Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Creative Federalism and Urban Policy: Placing the City in the Great Society
by Clement, Bell Julian, Ph.D., The George Washington University, 2014, 632; 3637008
Abstract (Summary)

This is a study of the Johnson administration's 1966 Demonstration Cities and Metropolitan Development Act and of its implementation of the Model Cities program the statute created. The 1966 act was part of the administration's ongoing effort to create a governance infrastructure capable of delivering on Great Society promises. Relying on documents from the LBJ Presidential Library, on Department of Housing and Urban Development collections, and on legislative materials from the 89th and 90th Congresses, I argue that the Model Cities initiative should be interpreted and evaluated as an element in the transformation of the Federal system that occurred during the Johnson years.

Lyndon Johnson's domestic policy has commonly been measured against Great Society social goals. Here I instead consider that policy in the context of the Creative Federalism objectives the administration sought to achieve. Mid-century American urban policy was policy about the allocation of power within the Federal system. It dealt, centrally, with questions of the proper relationship among national, State, and local governments within the Federal system and of the responsibilities and limitations of national power within that system. The Model Cities Act was crafted by political actors in the executive and legislative branches of the Federal government whose first concern was to secure the effectiveness of their own policymaking ability.

The Great Society's sweeping rhetoric announced public goals of unprecedented scope. Under Johnson, the national government sought not merely to produce more housing or highways but to alter the very quality of urban life. Johnson's domestic program responded to an urban landscape in the throes of metropolitanization. Population shifts reflected the reorganization of economic power and altered the foundation of political power. Existing local government fiscal and administrative capacities were not equal to the challenges of the new order. Johnson's urban policy aimed to restructure American local government and reposition cities within the Federal system.

Johnson's effort was directed to consolidating national domestic policymaking power in the executive branch and, to the extent possible, in the Executive Office of the President itself. To that end, Johnson relied on presidential task forces rather than Federal agencies in developing his domestic agenda. Task Force efforts produced programs which had both the benefit and the burden of being detached from the regular bureaucratic order. Among these programs were the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, enabling statute of the Community Action Program, and the new framework for domestic administration created by the urban legislation of 1965 and 1966 – the Department of Housing and Urban Development Act of 1965, the Housing Act of 1965, and the 1966 Model Cities Act.

Conservative control of Congress from the late 1930s forward had stymied the agenda of modernizing, urban-oriented liberals who sought national investment in the public realm. A new liberal ascendancy had emerged with national electoral successes in the late 1950s and culminated with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. During 1966, the Model Cities bill became a litmus test of ideological and partisan loyalties and it was around these considerations that legislators' handling of the measure revolved. Conservatives accurately identified the bill's significant Federal system impacts and succeeded in trimming its intergovernmental reform ambitions. Democrats and Republicans argued over spending on the program with an eye to the 1966 mid-term elections.

The statute that Congress delivered back to the executive branch for implementation was in its essentials the statute that Johnson had asked for. It provided a framework through which, the administration hoped, it would be possible to coordinate a broad swath of domestic policy. The new opportunity was timely: Community Action Program operations had bogged down in controversy and administrative gridlock. HUD Secretary Robert Weaver's efforts to organize his new department as a policy instrument responsive to executive priorities had created a foundation for the Model Cities effort. Program implementation over the remaining two years of the Johnson administration involved the struggle between the Model Cities vision of a new governmental order articulated by HUD administrators and the reality of complex and contentious relations among Federal agencies.

Like interpretations of other Great Society initiatives, scholars' evaluations of Model Cities have focused on its impacts in Model Neighborhoods. Retrospective analyses by administrators who participated in Model Cities implementation suggest that Model Cities' value should be measured at the level of changes in administrative structure, as well as of program outputs in neighborhoods, and over a longer term. The significance of the Model Cities Act was that it announced national goals for American cities, created a policy forum which placed urban issues at the center of public debate on policy, and nurtured new citizen and public interest constituencies supportive of public realm investment.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Berkowitz, Edward D.
Commitee: Cottrol, Robert J., Klemek, Christopher, McKee, Guian A., Osman, Suleiman, Squires, Gregory D.
School: The George Washington University
Department: History
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 76/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, Law
Keywords: Federalism, Johnson administration, Liberalism, Model cities, Social sciences, Urban policy
Publication Number: 3637008
ISBN: 978-1-321-19346-6
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