Thursday, 30 March 2017

Home-ownership as a social norm and positional good: subjective well-being evidence from panel data

Watching TV the other night, the advert below came on. It reminded me of Craig Gurney’s (1999) paper on how the UK state (and society) has acted to normalise home-ownership in the UK through imbuing home-owners’ dwellings with warmth and security, associating home-ownership with a set of values that constitute a ‘good citizen’, and portraying home ownership as meeting a deep and natural desire for independent control. Almost two decades later, and despite declining rates of home-ownership, these discourses are still evident in the advert below: in the mother, happy at ‘being able to say “this is mine” as she paints her front door; and in the father, nodding proudly to his children, and to “their future”. One of the main purposes of our study was to quantitatively examine what this normalisation of home-ownership means for the subjective well-being of home-owners, and renters.

If home-ownership is a social norm, then being a home-owner will carry social status. Furthermore, the extent of this social status will depend on the strength of the home-ownership norm among one’s relevant others (which we defined as people of a similar age, education, and geographic region): if one’s friends/family attach a high value to home-ownership, then being a home-owner will bring more pride, self-esteem, praise or respect than if one’s relevant others were bohemian aesthetes who attach a low value to home-ownership. Using the British Household Panel Study (BHPS), we found that as relevant others’ home-ownership values strengthen over time, the subjective well-being (in terms of mental health and life satisfaction) of owners increases, while the subjective well-being of renters decreases. Similarly, the graph below shows that as the social norm of home-ownership strengthens among one’s relevant others, so the uplift in subjective well-being associated with becoming a home-owner – i.e. moving from renting (dark line) to owning (grey line) -  increases. All of the above suggests that home-ownership is a social norm, and that the normalisation process benefits owners at the expense of renters.

As well as ‘being/acting normal’, an individual’s social status is also likely to be affected by their relative wealth. Being able to purchase one’s own home requires a greater level of wealth than renting. Thus, becoming a home-owner signals an increase in relative wealth. However, as the proportion of the population who can access home-ownership increases, the relative wealth that home-ownership signals will decrease, and so will the social status that home-ownership carries. Consistent with this logic, we found that as home-ownership rates among one’s relevant others increase, the life satisfaction of existing home-owners decreases. Therefore, as well as being a social norm, our findings also suggest that home-ownership is a positional good’; a good whose subjective well-being (or ‘utility’) depends strongly on the consumption others.

In sum, our findings suggest that being a home-owner carries social status. This social status (as opposed to autonomy or security) may partly explain why some studies have found home-owners to have higher subjective well-being (e.g. Zumbro, 2014), ontological security (Saunders, 1990) and better educational outcomes (see Dietz and Haurin, 2003) than renters. It may also partly explain why home-ownership aspirations are so strong in the UK. Policymakers and researchers should explore (or at least account for) this social status pathway. Otherwise, they risk overlooking the possibility that some of the apparent benefits of home-ownership may in fact depend on the stigmatisation of others.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Vulgar Magnificence of Neoliberal Architecture

Dr John Crossan, University of Strathclyde, International Public Policy Institute (IPPI)

I recently returned from a few days’ holiday in the Spanish city of Valencia. I have visited the city many times. The restaurants and bars that lead off from the Plaza de Virgen, and the promenade that stretches the combined length of La Arenas, Malvarrosa and El Cabañal beaches, are some of my favourite haunts. The city’s Jardines Del Turia (The Turia Gardens) is where I spend most of my visits. The gardens run from West to East some nine kilometres on the former river bed of the Turia, whose course was altered in the late 1950s to prevent constant flooding. Jardines Del Turia boasts an itinerary of palm, pine and orange trees; fountains; playparks; floral labyrinths; numerous sports facilities, cafes, bars and public monuments. The real charm of the gardens cannot be found in a single location but in their use. The citizens of Valencia, the great and good, can be seen in significant numbers meandering along the contours of this beautiful public place.

