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Political Science
Emily Regan Wills

ImmigrantsBlacks and CitiesPresented at the Wiener Inequality and Social Policy Seminar SeriesMay 1 2000forthcoming in Yvette AlexAssensoh and Lawrence Hanks eds BlackPolitics in AmericaNew York University Press forthcoming 20001Over the last thirty years cities in the United States have undergone a series ofswift and dramatic changesNot the least of these has been that nativeborn whites havetended to leave the nations largest cities for the suburbs that AfricanAmericans havebecome part of the governing coalitions of a number of these cities and that there hasbeen concentrated largescale immigration to a number of these same citiesThe cast ofurban actors has become increasingly diverse and the dynamics of urban politicsincreasingly complexThis chapter explores the tension between institutional stabilityand democratic values by focusing on the adaptability of local particularly urbanpolitical institutions to the introduction of new political actorsHow have cities dealtwith rapid demographic changes which have taken place in a relatively short period oftime How have they responded as new actors have been introduced to the urban mixHow has the incorporation of new ethnic minorities been complicated by the presence ofolder minorities whose own incorporation remains in many ways incompleteWhatdoes cities response or its absence say about the possibilities for the politicalincorporation of new urban actorsI begin with the assumption following the arguments of the NewInstitutionalists that urban institutions like institutions more generally are basicallyconservativeOnce in place they are resistant to changeHowever the structure ofurban institutions varies systematically Basically local governments are eitherhorizontally or vertically organizedThis variation in the urban institutionalframework has important effects on how cities respond to new urban actors like blacksand immigrants and what channels that response will takeThis is particularly truewhen as was the case in the late 1980s intergovernmental transfers to cities were at alow point and cities themselves were experiencing severe budgetary crisesThe implications of this variance in urban institutions are evident in citiesresponse to interethnic disturbances in the 1980s and 90sTogether with structural2variables the economic context and demographics in each city institutions are criticalintermediary variables in interethnic conflict and in the renegotiation of politicalaccess representation and resources that takes place following ethnic conflictThischapter then will explore demographic and structural shifts underway affecting citiesthrough the lens of interethnic civil disturbances and the manner in which citiesrespond to these changesNew Institutionalism Over the last fifteen years there has been a resurgence of interest in the manner inwhich institutions structure political behaviorInstitutions are increasingly recognizedas laying out the rules of the game for players in the political arena guidelines whichset the parameters for allowable action constrain strategies and structure choicesMartin 1997 The basis of institutions influence lies in the fact that whether formal or1informal they are relatively stable routinized arrangementsInstitutions last beyondthe immediate deployment of power and interests which create themThe understandingis that institutions are not simply driven along the tides of power and interest but ratherhelp to shape bothPower and interests are themselves partly the result of institutionalvariables Pierson 1994 31 Once institutions are in place their very existence creates the conditions for theircontinued stability Pierson 1994 4245Given the sunk costs in a given institutionswitching to an alternative set of institutions is usually prohibitively costly in the shortrun even if other possibilities offer a better return in the longer runIn part this isbecause new institutions may have large startup costs and these costs are likely tooutweigh any inefficiencies of the prevailing institutions North 1990 92104 Arthur1989In addition institutions generate commitments and create interests which profit1 Pierson 1994 31 for other influential examples of the new institutionalism see Evans et al 1985March and Olsen 1989 and Skowronek 1982
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