters more informed, the curriculum could use an overhaul.
Urban Planners’ New Enemy
Cities are increasingly viewing parking in a negative light and rethinking its place in metropolitan America.
Why Affordable Housing Is Hard to Build
There are lots of ideas out there. None of them are working very well.
The Establishment? It’s Long Gone.
There’s a common perception that the Establishment is disappearing. In fact, it died decades ago at all levels of government.
The Shaky Edifice of Federal Power
As states act more like independent sovereigns, Washington has itself to blame.
The Saga of an Inner Suburb's Struggle for an Identity
A gritty blue-collar town in Minnesota reflects the tensions in many places located between cities and suburbs.
The Problem With the Second Phase of Gentrification
Unlike a generation ago, today’s urban renaissance often displaces people and businesses.
Urbanophobia: A Growing Threat to Public Transit in America
In the ideological war over urban planning, anti-transit conservatives are gaining funding and allies.
Resisting Inevitable Urbanization
In North Carolina, lawmakers don't want to embrace the state’s shift away from rural, small-town life. But their efforts may be futile.
Why ‘Costs’ and ‘Savings’ Are Often an Illusion
Most public policy decisions are best described as transfers of wealth where somebody wins and somebody loses.
Why It's Important to Know Lawmakers' Day Jobs
Whether states are governed by a coalition of farmers and teachers or an alliance of corporate executives and insurance brokers matters.
The Panhandler Dilemma
When cities try to regulate them, they find themselves in a legal minefield.
Hypergentrification and the Disappearance of Local Businesses
Wealthier people often move to gentrifying neighborhoods for the mom-and-pop stores, but their presence is driving the shops away. Can cities save them?
Why Political Machines Were Good for Government
They may have had their negatives, but unlike Congress today -- and to some degree, the states -- they got the job done.
One Iconoclast’s Blunt Message on Transportation Funding
After advising municipalities on how to construct roads for years, Charles Marohn now believes America needs to stop building new highways. Will his new way of thinking catch on?
How Well Can a City Predict Its Future 20 Years Out?
In 1994, Seattle won praise from urbanist thinkers nationwide with its 20-year plan for population and economic growth.
When Does Politicians' Unethical Behavior Become a Crime?
Over the past few decades, it’s become easier to convict public officials for corruption but harder to know who’s really guilty of it.
Is Education Reform Worth the Demise of Neighborhood Schools?
Some worry the benefits of a better education don’t outweigh the new problems it brings.
Are Democrats Out of Touch with Suburbia?
Some say Democrats suffered big blows in November because they’ve become a party of urban elitists.
What, Exactly, Is Gentrification?
It’s hard to define, but it's dramatically changing the urban landscape and bringing a host of new challenges to local leaders.
What Does Divided Government Mean for the Future of Politics?
The midterm elections marked the return of divided government, with more than a third of states in split-power situations.
Urban Acupuncture Is Coming to America
Inspired by an idea that originated in 1970s Brazil, urban planners in America are increasingly thinking small scale to solve big problems.
Arkansas Votes to Keep Prohibition
After a fight led by liquor stores, the state will keep decisions about whether or not to sell alcohol at the county level.
Remembering Mayor Menino
The longtime mayor of Boston was an unconventional politician, and that's why he was one of the most successful urban leaders of his generation.
Liquor Dealers Leading Arkansas’ Fight to Stay Dry
More than 80 years after Prohibition ended at the national level, Arkansas voters will decide in November whether to keep their state dry.
The Evolution of State Legislatures Has Driven Some to Flee
As state legislatures' structures and salaries have changed, so have the type of people the political office attracts.
As gay Americans gained more acceptance and integrated themselves throughout cities over the past decade, a sociologist argues they've also lost some of their community and history.
Are Suburbs All They’re Cracked Up to Be?
As suburban poverty rises, cities aren’t as enthusiastic about annexing the suburbs anymore.
Have Judges Overstepped Their Authority on Education?
Nearly every state has faced lawsuits over school funding. But only in Kansas have judges tried to quantify the quality of education.