This scene comes to an abrupt end towards the Eastern stretch of the gardens. The grounded, understated and at times quietly eccentric earthy urban commune of Jardines Del Turia is shattered by the vulgar magnificence of the Palau Des Arts Renia Sofia (Palace of Arts). Designed by the Valencian-born and internationally known architect Santiago Calatrava, the building, opened in 2005, rises 14 stories above ground and includes three stories below ground. The building’s height and metallic, expansive shell-like roof structure, 230 m in length, speaks a visual language that comes from a distant place somewhere between science fiction and the type of mega yachts owned by the super-rich. The aesthetic and spatial language of the complex could not be further removed from The Turia Gardens or from the city centre of Valencia more broadly. Look through the many online city marketing images of the building and you will notice that people are missing. I asked a few of my friends who have, like me visited the city on numerous occasions, if they had spent any time in or around the building. Like me, they had not. The Palau Des Arts Renia Sofia and its grounds do not invite human engagement. Critically, this is not a piece of architecture removed from the emotional landscape of Valencia’s communal urban charm. Rather, it disturbs that landscape by being plonked upon it.

Palau Des Arts Renia Sofia in Valencia falls under the category of neoliberal mega-project. These are large-scale architectural projects and city events such as the London Olympics or Glasgow Commonwealth Games. A recent paper in this journal by Amparo Tarazona Vento (2017) has a particular focus on Valencia’s mega-projects, including the Palace of Arts. In the paper, Vento shows how Valencia’s mega-projects, designed to generate economic activity and employment, have had an adverse effect, helping to propel regional government towards financial crisis. He writes:  

The most evident results of Valencia’s urban policy, besides the physical transformation, were social inequality, underinvestment in social services and fiscal crisis, in short, a net transfer of wealth from the public to the private sector through the built environment (Vento 2017: 80). 

Vento also highlights the depoliticizing effects of such projects. There is an artful deviance at play in the depoliticizing process. It is presented as a participatory exercise in democratically motivated city planning. The managerial expertise of the state partners the entrepreneurial skills of a private sector eager to fulfill its responsibilities as corporate citizens. This partnership is then extended to the broader citizenry, via public meetings, participatory design charrettes, and the obligatory interactive project website. “In practice” writes Vento “only a limited group of professionals and members of the elite – architects, planners, developers, financiers and business leaders” – make the decisions. Attempts to present a more critical challenge to these projects are often curtailed by restricting access to relevant information and data that is deemed too sensitive by the elite partners for public consumption (Swyngedouw et al 2002).

De-politicization becomes both cause and effect of a dual process of political and social exclusion. In the first instance, certain publics and their ideas are excluded from the planning process because they are deemed reactionary by ‘experts’ who tightly stage-manage the political process. In the second instance, certain publics are excluded by hard and soft forms of neoliberal discipline. By hard I am referring to the brute control of those publics that do not complement the sanitized mega-project aesthetic. By soft I am referring to more, subtle, but no less effective forms of discipline that work through a process of ideological saturation, whereby spatial symbols, prompts and cues of the dominant ideology are imposed upon the contours of a city.

John Allen (2006) refers to this soft form of discipline as ambient power. Ambient power is the affective component of a ‘decided finality’ that cannot accommodate difference because its diameters are always already set. The tight choreographies of the mega-project limit our ability to think these places could be anything other than what they have become. Resonating with Walter Benjamin’s remarks on the nineteenth century Parisian arcades, the ambient power of the mega-project works to suppress our critical awareness and, along with the political power that facilitates such projects, manufactures a depoliticized environment. Douglas Spencer, author of The Architecture of Neoliberalism, writes “the neoliberal eye does not apprehend, calculate or gauge”. Rather, it “surfs the field of vision, revelling in the sensuous freedoms offered up to it”. Those sensuous freedoms are the freedom to disregard context, to ignore the social life of the city, to be ruthless.

Architects have an important role to play in re-politicizing the city. The architecture that will help this process need not be conservative, but it should acknowledge and respect its surroundings. Crucially its focus must be on the human-scale.

References (without hyperlink):
Benjamin W (2002) The Arcades Project. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Spencer D (2016) The Architecture of Neoliberalism: How Contemporary Architecture Became an Instrument of Control and Compliance. London and New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Can bicycle and transit investment increase home values?

Wei Li, Texas A&M University, USA

Kenneth Joh, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, USA 

Efforts to coordinate bicycling and transit use have garnered attention among US planners in recent years.  The proliferation of bike sharing programs such as Washington DC’s Capital Bikeshare combined with ambitious investments in on-street bike lanes and bike paths reflect a coordinated effort to integrate bicycling with existing transit networks.  The marriage of bicycling and transit can help solve the first and last mile problem by improving access to transit stations, which could increase ridership for both modes.   

