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Department of Politics

367. Urban Politics & Policy

May 2012

Dr. Craig W. Allin, Instructor
Paul Waelchli, Consulting Librarian
Shawn Doyle & Laura Farmer, Writing Consultants
Jessica Johanningmeier, Quantitative Consultant


MAY 1, 2012

The following Supplements to this Course Description can be found on the Web:

Calendar & Assignments Internet Research Links

Accommodating Disabilities

Rules & Regulations Documenting Sources Intellectual Integrity
Grades Index to Paper Comments Good Advice


Feedback: Whether or not you are asked to complete a standardized course evaluation, I am interested in your comments and suggestions for improving the course, the readings, the assignments and this course description. Feel free to send comments as you think of them. E-mail:

Instructor: Craig W. Allin, Room 307, South Hall. Telephone: Office, (895-) 4278; Mobile: (319) 431-1100. If I do not answer the phone, leave me a message or send e-mail to

Office Hours: If I'm not in class with you, you can probably find me in my office. Feel free to make an appointment or just show up. To help you find me,the most current version of my schedule is available for your electronic inspection over the campus network if you are using Microsoft Outlook [not Outlook Express / not Outlook Web Access].

  1. On the File menu, point to Open, and then click Other User's Folder.
  2. In the Open Other User's Folder box, click Name and select Craig Allin from the list.
  3. In the Folder box, select Calendar from the pull-down menu.

E-Mail Attachments: Please deliver your papers by means of e-mail attachments. Please save your papers and other submissions in Word® (*.doc or *.docx). If you cannot save to Word®, please save to Rich Text (*.rtf) format. Make sure your file does not exceed the 10MB limit for the Cornell e-mail server. Attach your file to an e-mail addressed to For more detailed information about e-mail attachments, click here.

Internet Resources: The Home Page for the Politics Department contains a wealth of valuable information including programs and requirements of the Department of Politics; information about Politics Courses; and research links for politics, government, and law.

Core Text: The following book is available for purchase at the Cornell College Bookstore. It will be assigned in its entirety.

Dennis R. Judd & Todd Swanstrom
City Politics: the Political Economy of Urban America, 8th ed.
New York: Longman, 2012.
ISBN: 978-0-205-03246-4

Supplementary Texts: The following books are also available for purchase in the bookstore. The class will be divided into panels, and each panel will be responsible for reporting on one book. Do not purchase any of these books until you have your panel assignment. If you click on the book cover, you will be taken to the Barnes & Noble web site where you can read more about each choice.

Panel #1:

Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, & Jeff Speck.
Suburban Nation:
The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream
New York: North Point Press, 2010.
ISBN: 978-0865477506

Innovative city planners condemn the results of urban planning.

[Environmental Studies majors should choose this book.]
Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream
More than Just Race by William Julius Wilson: Book Cover

Panel #2:

William Julius Wilson.
More than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City
New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2010.
ISBN: 9780393337631

"A preeminent sociologist of race explains a groundbreaking new framework for understanding racial inequality, challenging both conservative and liberal dogma."

[Ethnic Studies majors should choose Shapiro or Wilson.]

Hidden Cost of Being African American by Thomas M. Shapiro: Book Cover

Panel #3:

Thomas M. Shapiro.
The Hidden Cost of Being African American: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality
New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
ISBN: 978-0195181388

Argues racial inequality is perpetuated by the intergenerational transfer
of wealth.

[Ethnic Studies majors should choose Shapiro or Wilson.]


  1. Attendance, Preparation & Participation: Students are expected to attend all classes and to complete all assignments prior to class time on the day for which they are assigned. You should read carefully and be prepared to discuss all the assignments intelligently. You should also be on the look out for relevant news. One portion of the course grade will reflect the instructor's evaluation of your attendance, participation, and effort.
  2. Mini-Reports on Independent Reading: On one day you will be responsible for a ten-minute presentation to the class. Reporting dates will be assigned the first day of class. The description of this assignment and advice as to how to proceed appear in a separate section below.
  3. Panel Reports: Each student will participate in a panel report during the second or third week of the course. See "GROUP STUDY & REPORT," for details. The performance of your group will count for a portion of the course grade.
  4. Examination: There will be a comprehensive final examination covering all the course's assigned reading and the panel reports.
  5. Policy Paper & Seminar Report: Each student will complete a major research project on an approved topic. See "Individual Project Assignment," for details. [Extra Credit Opportunity: In celebration of Cornell's subscription to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, individual projects that make use of ICPSR data will receive a grade boost--ranging from 5 percent for any use to 20 percent for sophisticated use--on the initial submission.]