Tallin, Estonia’s Bold Experiment with Free Public Transit
The Eastern European city found a way to offer free rides to citizens for a small cost to government. The U.S. has tried it before. Will cities try it again?
Keeping Cities from Becoming “Child-Free Zones”
With kids on the decline in urban areas, cities can make themselves more attractive to young families by building more playgrounds.
Bill de Blasio: The Neighborhood Mayor
After years under Michael Bloomberg, known to many as a “downtown mayor,” New Yorkers are looking to their new mayor to refocus resources on communities.
Would We All Be Better Off If Mayors Ruled the World?
It’s a tempting idea, but cities simply don’t have the power to do what most of their residents want them to do.
A Creative Comeback in the Big Easy
After years of stagnation following Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is building itself a new economy.
Meter Shock in Cincinnati
Privatizing parking meters was a disaster for Chicago. So why is Cincinnati doing it?
School Scandals Reveal the Problem with Grading Schools
We measure school performance by test scores because it’s easy. But no simplistic set of A-F grades can ever account for all the intangible ways schools nurture their pupils.
Hypocrisy in the USA: States Boss Around Localities
One minute, states are complaining about the federal government meddling in their business. The next, they're imposing dictatorial mandates on localities.
A Streetcar Route Drives Typically Calm Arlington County into Conflict
The wealthy Virginia county outside Washington, D.C., has been free of the nasty political environment home to its neighbors – until now. Causing the controversy is a proposed streetcar, which nearly a dozen cities are building.
The Chicago Paradox
Despite its high murder rate, dysfunctional schools and aging transit, the central area of Chicago is growing faster than any other big city.
Innovation’s Unexpected Return to States
The laboratories of democracy have reopened after the recession. But they’re not delivering the results that most experts have been conditioned to expect from them.
The Deadly Dangers of Daily Life
Citizens and public officials alike aren't very good at evaluating
risk and making intelligent decisions about it.
The Monkey or the Gorilla?
States are the level of government we go to because we don't expect
the others to succeed.
Taxing Smoke and Beers
You've heard it said, no doubt, that states have been a little timid this year about raising taxes to get themselves out of economic trouble. That's true--at least for those who don't smoke or drink.
Urban Vision Through Corporate Ayes
Once upon a time in this country, architects did everything they could to sound like romantic poets. Generations of history students have faithfully copied down Daniel Burnham's pompous but powerful admonition to "make no little plans--they have no magic to stir men's blood."
Tragic Official of the Year
Every year, this magazine honors people who have accomplished impressive things in state or local government.
The School-Renewal Fallacy
"If all who are engaged in the profession of education were willing to state the facts instead of making greater promises than they can possibly fulfill, they would not be in such bad repute with the lay public."
Back to the Future
Forty years ago, American society looked into the transportation future and found it thrilling. The first U.S. astronaut had orbited the earth. Preparations for a moon landing were underway.
'Caucusgate' in the Badger State
How's this for a juicy scandal: A state legislature sets up publicly funded caucuses to assist its majority and minority parties with legislative research and strategy.
The Teenage Highway Slowdown
It isn't the teenagers who are the main obstacle to safer licensing
laws; it's their parents.
Meetings of the Minds
When people think about Montana, "consensus" isn't the first idea that pops into their heads. "Conflict" would be more like it. The history of Big Sky Country is filled with epic confrontations between farmers and ranchers, miners and copper companies, environmentalists and property owners.
Myths and Realities of Statehouse Power
The importance of governors lies not in their being electoral power
brokers or potential presidential candidates but in making policy.
The Problem With Promises
Oregon has long had a reputation as a health-conscious place, so you probably won't be surprised to learn that people there don't smoke quite as much as people in the rest of the country.
A Job Even Mr. Rogers Might Not Want
On a wall at my neighborhood community house, in Arlington County, Virginia, there are two gold plaques with 43 names on them. They are the names of all the people who have served as president of the Lyon Village Citizens Association since 1926, the year the neighborhood was created.