Among millennials and young professionals in particular, bicycle and transit friendly neighborhoods are especially attractive as they are more likely than others to give up their cars.  Their preference for “green” modes is reflected in the growing demand for housing in these neighborhoods, particularly in urban settings.  While the environmental and public health benefits of bicycling and transit have long been recognized by planners, the synergistic impact of bicycle-transit integration and property value premiums attributed to these impacts is not well understood.  

Our article addresses this gap by assessing the property value impact of neighborhood bikeability, transit accessibility, and their synergistic effect by analyzing 3,495 condominium and 12,149 single-family property sale transactions from January 2010 through November 2012 in Austin, Texas (USA).  Bike Score and Transit Score are used as indices to measure neighborhood bikeability and transit accessibility, respectively, and we assess the residents’ willingness to pay to live in bike/transit friendly neighborhoods, controlling for various sociodemographic and built environment factors.    

We first estimated the direct effects of bicycle and transit accessibility on property values independently.  Keeping all structural and neighborhood characteristics constant, a one percent increase in Bike Score increased condominium property values by 0.30 percent and single-family property values by 0.03 percent; a one percent increase in Transit Score increased property values of condos by 0.39 percent and 0.10 percent for single-family homes.  In sum, the independent effects of increasing bike and transit accessibility were small but significant.       

We then examined the synergistic effects of bicycling and transit on property values.  For the sake of simplicity, we report only the total effects translated into dollar values in this blog. 
On average, a one percent increase in bikeability translated into the following increases in property values in neighborhoods across varying levels of transit accessibility:

Poor transit access: $67.59 for condos, $173.28 for single-family;
Good transit access: $1,030.77 for condos, $1,000.92 for single-family;
Excellent transit access: $3,900.46 for condos, $2,054.23 for single-family. 

Similarly, on average, a one percent increase in transit accessibility raised individual condominium (or single-family) property values by $509.18 (or $88.86 for single-family) if minimal bike infrastructure is available, compared to $1,329.92 (or $2,080.32 for single-family) if the neighborhood bikeability level allows daily errands to be accomplished by biking.

Our results show that high-quality bicycle and transit investments have the potential to increase property values for both condominium and single-family housing markets. In neighborhoods with good transit service or better, investing in bicycle infrastructure would yield a much greater payoff in terms of property values of both housing types compared to neighborhoods that are not well-served by transit.  The effects would behoove policy makers to pursue the coordination of bicycle master plans with regional transit plans and consider strategies of spatially-joint bicycle and transit investment. Such plans and strategies are not only for economic benefits in terms of property values and tax revenues which could be used to make further improvements to bicycle and transit systems, but also to promote increased public health, transportation options, and social equity.

Landscapes of Local Business, Microclimates of Reinvestment

By Jennifer Minner

Churn and change along commercial strips: Spatial analysis of patterns in remodelling activity and landscapes of local business 

Figure 1. Photo of South Congress Avenue, in Austin, Texas by Todd Dwyer (cc) on Flickr.

Small, independent businesses are integral to the cultural landscapes and spirit of entrepreneurialism that are integral to the identity of Austin, Texas. A mix of restaurant, retail, and leisure businesses creates destinations along ordinary commercial strips within the capital city of Texas. Commercial strips, which are long linear stretches of commercial development oriented to the road, have long been a ubiquitous part of the North American landscape. Commercial strips offer goods and services, opportunities for social interaction and public life, and opportunities for entrepreneurialism.

I was first drawn to neon lit leisure zones in Austin while studying for a PhD in community and regional planning. My dissertation Landscapes of Thrift and Choreographies of Change: Reinvestment and Adaptation along Austin’s Commercial Strips focused on the rapid change along commercial strips during a continuing construction boom as well as an economic recession that barely stalled redevelopment activity. I was fascinated by the way that ordinary, existing commercial buildings were modified in creative ways to attract tourists and residents. Gas stations were being converted into bars with outdoor seating (figures 2A-C). Auto repair shops became new restaurants. It seemed that new microclimates of small business were emerging along Austin’s commercial strips. I also noted longstanding businesses that I dubbed ‘landmarks of thrift,’ which retained a sense of history through informal acts of preservation.

