Consensus and compromise: An analysis of the National Urban Policy development process

Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich, University of Pennsylvania


This is a detailed study of the year-long policy making process which created the first--and so far, only--codified National Urban Policy. Presented by President Jimmy Carter in March, 1978, the Policy was called "A Partnership to Conserve America's Communities." Actions of Carter, HUD Secretary Harris, other Cabinet members and professionals leading the process are analyzed, based upon the personal knowledge of the author, who was the Policy process' Executive Director, and upon original archives which she assembled. The study focuses upon the dynamics of transactions among Federal bureaucrats, public officials, private citizens, urban advocates and scholars, which characterized the Policy's development. Records document how these transactions ultimately led to the ten urban policies--a series of amended choices--which President Carter announced. The process itself, rather than the substantive policies, is analyzed in the context of Braybrooke and Lindblom's theory of Disjointed Incrementalism. The retrospective analysis examines the role of political stakes, vested institutional interests and individual values in this Policy development process. The President's ultimate decisions, on both policies and Policy title, were guided by complex conflicts and compromises, negotiations and trade-offs, and finally, by his technical as well as political concerns. Carter's policy planning mechanism often was paralyzed by power struggles over HEW's welfare reform, HUD's assisted housing and community development programs, Commerce's planned economic development expansion, Treasury's Urban Bank, and a reassessed Federal obligation to large and small cities. Issues of urban poverty, unemployment and disinvestment contended with, and were neutralized by, concerns for managed growth and sun-belt needs. The analysis examines influences of earlier, unintentional urban policies: some, crafted by specialists who were Federal insiders; others, designed by expert private foundation outsiders. Although URPG's task forces explored bold and exciting innovations, the final policies were fairly predictable, mainly representing changes around the edges of status quo ante remedies. Interest group transformation of the problem of urban distress, White House reluctance to commit new funds, and an Administration under increased criticism, guaranteed that the National Urban Policy would please few, including a peripatetic press. Carter's failed re-election bid in 1979 aborted that era of urban policy-making.

Subject Area

American studies|Urban planning|Area planning & development|Public administration|American history

Recommended Citation

Scruggs-Leftwich, Yvonne, "Consensus and compromise: An analysis of the National Urban Policy development process" (1995). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9532274.