The Mayor-Manager Conundrum
El Paso has always been a little bit eccentric. When the state university campus was built there, in the 1920s, the local leaders chose Bhutanese architecture, based on an obscure style used in the Himalayas in medieval times.
Politics In Prose
1It's a cliche that there are no great Washington novels. I don't know if it's true or not. It may be. The book most often cited as a candidate, "Democracy," by Henry Adams, was written 120 years ago; in recent times, more critics probably have praised it than have read it.
There was a small news item in last month's issue of this magazine. The Business of Government section reported on a new online program in Missouri that gathers disease data from 50 labs and hospitals and tells the Health Department almost instantly if something resembling an epidemic is loose in the state.
Bringing Down The Housing Performers
There's something about the subject of public housing that saps the enthusiasm of even the most dutiful students of government. Self- described policy wonks who have little trouble discoursing on the Medicaid dual-eligible problem or the mass transit mode split start to fidget when anybody brings up Section 8 or Hope VI.
Putting Practice Into Theory
One afternoon in the fall of 1995, John McDonough tells us in his new book, "Experiencing Politics," he was sitting in his seat on the floor of the Massachusetts House of Representatives as the chamber prepared to vote on a huge tax break for Raytheon, the locally based defense contractor.
Boldness Without Bluster
The mayor of Salt Lake City, Rocky Anderson, is talking about an
experiment he launched earlier this year. Once a week, his department
heads and senior managers are required to appear at an open meeting
and answer questions from ordinary voters. "I learned that from the
Sandinistas," he says.
Lessons from the Lobster Legislature
If there's any group of American citizens you wouldn't expect to find at the cutting edge of political reform, it's the lobster fishermen along the coast of Maine. Not only do they have a national reputation for being cranky loners--they readily accept it.
Heights of Fasion
"Why do I love Paris?" Cole Porter keeps asking, in one of his least clever songs. "Why, oh why, do I love Paris?" Finally he ends the suspense. It's because his sweetie is in the neighborhood.
Scapegoating in Salt Lake
Philosophy students occasionally wile away idle moments by arguing over what constitutes a truly victimless crime. It's a more complicated issue than one might suppose.
The Great Transit Turnaround
In the mid-1980s, when metropolitan Portland first began planning a light-rail line, the downtown merchants in suburban Gresham, Oregon, discussed the issue and reached a quick consensus: They didn't want it.
In Search of the Ideal Legislature
You and I might not agree on the best American governors of recent years, but we would probably agree on what makes a governor effective. Mostly, it's a matter of having a coherent program and finding ways to get it enacted.
Economists have a reputation for being cool and dispassionate, but a few phrases or concepts have the capacity to turn even the meekest of them into hectoring ideologues, exasperated with the inability of others to exercise simple common sense.
Tinkering With History Books
The Minnesota House and Senate went home for the summer a few weeks ago, having concluded a legislative session that left just about everyone disappointed.
Hizzoner's Finest Hours
Since crises aren't predictable, we can only hope to have the right
leader at the right moment.
Millions will be spent in this year's battle for the Wisconsin
legislature. But the candidates won't know where most of the money is
coming from. They'll be bystanders in their own campaigns.
Republicans Behaving Badly
I remember being taught in the fourth grade that one of the few really noble elements of human nature was the willingness to put aside differences in time of crisis. It's no fairy tale, either; we've all seen it dozens of times. A river floods, or a city is devastated by an earthquake or terrorists strike without warning--and all of a sudden there's a feeling of common purpose and a suspension of petty bickering.
A Job Even Mr. Rogers Might Not Want
On a wall at my neighborhood community house, in Arlington County, Virginia, there are two gold plaques with 43 names on them.
Why Too Much Safety is Dangerous
We've told this story in Governing before, but it makes the point so well that I hope you'll indulge my telling it one more time:
There's a common pesticide called Atrazine that's used by farmers in many of the grain fields of the Midwest.
Coming Off The Bench
A few weeks ago, the Vermont Senate discussed a proposal to require that all state judges step down from office upon reaching the age of 110. This may sound like the mootest of moot points, given that no jurist in Vermont--or anywhere in the world, I imagine--has ever lived that long. But it had a purpose.