Independent Reading Report


Panel Report


Final Examination


Policy Paper


Seminar Report


Policy Paper Rewrite


Classroom Contribution & Fudge Factor





As is the custom in many graduate seminars, you have reading and reporting responsibilities that go beyond the assigned texts. The Course Calendar & Assignments lists discussion topics for each day of the class beginning on Day #2 and concluding on Day #7. When the responsibility has been assigned to you, you are obligated to locate, read, analyze, and share one article in a scholarly journal that is relevant to the day's discussion topic. For a refresher course on identifying scholarly sources, consult A Guide to Accessing Scholarly Resources: Locating Information for Politics-Related Assignments. Each selection must be within the scope of the assigned reading to which it is linked.

Your grade for this portion of the course will depend upon both what you contribute to the seminar discussion and what you submit in writing. For your presentation I encourage you to prepare a few PowerPoint slides if you feel they can help you communicate key information. The required elements are as follows:

  1. Provide the basic bibliographical information on your source (1 minute).
  2. Summarize the hypothesis, research methods, and conclusions or other major points (4 to 6 minutes).
  3. Explain how your selection supports, contradicts, amplifies, illustrates or illuminates themes from the corresponding assigned reading (4 to 6 minutes).
  4. Share the fundamental (take-home) lessons you learned from the selection you read in the context of the assigned reading (1 minute).
  5. Answer questions from the other participants in the seminar (open-ended).

Your written assignment is a formal abstract of the selection you read. Please deliver your abstract to every member of the class by e-mail attachment at least 3 hours prior to the class during which you will report. Your abstract should begin with the complete bibliographical entry using one of the approved manuals of style and conclude with an accurate synopsis of the selection in 500 to 900 words. Note: Your abstract synopsizes only the contents of your selection. It does not include the analyses that are part of your oral report. Please consult How to Write an Abstract for guidance and a model written assignment.

It is my hope that this form of assignment will have at least five benefits:

  1. the opportunity to learn from fellow students,
  2. the opportunity to refine your information retrieval skills,
  3. the opportunity to select from among a wide range of appropriate reading,
  4. the opportunity to read primary research in political science and public policy, and
  5. the opportunity to enhance your analytical and presentation skills.

Here are some hints to get you started:

  1. Read the linked chapter carefully before you select an independent reading. You want to select an independent reading that will effectively supplement or complement the chapter to which it is linked.
  2. Make use of the citations in the chapter to which your independent reading report is linked.
  3. Make use of the on-line indexes available through Cole Library (Ebsco, FirstSearch, Lexis-Nexis, etc.) Note: A lot of specialties meet or overlap in the realm of urban politics and policy. Depending on what you are looking for, you might want to search economics, sociology, environmental studies, engineering, race and gender studies, history, etc. as well as the typical politics and law.
  4. Other things being equal, recent scholarship is preferable. However, our core text contains numerous references to specific historical examples. Clearly scholarship that illustrates or explores those historical examples would be very appropriate for this class, and some of that scholarship might not be recent.

Policy Paper & Presentation

"He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that."
--John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859)

Learning Objectives:

  1. To enhance your knowledge of a specific area of urban policy.
  2. To enhance the class's knowledge of a specific area of urban policy by means of your report.
  3. To improve your knowledge of research methods and materials including government documents and specialized indexes.
  4. To improve your skills in persuasive writing including grammar, punctuation, spelling, mechanics, usage, and documentation using a recognized style sheet.
  5. To improve your writing through your responses to constructive criticism.
  6. To improve your confidence and skill as a public speaker.

Assignment: Your job is to write a policy paper of 2,500 to 4,000 words in length exclusive of abstract, illustrations, notes, bibliography, appendices, etc. Your paper must deal with a significant urban policy question about which you have not previously written a college level paper and which is, or ought to be, on the agenda of American politics at the national, state, or local level. If in doubt, consult.

