Friday 20 February 2009

Area-based interventions: do they work?

Right now I'm working on a new paper, all about area-based urban policy interventions. This follows on from work in my PhD and, specifically, looks at whether the different geographically-targeted policies in operation in cities across the developed world are actually working. Although I've more recently blogged on more technical things, such as flow mapping, the field of urban policy and evaluation is my main area of interest.

One thing to mention first: terminology. In the United Kingdom, we tend to talk about area-based
initiatives, whereas in other places people use different terms (such as 'strategic, geographic targeting').

No matter what we call it, the subject matter is policy targeted towards specific places rather than on specific people. This has been popular in the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere since the mid to late 1960s in its current form, though it has taken many different shapes. There are so many papers and books on the topic that it can sometime be hard to know
where to start...

Right now, I'm interested in finding out more about wh
y the approach has remained popular for 30-40 years despite the lack of success that has been had. I'm not saying there have been no successes - far from it. What I am saying is that the results seem at odds with the level of investment of time, money and effort. This appears to be the case whether you look at the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, France, New Zealand, Australia, or many other nations.

Successes in urban policy interventions are typically modest, and stand in contrast to the political rhetoric and optimistic enthusiasm which they are often founded upon.
So, what to do about this? Keep trying with the same methods? This seems a bit foolhardy. Try something new? If so, what? There are no easy solutions but it seems that the area-based approach to policy intervention is a bit of a puzzle. Like an old friend that you are still friends with but can't exactly remember why.

Before coming up with any great new ideas, I'm working on a framework for understanding 'urban problems', looking at why contemporary approaches have remained popular and then trying to think about what other approaches might be possible. I don't expect to find any radical new solution, but it seems that the time is right for a re-examination of the current situation...