Will There Be A Big Dig It?
A few weeks ago, the chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority descended 100 feet below ground, unfurled a huge American flag, announced the opening of a tunnel, and began scouring history for superlatives. "This project," he boasted, "rivals the Hoover Dam and the Panama Canal."
The Residency Rebellion
On the far west side of Detroit, between the murky River Rouge and the suburb of Dearborn, sits a little neighborhood called Copper Canyon. It's a pleasant community of modest brick bungalows, manicured lawns and peaceful streets. It's also one of the few integrated neighborhoods remaining in the city.
Sometimes Blaming the Victim Makes Sense
Back when Lester Maddox was governor of Georgia, in the late 1960s,
there was a riot at the state prison. Reporters asked him what he
planned to do about the conditions that caused the trouble. Maddox
rejected the entire premise of the question. "There's nothing wrong
with our prison system," he said. "We just don't have a very good
class of prisoners anymore."
Nepotism and the Meat AX
We Americans profess not to like nepotism very much, but when we see
it on a grand enough scale, we're intrigued. We're not bothered by a
presidential election in which both of the candidates owe every
political triumph in life to the exploits of their fathers. We can get
used to the idea of the president's brother as attorney general, or
the president's wife as chief domestic policy adviser.
Sprawl, Passion and Common Sense
Most of the time, it doesn't bother me when people talk about political issues in moral language. In fact, it bothers me when they don't.
Granville Hicks, the literary critic, would have been a hundred years
old a few weeks ago. Hicks died in 1982, and so he isn't exactly a
household name anymore--I didn't know much about him myself until I
ran across a copy of "Small Town," his portrait of the village of
Grafton, New York, written just at the end of World War II. But the
story is worth remembering, both for the unusual life the author led
and for the ideas he emerged with after decades of personal struggle.
Bob Keenan: Mental Adjustment
All things being equal, Bob Keenan is a man who prefers to have government stay out of the way and let private enterprise tackle the tough societal jobs.
There was a time, not too long ago, when almost everyone in Seattle remembered Caspar Sharples. He was a revered physician and educator during the early years of this century, the founder of two hospitals and a guiding force behind development of the city's school system.
The Commonwealth of Boastfulness
When I started writing this column, I promised myself I wouldn't use
it as a soapbox for personal grudges or quarrels. It can come off as
bad sportsmanship, and most of the time, it bores the reader. But some
opportunities are just too juicy to pass up.
Devolution's Double Standard
Somewhere in America, I suppose, there is a public official who believes unreservedly in devolution--believes that power, autonomy and flexibility should reside as far down in the governmental system as practically possible--and is willing to act on the basis of those beliefs, even at the expense of his own political authority.
The Politics of a Hole in the Ground
At the intersection of Wilson and Highland streets, a few blocks from
where I live in Arlington, Virginia, there is a big, gaping hole in
the ground. It isn't much to look at, as you might expect. But it's a
hole in the ground with a rich history. If you will indulge me in a
few paragraphs of local nostalgia, I think I can use it to draw some
lessons about the ways of growth, planning and survival these days in
There are some who say that direct democracy is the wave of the future in American government. If I may be excused for paraphrasing John F. Kennedy, let them come to Denver.
Vermont's Judicial Distillery
I'm not a lawyer, so I've never aspired to being a judge. But I sometimes indulge in fantasies about the sort of judge I would be, if given the chance. I'd be a wonderful judge--patient, fair-minded, even-tempered, witty, self-deprecating--but above all, restrained.
Abolishing elected treasurers, auditors and commissioners would
probably do more good than harm.
The Merchant Mayor
For years, Boston's Tom Menino has argued that retail commerce is the
key to revitalizing urban neighborhoods. Other cities have begun to
I used to think that, for some reason, the American judicial system was avoiding me. Over more than three decades of adult life, as a citizen of three different jurisdictions, I had never once served on a jury.