This is a complex and difficult assignment, and I would like each of you to do it well. To that end, I have broken the assignment down into pieces and provided explicit instructions about how you can maximize your success. Please read all the information that follows, and do your best to master this task one step at a time. I have tried to answer the most obvious questions here in writing, but obviously I have not answered all the possible questions. Please feel free to ask me for help along the way.

Public Policy & Policy Papers: A "policy" is regular practice or a clear course of action. (E.g., it is the policy of Cornell College to issue grades once a month.) A "public policy" is any policy adopted by a government. (E.g., it is the policy of the United States to earmark gasoline taxes for the highway trust fund.) A "policy paper" is a concise document that recommends a public policy and argues for the adoption of that policy. Your policy paper--and the seminar report, which will be produced from the same materials--will be developed through five stages. The deadlines for each stage are listed on the Course Calendar and Assignments page.

Stage I -- PUBLIC POLICY RESEARCH QUESTION & BIBLIOGRAPHY: Send an e-mail attachment to Craig Allin stating your public policy research question and providing a properly documented working bibliography for that question.

  • Stating your public policy research question requires that you identify an area susceptible to a public policy proposal and formulate a question that -- once answered by research -- becomes a policy proposal. 
  • A good research question will be specific, conceptually simple, and address the appropriate decision maker.  Answering a good research question "yes" or "no" will produce a coherent public policy proposal.
  • Bad Example: "Should federal transportation policy should be changed?"
    • It fails to specify the law or laws to be researched.
    • It lacks conceptual simplicity because it embraces many possible laws and many possible changes.
    • It lacks any reference to the appropriate decision maker.
    • Answering this question yes or no fails to generate a coherent public policy proposal.
    • For all these reasons, this question leads to unfocused and ineffective research.
  • Good Example: "Should Congress amend the Intermodal Surface Transportation Act so as to increase investment of 'road use' taxes in urban light rail projects?"
    • Specificity is guaranteed by reference to a specific statute and to "road use taxes" and "urban light rail," terms that have clearly understood meanings.
    • Conceptual simplicity is guaranteed by the intersection of the two terms highlighted above. The question is one of changing spending priorities from the current policy of mostly highways to a policy that would give serious attention to one specific form of mass transportation. 
    • It addresses the appropriate decision maker. [Note: Since this is a public policy paper, the decision maker will always be some individual or group that exercises governmental power. Since urban politics and policy is an amalgam of governmental decison making at the national, state, and local level, your policy proposal can be addressed to decision makers at any level of government.]
    • Answering this question yes or no generates a coherent public policy proposal.
    • For all these reasons, this question leads to focused and effective research. Answering this question would require close investigation of the case for and against urban light rail.
  • Your bibliography will continue to evolve throughout your research and writing, but the working bibliography you submit at this time should demonstrate that you have located and have access to information sufficient to complete your project successfully. In most cases your working bibliography should include some mix of scholarly books, articles in scholarly journals, and primary sources such as statutes and agency reports. If the sources you can locate are primarily secondary and non-scholarly, i.e., journalistic, seek help in finding better sources or choose a new topic.
  • You should choose one of the approved style sheets and label your working bibliography to indicate which one you have chosen.
  • This assignment is not graded, but failure to complete it in a timely fashion will negatively affect your class participation grade.
  • For another look at how to begin, consult the self-guided PowerPoint presentation, Getting Started on Your Policy Paper.

Stage II -- PROPOSAL & CONTENTIONS: Send an e-mail attachment to Craig Allin stating your public policy proposal and setting forth an outline of the contentions you intend to make for it.

  • Your public policy proposal is the paper's thesis.
  • Stating your policy proposal answers your research question. If your research question were, "Should Congress amend the Intermodal Surface Transportation Act so as to increase investment of 'road use' taxes in urban light rail projects?" your policy proposal would logically be, "Congress should [or should not] amend the Intermodal Surface Transportation Act so as to increase investment of 'road use' taxes in urban light rail projects." It follows that articulating your policy proposal will require you to have done most of your research. Your policy recommendation must be within the legal power of and directed toward some officer, agency or institution of government at the federal, state or local level.
  • The outline of contentions previews your paper's anticipated structure.
  • This is the point at which trouble most often arises, so before you submit your policy recommendation and contentions, examine them carefully using the criteria set forth in Getting from Research Question & Bibliography to Policy Proposal & Contentions.
  • Before you organize your contentions into an outline, consult A Good Argument Is a Hierarchy of Contentions.
  • This assignment is not graded, but failure to complete it in a timely fashion will negatively affect your class participation grade.