Figure 2A. Sinclair Service Station on South Lamar. Image ND-55-395-01, Austin History Center,
Austin Public Library.

Figure 2B. Former Sinclair Service Station stripped for conversion to bar. Photo by Jennifer Minner.

Figure C. Former Sinclair Service Station as the Corner Bar in 2011. Photo by Jennifer Minner.
Variety in the types of businesses, neighborhoods, and urban forms along Austin's commercial strips and the pace of change along them, made for an ideal laboratory to study commercial landscapes, and the dynamic interactions between urban planning, real estate and development, and small business development. While my dissertation used mostly qualitative methods to understand the role of a multitude of actors -- merchants, developers, property owners, public officials, artists and neighborhood residents -- who were shaping the commercial strip. 

I wanted to develop spatial analysis methods to probe deeper into patterns of change. I began collaborating with Xiao Shi, then a dual master’s student in City and Regional Planning and Landscape Architecture at Cornell University. She had never been to Austin, but she soon became fascinated by it through our conversations, Google Streetview, building permits, and GIS data. We began to devise new ways to both qualitative and quantitatively measure the relationship between landscapes of local business and redevelopment along Austin’s commercial strips. 

In the article “Churn and change along commercial strips: Spatial analysis of patterns in remodeling activity and landscapes of local business,” we outline both the spatial analysis methods we employed and a new way to categorize investments in the landscapes of local business. We found some evidence to support the hypothesis that new zones of restaurant, retail, and leisure oriented businesses created a new sense of place that attracts additional investment. The methods we share are intended to advance conversations about how commercial strips change over time. 

Figure 3. A new upscale upholstery shop next to auto insurance business. Photos depicts businesses that market to different customers along N. Lamar Boulevard in Austin, Texas. Photo by Jennifer Minner

This research focused on the relationship between small urban remodels and larger scale redevelopment. An important question that remains unanswered in this research: What are means to ensure that the unique sense of place and a diverse commercial ecology within which longstanding and new merchants can thrive in the long term. Does the unique sense of places created through landscapes of local business necessarily lead to chain stores and luxury boutiques and the loss of Austin’s treasured, everyday small businesses? While new, higher density, mixed use development is in many ways desirable, equally as important is the question of how to maintain landscapes of local business in the face of economic pressures such as rising rents, and threats of gentrification and displacement. 

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Local Regeneration in the UK, Work-Based Learning and the Green Global Golden Age

Geography plays an important role is shaping people’s access to work. For example, the mean distance between low-skilled workers’ homes and low-skilled job opportunities is often high. Labour geographers and economists call this spatial mismatch and it has been widely documented in both North American and European contexts (Kain 1968; McLafferty and Preston 1996, Korsu and Wenglenski 2009). There are several reasons for spatial mismatch. In many modern cities low-skilled workers are concentrated in areas furthest from the main employment centres. This is one of the downsides to the planning logic of the scheme, estate, banlieue and project. Poor public transport links and limited access to private vehicles exacerbate this problem (Green et al 2004, Korsu and Wenglenski 2009). Moreover, Kasarda and Ting (1996) have argued that spatial mismatch may compound skills mismatch as people with limited education compete for the low-skilled jobs within their neighbourhoods. This situation could become more critical with technological advances in automation that will render the human labour needed in many contemporary low-skilled jobs obsolete. Spatial mismatch raises a complex set of societal problems as it disables significant numbers of workers from fully engaging in the labour market.