'Rightsizing' the Legislature
I can't imagine many of you have been to the New Hampshire House of
Representatives. But I can help visualize it for you: Just close your
eyes and think of an old public high school auditorium.
Why We Don't Have it Made in the Shade
A few years ago, I went for a drive through the winding streets of
Emery Manor, a subdivision of small, Levittown-like rambler houses
built in the Chicago suburbs in the early 1950s. People in the older
neighborhoods nearby said terrible things about Emery Manor when it
was going up: They called it a drab, tasteless collection of identical
tiny boxes, scarcely better than shacks.
The Consolidated Divide
Mike Huckabee, the governor of Arkansas, is as amiable a fellow as most governors, and normally spends a good deal of his time traveling around the state and mixing with his constituents.
Fighting Poverty from the Front Porch
There are two significant things to say right off the bat about Florida's new statewide anti-poverty program.
Learning To Love Lifestyle Land
The problem is, it couldn't still be there. Small local bookstores can't make a go of it in most places these days. I wish that weren't true, but it is.
Lives of the Politicians
Early in the Nixon administration, when supporters of civil rights worried that the new president was about to follow up on the racially divisive rhetoric of his 1968 campaign, Attorney General John Mitchell sought to reassure them with a few simple words: "Don't watch what we say--watch what we do."
Can you be an Urbanist and Still Like Cities?
The 20th century produced a pantheon of brilliant urban thinkers and
planners. Some built, some mostly wrote, some did both. Some did
better than others at translating their ideas into reality. But one
way or another, we are living with the consequences of their vision:
Beware The Amnesty Binge
Amnesty and forgiveness are two different things. Amnesty is indiscriminate--the canceling of debt, obligation or penalty not out of a desire for individual justice but out of a belief that there is something to be gained by simply wiping the slate clean.
The Drug-War Conundrum
A few minutes into the movie "Traffic," in a Washington, D.C.,
cocktail party scene, an amiable red-haired man offers some wisdom
about the nation's drug problem: "You'll never solve this on the
Return to Center
Twenty-five years ago, a mayor of Chicago was defeated for renomination because of an insult rendered by his public transit system. The city was digging out from a blizzard, and there weren't enough trains to carry all the passengers who needed service.
Secrets of Urban Bodybuilding
If you live in Louisville, this is the time of year when it hurts your pride a little bit just to pick up the sports page. The cities that are your natural rivals--cities that used to rank right alongside you in size, image and self-confidence--are winning priceless national publicity on the professional football field.
Spreading Out the Clout
It's difficult to notice dogs that don't bark, as Sherlock Holmes demonstrated more than a century ago. It's also difficult to notice phones that don't ring.
The Magic Word: Affordable
"My fellow citizens, I rise today to speak in opposition to affordable housing, quality day care and the Baptist Church."
I briefly considered saying those words a few weeks ago as I spent a long Saturday afternoon at a County Board meeting in Arlington, Virginia, waiting for the five minutes allotted to me as a citizen speaker on a public issue.
Fifty-eight years ago, Justice Felix Frankfurter told his brethren to stay out of the business of drawing political maps. "Courts ought not to enter this political thicket," Frankfurter warned in Colegrove v. Green. "The fulfillment of this duty cannot be judicially enforced."
A New View of Sprawl
The conventional wisdom about suburbs and sprawl can change
dramatically over time.
The Return of The Grid
After centuries of abuse, gridded streets are finally getting some
Local zoning laws mandate parking spaces as if empty lots were a
The Veto Gambit
Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that 2006 may be something more
than a routine veto year.
How Rail Impacts Retail
A successful transit line means a more intense commercial life around
the stations, and that means higher property values, higher rents and
the invasion of chain stores.
Theory of Partisan Reality
The past decade has brought a marked increase in partisan
unpleasantness in legislative bodies almost everywhere in the country.
Nebraska's single-house legislative body is unlike any that has
existed in any state before or since.
Rewriting the Formula
Does an unconventional coalition in Colorado offer a model for
Democrats around the country?
The "Bill Mckay Effect"
We have a weakness for anointing eager young sons with modest
credentials, solely on the strength of their connection to fathers we
wouldn't take back if they begged us.
