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.

Alan Ehrenhalt
September 1, 2019

The Mayoral Balancing Act

Tension between downtowns and neighborhoods isn’t going to go away.
August 27, 2019

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.
August 5, 2019

The Democrats’ Biggest Problem for 2020 — and Beyond

By clustering in cities, even small ones, they have weakened their political impact.
July 15, 2019

The Fables of Gentrification

A lot of what we think we know about it turns out to be wrong.
June 20, 2019

It's Been a Rough Year for Mass Transit

With falling ridership and scrapped expansion projects, urban transit faces an uncertain future.
May 8, 2019

Does a City Need a Mayor?

Well-run governments must have clear lines of leadership. Just ask Pueblo, Colo.
April 11, 2019

'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.
March 26, 2019

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.
February 8, 2019

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.
January 17, 2019

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.
December 6, 2018

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.
November 13, 2018

When Citizen Engagement Becomes Too Much

Politicians say they want citizens to be involved. But it can make things harder to achieve.
October 11, 2018

How Cities Became the New Laboratories of Democracy

The ascent of cities is real, though things may not be as rosy as some suggest.
September 24, 2018

2 Southern Cities, 2 (Very) Different Approaches to Transit

When it comes to transportation planning, Atlanta and Nashville are both at a crossroads.
August 17, 2018

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.
July 6, 2018

Why Some Cities Want Graffiti

Instead of scrubbing spray-painted tags, many places are now encouraging murals and other colorful street art.
June 7, 2018

Is Government Corruption More Common, or Are We Just Better at Finding It?

Some of today's scandals would have gone unseen a couple decades ago.
May 1, 2018

Do Traffic Cameras Really Make Streets Safer?

They are despised by drivers and many lawmakers.
April 1, 2018

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.
March 7, 2018

States' High-Stakes Game of Chicken

States are hoping to bring their case over animal welfare and interstate commerce to the Supreme Court.
February 1, 2018

A City's Collision of Histories

Can Alabama’s capital honor both civil rights and the Confederacy? It thinks so.
January 12, 2018

Should Governments Measure People's Happiness?

Their citizens' sense of well-being may tell a lot about whether a community is thriving.
December 14, 2017

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.
November 28, 2017

What Do States Have Against Cities, Anyway?

Legislatures regularly interfere with local affairs. The reasons, according to research, will surprise you.
October 13, 2017

Why Neighborhood Nicknames Matter

They can have a big impact on economic fortunes and social cohesion, which explains the controversy that often surrounds them.
October 5, 2017

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.
September 12, 2017

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.
August 2, 2017

What Judges Don’t Understand About Transportation

There are no crystal balls, yet some judges expect planners and policymakers to predict the future anyway.
July 19, 2017

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.
June 19, 2017

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?
May 22, 2017

Is Syracuse Necessary?

Some want to save the fiscally challenged city in New York by effectively abolishing it.
April 19, 2017

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.
March 13, 2017

The Limits of Café Urbanism

Hip restaurants have helped revive cities. But is the boom fizzling out?
February 24, 2017

Shopping Inside Is Out

For centuries, commerce and fresh air went together. They’re starting to again.
January 5, 2017

What Does State Legislatures' Past Say About Their Future?

A look back at their evolution may offer some idea of what lies ahead.
December 19, 2016

Boulevard Dreams

Cities and states have very different ideas for fixing decrepit urban highways.
November 10, 2016

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.
October 6, 2016

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.
September 12, 2016

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.
August 17, 2016

Urban Planners’ New Enemy

Cities are increasingly viewing parking in a negative light and rethinking its place in metropolitan America.
July 6, 2016

The Reality of Living in Anytown, USA

Cities love to boast that they're special. It's not always true, but it can be a useful myth.
June 15, 2016

Why Affordable Housing Is Hard to Build

There are lots of ideas out there. None of them are working very well.
May 9, 2016

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.
April 1, 2016

The Shaky Edifice of Federal Power

As states act more like independent sovereigns, Washington has itself to blame.
March 23, 2016

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.
February 2, 2016

The Problem With the Second Phase of Gentrification

Unlike a generation ago, today’s urban renaissance often displaces people and businesses.
January 19, 2016

Urbanophobia: A Growing Threat to Public Transit in America

In the ideological war over urban planning, anti-transit conservatives are gaining funding and allies.
December 1, 2015

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.
November 1, 2015

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.
October 1, 2015

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.
September 1, 2015

The Panhandler Dilemma

When cities try to regulate them, they find themselves in a legal minefield.
August 7, 2015

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?
July 1, 2015

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.
June 1, 2015

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?
April 1, 2015

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.
March 1, 2015

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.
February 1, 2015

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.
February 1, 2015

Are Democrats Out of Touch with Suburbia?

