Public policy

Urban Studies 221 – Making Public Policy Spring 2021

Professor Martin D. Hanlon                                                     


A major writing requirement of this course is a 10-12 page research paper on a public policy topic. It is intended to develop your capacity for doing independent research in public policy analysis, improve your analytic skills, and strengthen your knowledge and expertise within a specific policy area.

A sound policy analysis begins with a clear statement of a problem or issue. It is important to choose a topic that is of real interest to you. It should be well-defined and limited in scope. If you can describe your chosen topic in terms of a clear, succinct question, you are well on your way. For example, “teen pregnancy,” “welfare reform” and “global warming” are not term paper topics. Rather, they are broad subject areas. A suitable term paper question might be: What types of counseling programs have been most effective in reducing teen pregnancy?” Another: Which states have developed employment readiness programs that have been successful in helping people on welfare find and hold meaningful jobs and what are the common elements of these programs?” Most good policy papers share common elements. These include an important and clearly stated research question; a focused review of the relevant literature; a discussion and evaluation of policy alternatives; and your own views about “what works” and why.  The CQ Researcher, Issues for Debate in American Public Policy, and the Rushefsky textbook  provide a great deal of useful material on public policy research.

Here are some possible research topics. There is, of course, a vast range of suitable topics and you are encouraged to come up with one of your own.

            * What strategies have been shown to be most effective in increasing child support                             payments from absent fathers to children living in poverty?

            * Many low income communities in cities across the United States have developed urban                  farming programs in which residents grow, consume and market healthy produce.                          What are the health and economic consequences of these programs?

* Has New York City’s lead poisoning abatement program been effective in reducing            the incidence of childhood lead poisoning in the city’s low income neighborhoods?            What should be done to make the program more effective?

            * Bike sharing programs are spreading rapidly in cities across the United States. Which                      cities have developed the most successful programs?

* To help alleviate the severe shortage of affordable housing in New York City and to              help deal with the New York City Housing Authority’s budget problems, the de      Blasio administration plans to build a mixture of market rate and affordable housing on land leased from the Housing Authority. Assess the benefits and limitations of the NYC     plan.

* Should the elevated Gowanus Expressway be replaced by a tunnel? Would the benefits       to the Brooklyn neighborhoods along the route of the Gowanus justify the cost of a            tunnel project?

            * Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone has received extraordinary praise for its                        programs for educating poor children and breaking the cycle of family poverty in                           Harlem. The HCZ model has been adopted in several other cities in the United                                States. To what extent have these programs achieved HCZ’s level of success?

            * What are the advantages and limitations of carbon trading schemes as a solution to the                      problem of global warming?

            * What are the costs and benefits of gentrification for low income residents of gentrifying                     neighborhoods? What are the most effective strategies for limiting the displacement                       of low-income residents in gentrifying neighborhoods?

            * The role of East Brooklyn Congregations (EBC) and other predominantly African                             American church organizations in housing development and community renewal in                        New York City: What common strategies underlie their success?         

The policy paper should include a literature review. Since the public policy literature is vast, it’s important to focus on literature that is directly related to your topic.

Timetable for the Development of the Term Paper

22 March                     Email me a brief description of your research topic. Include, if you

can, a short bibliography. Include your name and preferred email address on the topic statement. I will return your paper topic, with comments, by the 26 March class.

            14 April                       Due date of progress report on your research

         12, 17 May                     In-class discussion of your term paper findings

                        20 May (Thursday)       Due date of your term paper

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