Urban Policy Essay

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Urban policy is best understood as the cluster of policies that are aimed at influencing the development of cities and the lives of those living in cities, although this can only be the starting point in exploring its meaning. It is not possible to generate any clear cut or simple definition that makes it easy to determine what makes urban policy ”urban” or even the nature of the ”urban” on which it is targeted. Much social and public policy (for example in education, housing or policing) affects urban areas directly, but is only sometimes given the label ”urban.” And the ”urban” areas on which it is targeted have also varied widely (from neighbourhoods to localities; from inner cities to suburbs; from communities to city regions).

The nature of the urban problem on which any explicit urban policy is focused has also changed dramatically at different times and in different places: from slums and poverty to poor infrastructure and crowding; from failing housing markets to gentrification; from dysfunctional to sustainable communities; from economic decline to criminality and threat; from failing schools to broken windows; from racial tensions to property development. In recent years British urban policy has oscillated between regeneration and renaissance; neighbourhood renewal and sustainable communities. In the USA the urban agenda has come to be associated with the demands and needs of black urban populations.

Meanwhile, a global urban policy has emerged which emphasizes the economic importance of cities and their residents as drivers of economic growth, and sometimes even creativity. Within this framework, instead of being problems, entrepreneurial and competitive cities become the basis on which prosperity and well-being may be constructed. From this perspective, the global slums and those who live in them are seen as sources of enterprise, not pools of failure.

It is these ambiguities and inconsistencies that give urban policy its importance. As well as reflecting contemporary understandings of the role of cities in economic and social development, it also helps to create those understandings in practice.


  • Cochrane, A. (2006) Understanding Urban Policy: A Critical Approach. Blackwell, Oxford.

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