"There are three rules for writing. . . . Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."
--W. Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965)

Stage III -- POLICY PAPER: Send an e-mail attachment to Craig Allin presenting your recommendation and supporting arguments in a formal paper with appropriate manuscript format, proper citations, etc. Remember, you are being asked to take a position and make a case for it. A good policy paper consists of a clear policy recommendation supported by strong arguments supported by unimpeachable evidence. A good policy paper will be:

  • Persuasive: You must state a conclusion and back that conclusion with reasoned argument. Your mission is to persuade the reader, and the better the argument, the higher the probability of success.
  • Well Researched: Your arguments must be firmly rooted in careful research. You must have a command of the relevant facts. You must understand your own position, the positions of those with whom you disagree, and the relationship of the facts to each.
  • Concise: A good policy papers is not always brief, but it must be concise. That means no padding and no B.S. The typical audience for a policy paper is a judge, a corporate executive, or a high government official. If your policy paper does not get to the point quickly and move the argument forward relentlessly, you are unlikely to get and hold the attention of your target audience. If you want to persuade a busy person, do not waste her time.
  • Hierarchically Organized: It will organize the arguments to be made into the strongest possible hierarchy of contentions. Refer again to A Good Argument Is a Hierarchy of Contentions.
  • Appropriately Documented: Documentation is important for both ethical and practical reasons. Ethically, documentation gives credit where credit is due. Practically, documentation enhances the credibility of your work by demonstrating its reliance on and relationship with credible sources of information. I expect you to use one of the approved styles of documentation and to follow it with care throughout your paper.
  • Well Written: I will be looking for clear organization of the ideas and arguments; effective use of paragraphs, and subheadings if you like, to orient the reader; good transitions from one part of the text to the next; a conclusion that is both substantive and relevant; and sound grammar, punctuation, spelling and usage.
  • Professionally Presented: I will also be looking for a paper that has all its component parts appropriately formatted, in proper order, and in the form of a single e-mail attachment.

Consult POLICY PAPERS: How to Succeed for more detailed instructions.

For samples of real policy papers written by real Cornell students that earned "A" grades, please click here and here.

Stage IV -- POLICY PRESENTATION: Your research and recommendation will also be shared with the class in the form of a seminar report of 15 to 20 minutes.

  • You will not have sufficient time to read your paper, nor would it be appropriate to do so. You will want to rework your material, including text and illustrations (if any), for the most effective possible oral presentation. Effective oral presentation depends on your knowing your material well.
  • Presentation from notes is preferred to reading from a text, but reading from a text is better than rambling and confusion.
  • Visual aids often support, clarify, or add interest to oral presentations, and we have the luxury of a classroom equipped for digital projection.
  • Clarity of organization is even more important in oral presentation than in prose. A listener can't go back and rehear what you just said the way a reader can go back and reread what you wrote. It's simple-minded and formulaic, but it's often wise to preview your presentation ("tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em") at the beginning and to review your presentation ("tell 'em what you told 'em") at the end.
  • Oral presentations don't have formal notes or bibliographies, but it is still wise to communicate sources of specialized information to the listener. E.g., "A 1997 study by University of Michigan law professor Melissa James concluded that. . . ."
  • Your instructor and selected classmates will provide you with critiques of your oral presentation.

Stage V -- REWRITE: After receiving a written critique of your policy paper, you will rewrite and resubmit the paper as an e-mail attachment to Craig Allin making as many improvements in substance and presentation as you can manage.

  • The rewrite should be better than the original paper. After all, you will have had the benefit of expert editorial advice.
  • As a practical matter, a conscientious effort to address the technical problems that have been identified in your paper will preserve your grade. More substantive improvements will enhance your grade.


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