Some say Democrats suffered big blows in November because they’ve become a party of urban elitists.
January 1, 2015

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.
December 1, 2014

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.
November 5, 2014

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.
October 31, 2014

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.
October 17, 2014

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.
September 1, 2014

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.
August 21, 2014

Goodbye Gayborhood?

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.
August 1, 2014

Court Case Could Challenge Houston's Hands-Off Approach

America's fourth-largest city has never had a zoning code.
July 1, 2014

Are Suburbs All They’re Cracked Up to Be?

As suburban poverty rises, cities aren’t as enthusiastic about annexing the suburbs anymore.
June 1, 2014

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.
May 1, 2014

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.
May 1, 2014

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?
April 1, 2014

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.
March 1, 2014

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.
February 1, 2014

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.
January 1, 2014

A Creative Comeback in the Big Easy

After years of stagnation following Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is building itself a new economy.
November 1, 2013

Meter Shock in Cincinnati

Privatizing parking meters was a disaster for Chicago. So why is Cincinnati doing it?
October 1, 2013

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.
September 1, 2013

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.
August 1, 2013

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.
May 29, 2013

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.
April 30, 2013

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 Inside Edge

Political success is never simple. But it seems the new governors who are making a mark are the ones who've paid their dues in state politics.
February 1, 2010

Taking Stock

Recalling 22 years of assessing the ebb and flow of states and localities.
January 1, 2010

The Rise of the Megaregion

The idea of "megaregions" is getting a bit too much mega-hype.
December 1, 2009

The Return of the Two-Way Street

Why the double-yellow stripe is making a comeback in downtowns.
November 30, 2009

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...
September 30, 2009

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...
September 16, 2009

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 ...
January 27, 2009

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 ...
August 23, 2007

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.
August 21, 2007

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.
July 1, 2007

The Veto Gambit

Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that 2006 may be something more than a routine veto year.

RIvals on The Right

What we're seeing is moderate Republicans being picked off by organized conservative opposition.
February 12, 2007

Paddy's Law

     Here's a interesting new law: In Illinois, from now on, if you change your name and then run for office within three ...
January 31, 2007

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...
January 4, 2007

Fenty and schools

        I guess I shouldn't be surprised when Adrian Fenty says his first priority as mayor of DC will be fixing ...

Defying Proverbial Wisdom

California governors have a penchant for reinventing themselves in an election year. And voters seem to admire the audacity of a chameleon.
November 17, 2006

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 ...

The Albany Triopoly

In New York, it's the governor, the Assembly speaker and the Senate president who decide all the state's crucial policy questions.
September 1, 2006

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.
August 24, 2006

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 ...
June 29, 2006

Supreme Teases

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 ...

The Bungalow Bind

Middle-aged suburbs with a disproportionate number of houses from the 1950s and '60s are in trouble.

The Unconstitutional Governor

Woodrow Wilson's term as governor of New Jersey had a major impact on the future of state government in America.
April 27, 2006

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 ...

The Grocery Gap

Supermarkets are slowly returning to the inner city. Some governments are clearing roadblocks to help build stores.
March 31, 2006

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 ...
March 23, 2006

Naming Wrongs

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 ...
March 1, 2006

Theory of Partisan Reality

The past decade has brought a marked increase in partisan unpleasantness in legislative bodies almost everywhere in the country.
February 1, 2006

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.
February 1, 2006

Rewriting the Formula

Does an unconventional coalition in Colorado offer a model for Democrats around the country?
January 29, 2006

Colorado Cooperation

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 ...
January 1, 2006

Uniquely Unicameral

Nebraska's single-house legislative body is unlike any that has existed in any state before or since.
December 15, 2005

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 ...

The Patronage Trap

Patronage and hiring violations are facts of life in almost all governments.
November 29, 2005

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 ...
November 1, 2005

The Return of The Grid

After centuries of abuse, gridded streets are finally getting some respect.
October 28, 2005

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 ...
October 24, 2005

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.&...
October 17, 2005

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 ...
October 17, 2005

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 ...
October 1, 2005

A New View of Sprawl

The conventional wisdom about suburbs and sprawl can change dramatically over time.
September 6, 2005

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 ...