For the most part the spatial mismatch thesis concentrates on issues of ‘real’ Euclidean space: the problem being one of distances between locations – i.e. home and work – and limited access to public and financial services that would allow under-serviced people to defeat this ‘tyranny of distance’. However, this Euclidean perspective, although useful as a means of mapping labour market behaviour, does not tell the full story.  Green et al (2004) following on from the work of Peck (1996) and Morrison (2005) remind us that labour markets are institutional and social constructs “shaped by lived traditions within localities” (Green et al 2004: 302). As such, labour market experiences differ greatly between various sub-groups within the working population. This leads us to think in terms of social and cultural mismatches in the labour market. Van Ham et al (2000) argue that during a lifetime, people build up place-specific social capital such as contacts with family and friends upon which they rely for support. Many people are, unsurprisingly, averse to moving too far from these support hubs. Gender, race and religion also play into an unwillingness by people to search for work in locations deemed too far from their social-cultural support hubs. For example, research shows that men and woman differ in their commuting tolerance, with women more likely to be time constrained due to domestic responsibilities and therefore less likely to tolerate longer commuting times (Gordon et al 1989, Johnston-Anumonwo 1992). Wrench and Qureshi (1996)* have highlighted restricted job-search geographies for black and minority ethnic groups worried about being subjected to racial discrimination. Work by Green et al (2004) concentrates on young job-seekers in Belfast who speak about the risks of working in or moving through an area of the ‘opposite community’.

There are other obvious and less provocative reasons for many people being unwilling to expand their job-search horizons too far beyond their neighbourhoods. We invest a lot of emotion in the place we call home. We know its streets, its back alleys, its courts. We have spent significant amounts of time pondering over the sorry state of the children’s swing park or marvelling at the straight lines of Mr Kelly’s lawn. The local pub puts on really good quiz nights and Sandra from the local café makes a rare lentil soup. We should not make light of these emotional investments in place. Environmental quality, local facilities and social connections are important indicators of well-being and, alongside access to secure and suitable work, rank high in well-being indicator frameworks used by Oxfam and the OECD for example.

A sad irony of spatial mismatch is that within those neighbourhoods where large concentrations of low-skilled workers reside there is often much work to be done. This might include improving the environmental quality of public spaces, building new or retrofitting old public buildings such as libraries and community centres as well as residential properties. It will also certainly involve a significant amount of social care expertise as these communities, like others across the UK, become markedly older in the coming years.  

I recently watched a short film about the Newbiggen Hall Estate in Newcastle. The film is part of Jeremy Corbyn’s social media campaign strategy. Putting aside my personal views on Corbyn and the Labour Party (sympathetic but unconvinced) there was much within this short film that speaks directly to the sad irony of spatial mismatch in the UK labour market. The narrator, a local woman called Fiona Ranson, speaks about her life growing up on the estate. With an emphasis on the local library and education more broadly, she tells us that the estate was a “vibrant” place where local people made full use of the library and other public services. Nowadays the estate looks, in large part, semi-derelict and the library is no more. With an implicit connection made between locality, education and jobs, Fiona then begins to speak of the need for “a vocational education system that is second to none. That has parity with the academic stream”, which is “well-funded” and “challenging”.

There is growing international support, at both policy and academic levels, for significant change in approaches taken to education and skills development. For example, a recent white paper by the World Economic Forum criticises ‘static’ education systems as largely inadequate for addressing profound shifts in the global labour market being brought about by technological advances in information and operation technologies. In similar vein, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) in the UK echoes calls to meet the skills challenges of technological change, and highlights the equally daunting task of addressing the impact of demographic change on the future labour market, where substantial gaps in skills and experience will begin to emerge as increasing numbers of people retire from the workforce. A key point of consensus within this literature is the need for more Work-Based Learning (WBL) opportunities for citizens at all stages of their learning/working journey.

WBL has also come under some strong criticism. Forward (2008: 7) argues it consigns, in particular, “young workers to a narrow and instrumental training and working life”. Avis (2014), sees some forms of WBL as retrospective in nature, tied to and normalising the inequalities inherent in the capitalist system of production and as such weighted to the self-serving wants of many employers. More progressive approaches to WBL exist however, and these are gaining traction in contemporary literatures on skills development and education more broadly. In these more progressive models, learner experiences of the workplace are central. Here WBL becomes a more bespoke programme of learning, which in its design, implementation and assessment takes into account prior learning and place-specific experiential learning. In these more integrated models the development of the learner/worker over the long term is understood as beneficial to the labour market.

Another key point of consensus in this literature is the need for a multi-stakeholder approach to the development of WBL models that brings together employers, unions and others in pursuit of a fit, fair and productive skills strategy. Key to the potential achievement of a functioning multi-stakeholder approach in the UK have been reforms within the skills system aimed at creating a more regional approach, by linking schools and colleges with employers, regional development agencies and other regional bodies. Given the above discussion on spatial mismatch in the labour market, this regional turn is a welcome one. However, policy-makers in this area must now go further, by giving greater priority to locales hit hardest by underemployment and then creating in these areas more local training opportunities that meet the high educational standards promoted by protagonists of progressive WBL models.