Going after NACO for convening in Hawaii may be a bit of a cheap shot, but it's one that local TV news will ...
Maybe it's my Jetson-era upbringing, but I've always had a weakness for the Seattle monorail project. Some of it was just my own contrarianism, I ...
An Honest Federalist
I've been arguing for years that nobody in national politics really believes in federalism--not as an end in itself. Federalism and devolution are just ideological ...
2010: A Term Limits Odyssey
Fifteen years ago or so, around the time legislatures were first passing term limits laws, we ran an article in this magazine pondering what life ...
Law, Dog Bites Man
"ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The author of a new state law that allows felony charges against owners of dangerous dogs was hospitalized over the ...
Mike and Arnold: Big Spender and Panhandler
I haven't looked at any financial statements from Arnold Schwarzenegger or Michael Bloomberg lately, so I don't know just how rich either of them is.&...
Two Takes on Urban Revival
I find myself pondering a lunchtime talk I heard yesterday by Chris Leinberger, the developer and New Urbanist thinker who's currently involved in recreating downtown ...
Are Governors Immune to Second-Term Slumps?
I ran into Tom Cronin, the political scientist, the other day, and he raised a really interesting question that I couldn't answer. The question was ...
Patronage Trap Flap
I never know what the reaction is going to be to my Assessments column in Governing when it is published each month. Some months there ...
Having written a story for Governing's February issue on coalition politics in Colorado -- and having touted Colorado all year as a state that offers ...
It's been amusing to watch the Minnesota university system and state legislature squabble over what to call the new stadium that will be built on ...
It's About Time
Well, Sunday morning I'll be running around the house grumbling about all the clocks, just like I do twice every year, wondering ...
The Legacy of Jane Jacobs
So much has been said already about Jane Jacobs in the short time since her death -- or will be said in ...
Those Supreme Court justices, they're a bunch of teasers, aren't they?
For the past 20 years they've been saying that raw partisan gerrymandering is potentially unconstitutional ...
Why Are Female Lawmakers So Blue?
Wandering around the NCSL website the other day, I stumbled on some interesting figures on the gender makeup of legislatures. Women comprise about 23 percent of ...
The Blue-ing of the Burbs
A belated thought about what happened in Virginia last Tuesday, and what it might mean for other states:
There was a time, not too ...
Fenty and schools
I guess I shouldn't be surprised when Adrian Fenty says his first priority as mayor of DC will be fixing ...
Here's a interesting new law: In Illinois, from now on, if you change your name and then run for office within three ...
Countering Crime's Comeback
In a conversation last week with Michael Nutter, who is all but certain to become mayor of Philadelphia in a few months, I was struck by a couple of things: the dramatic return of the crime issue in urban politics right now, and the dilemma an incoming mayor such as Nutter faces in trying to deal with it.
In the Zone
A short article in the Chicago Sun-Times last week got me thinking again about a local politics issue that's more interesting than it may seem: the rules for zoned residential parking.
Deleted in Boise
Here's one of the more unusual "State of the State" stories I"ve seen in a while. A couple of weeks ...
Does Urban-Planning News Travel Slower in Miami?
We all learned in school about the Battle of New Orleans, the glorious American military victory in the War of 1812 that took place weeks after ...
Immigrants and the Suburban Influx
This fall, Parkview High School, in Lilburn, Georgia, was unable to field a ninth-grade football team. That is no tragedy; many schools have never even...
Statewide Zoning: a Pipe Dream?
Gregory Bialecki wants something for Massachusetts that no other state has: a comprehensive statewide zoning code. He thinks that's needed to break down the longstanding...
Evolution of a Mayor
Governing Correspondent Rob Gurwitt went to Los Angeles to get a feel for the politics and policies of its mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa. I talked with...
Recalling 22 years of assessing the ebb and flow of states and localities.
The Rise of the Megaregion
The idea of "megaregions" is getting a bit too much mega-hype.
The Return of the Two-Way Street
Why the double-yellow stripe is making a comeback in downtowns.