Big Bucks to Buckle Up

Seat-Belt mandates are no panacea, no matter how much money is thrown at them.

Last Call for Taverns

Chicago's mayor is encouraging citizens to exercise control over seedy bars in their neighborhoods.

Fixing a Sagging Wage Floor

A surprising number of Republicans are joining with liberals to enact new state minimum wage laws.
June 28, 2005

One-Track Mind

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 ...
June 14, 2005

Hula Dance

   Going after NACO for convening in Hawaii may be a bit of a cheap shot, but it's one that local TV news will ...
June 1, 2005

Curbing Parking

Local zoning laws mandate parking spaces as if empty lots were a virtue.

Sacredness in the City

There are three basic elements to a superior urban experience, declares Author Joel Kotkin: economic power, personal security and sacredness.

Clockwork Blues

It can be a nuisance changing every clock in your house twice a year. But Daylight Savings Time is not a subject of public controversy-- except in Indiana.

States' Not-So-Dire Straits

This is a season of lamentation for believers in the American federal system, or at least for those who believe state governments ought to occupy a position of honor and respect within it. States and their advocates complain that they are being bullied and pushed around by every branch of government in Washington: preempted, mandated, zeroed out, lectured to and generally dissed.

Loyalty Everlasting

Decades ago, on a long car ride home from college, a friend of mine and I were talking about whether the liberal arts education we were getting had any practical use. He said he thought his might. He was majoring in medieval history, and in the event of a new Dark Age-- post-nuclear chaos or the aftermath of a huge natural catastrophe--he would know exactly what to do.
December 1, 2004

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.
November 1, 2004

Ballpark Dreaming

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.
November 1, 2004

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.
October 1, 2004

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.
July 1, 2004

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.
June 1, 2004

Optional Illusions

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.
May 1, 2004

Jurors' Prudence

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.
April 1, 2004

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.
April 1, 2004

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.
March 1, 2004

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."
January 1, 2004

Frankfurter's Curse

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."
December 1, 2003

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.
November 1, 2003

Machine Politics

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.
October 1, 2003

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.
September 1, 2003

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.
July 1, 2003

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.
June 1, 2003

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.
May 1, 2003

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."
April 1, 2003

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.
February 1, 2003

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.
February 1, 2003

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.
January 1, 2003

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.
December 1, 2002

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.
November 1, 2002

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."
October 1, 2002

Tragic Official of the Year

Every year, this magazine honors people who have accomplished impressive things in state or local government.
September 1, 2002

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.
August 1, 2002

The Deadly Dangers of Daily Life

Citizens and public officials alike aren't very good at evaluating risk and making intelligent decisions about it.
July 1, 2002

The Monkey or the Gorilla?

States are the level of government we go to because we don't expect the others to succeed.
June 1, 2002

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."
May 1, 2002

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.
April 1, 2002

'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.
March 1, 2002

The Teenage Highway Slowdown

It isn't the teenagers who are the main obstacle to safer licensing laws; it's their parents.
February 1, 2002

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.
January 1, 2002

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.
December 1, 2001

Hizzoner's Finest Hours

Since crises aren't predictable, we can only hope to have the right leader at the right moment.
November 1, 2001

Small-Town Prophets

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.
October 1, 2001

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.
September 1, 2001

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 metropolitan America.
August 1, 2001

Electoral Overload

Abolishing elected treasurers, auditors and commissioners would probably do more good than harm.
July 1, 2001

'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.
July 1, 2001

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 listen.
June 1, 2001

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.
May 1, 2001

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:
April 1, 2001

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."
March 1, 2001

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 supply side."
February 1, 2001

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.
January 1, 2001

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.
December 1, 2000

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.
November 1, 2000

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.
October 1, 2000

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.
August 1, 2000

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.
August 1, 2000

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.
July 1, 2000

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.
July 1, 2000

Political Pawns

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.
July 1, 2000

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.
June 1, 2000

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.
May 1, 2000

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.
April 1, 2000

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.
March 1, 2000

Memorial Disservice

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.
March 1, 2000

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.
February 1, 2000

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.
January 1, 2000

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.