One potentially promising avenue for local skills training is in the green economy. Evolutionary economist Carlotta Perez (2016: 201) writes “green growth should be seen as a ‘mission-orientated’ pathway to promote a major switch in production patterns and lifestyles, creating new sources of employment and well-being”.  I have already mentioned retrofitting existing public and residential buildings to make them energy efficient as one example of potential work in the green economy. There is also a need to build new high quality, affordable, green housing. Another area of possible job creation is urban agriculture, in the form of commercial city farms and market gardens. These green ideas have been with us for some time but, like Perez (ibid: 202), I do think we are now witnessing a cultural shift in consumer demand away from “standardised mass consumption to one that is custom-tailored and sustainable”. This cultural shift is being pushed along by technological change in ICT, which is enabling organisational innovation across the production spectrum. One result of this shift is an emerging spatial clustering of interdependent users and producers. This is particularly exciting when we consider the locality of, at present, service and job deprived housing estates, which are ideally positioned to accommodate the growing number of SME’s required to fuel a green urban economy. And many of the residents are ready to be (re)skilled so that we all might benefit from the opportunities offered by a “Green Global Golden Age” (ibid).        

*WRENCH, J. and QURESHI, T. (1996) Higher horizons: a qualitative study of young men of Bangladeshi origin. Department for Education and Employment Research Series 30. London: Stationery Office.

Dr John Crossan
University of Strathclyde

Monday, 14 November 2016

Public Support for Hosting the Olympic Summer Games in Germany: The CVM Approach

Pamela Wicker, German Sport University Cologne, Germany

John C. Whitehead, Appalachian State University, USA

Daniel S. Mason, University of Alberta, Canada

Bruce K. Johnson, Centre College, USA

Many scholars have asked whether Olympic Games hosts get an economic boost, and virtually all of them conclude with a resounding “No!” The new jobs and tax revenues touted by Olympic boosters invariably overstate the actual economic impact. Perhaps that’s why the people of Boston, Munich, and Hamburg have refused to bid for future Olympics in recent years. But on the days when London and Rio de Janeiro learned they would host the Summer Games, Trafalgar Square and Copacabana Beach erupted in massive celebratory parties. How can we square the different reactions in Boston, Munich, and Hamburg with those in London and Rio?

Maybe it’s because new jobs and tax revenues are not the only benefits of hosting the Olympic Games. Maybe intangible benefits, such as hometown pride and national prestige, make people feel better off even if it’s costly.

Our article attempts to answer the question by estimating the value of intangible benefits Germans would expect to enjoy if they hosted the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. In a nation-wide internet survey in late 2013 and early 2014, we asked Germans to imagine they would vote in a hypothetical referendum to raise their own taxes to finance hosting the Olympics in Germany. We asked them how likely they would be willing to vote in favor of higher taxes at seven different tax amounts from €10 to €250. We also asked a series of questions about the intangible benefits, if any, they would enjoy from hosting the Olympics.

This type of survey, borrowed from environmental economics, is known as the Contingent Valuation Method (CVM). It allows us to estimate the monetary value of intangible goods, for which no markets exist. But instead of asking about clean water or scenic vistas, we asked about the national prestige from hosting the Olympics.

In the weighted sample, 26 percent said they were willing to vote in favor of an average of €51 in higher taxes. But willingness to pay varied widely across regions. Around Cologne, Olympic supporters were willing to pay an average of €100, whereas those in Lower Saxony would only pay about €31. The wide variance in regional willingness to pay may prove useful in planning future referenda on hosting the Games. Overall aggregate willingness to pay exceeded €46 billion, far higher than the likely cost of hosting the 2024 Hamburg Olympics. 

Willingness to pay hinged upon several factors. People who regularly play sports, are happy and proud to see German athletes win, and who believe Germany’s reputation is enhanced by German sporting successes are more likely to support higher taxes. But it wasn’t all about sports. Respondents who believed referendums are an appropriate mechanism for such decisions, who think the government can effectively achieve its sports policy goals, and who think these survey results can influence government policy are also more likely to support higher taxes to host the Olympics.

If all this sounds enticing, read our article in Urban Studies. For CVM geeks, we have another reason you might be interested in the article. This paper shows that CVM doesn’t have to revolve around a one-shot dichotomous choice referendum valuation question. It turns out that is the least efficient incentive-compatible valuation question. Our article shows an example of a more efficient method, combining the referendum with a payment card and a five-point Likert scale. 

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Civic Education

John Crossan - University of Strathclyde

I have unhappy memories of trying to make “civics” interesting and exciting in a secondary modern school in southeast London in the late 1960s. The boys did what was asked of them, but they were often bored and frustrated. It seems to me that this subject was seen by politicians and head teachers as being in the elementary-school tradition of imbuing working-class youngsters with an appropriate respect for authority and a clear sense of where they fitted into the social hierarchy. (Chitty, 2010: 376).  

Clyde Chitty’s memories of civic education in 1960s England speak to the constructive interpretation of political education theory. For Geraint Parry (1999: 25), constructive civic education is designed to “redirect the goals and activities of future subjects or citizens towards what are perceived to be national priorities”. This approach teaches politics at a distance, emphasizing a descriptive analysis of existing mainstream political technologies “with the implicit acceptance that everything in the political system is as it should be” (Harber, 1984: 118). Teaching politics at a distance reinforces cultural norms that serve to sustain the status quo. It facilitates the myth of a homogenized citizenry whose multiple contestations are reduced to the claims of ‘the people’. More fundamentally, in terms of producing a citizen who is capable of being governed, this educational model entrenches the idea that most of us are intellectually incapable of operating effectively in the formal political arena (see Schumpeter, 1942) – populated as it is by society’s intellectual elites!    

These days, semblances of civic education are often taught via a variety of ‘multidisciplinary’ and collaborative projects involving schools, civic groups and commercial enterprises. For example, there is Tesco’s ‘From Farm to Fork’ programme. Partnering up with Scout groups, youth clubs and schools, the programme is designed to “help our children have a healthier, happier relationship with food” ( by uncritically situating the contested position of Tesco and other supermarket giants in the UK food industry and culture. Chitty (2010: 374) calls this form of co-opting of education by capitalist interests “subtle indoctrination” and argues that, due to the prevalence of such practices, “education for political awareness is absolutely vital” (ibid).

However, there also exist other more radical collaborative civic education projects that aim to facilitate the production of an active, democratic citizenship; projects that make explicit the links between the formal learning systems associated with the curriculums of primary, higher and further education, and the informal learning experiences that take place in everyday life. Gandin and Apple (2002) argue that such projects are constructing new epistemological understandings about what counts as legitimate knowledge, using the example of ‘Citizen Schools’ in the Brazilian municipality of Porto Alegre to exemplify their case. 

Citizen Schools construct curricula in line with the interests and concerns of host communities, where the production of a formal educational programme is a collaborative endeavour involving teachers and learners, professionals and non-professionals. It is inextricably connected to community and place, although as Gandin and Apple make clear, anchoring the learning experience in the local by no means precludes the study of social content at other scales or from other locations. On the contrary, echoing Massey’s (1991) formative notion of ‘global sense of place’, where place “is extroverted [and] includes a consciousness of its links with the wider world”, course content invites students to repeatedly reinterpret their experiences of their environment in the light of the global flows – cultural, political and economic – that converge on and, in part, produce that environment. 

The Civic Schools of Porte Alegre are linked to larger dynamics of social transformation, encompassed in the participatory budgeting practices of the municipal government. Participatory budgeting aims to reconfigure the relationship between the state and the citizenry in the formation of municipal policy . Cabannes (2004: 45) contends that reaching the level of empowerment required to ensure the success and permanency of participatory budgeting “implies a clear prioritization of civic and popular awareness and education”. In other words, Civic Schools are about educating for active democratic citizenship.   

The Civic Schools of Porte Alegre constitute a pedagogical process that is socially rooted, participatory and outward looking. They make explicit the interconnections between education, society and politics and in doing so open the learner up to a colourful world of democratic practice that goes well beyond the typically unidirectional, top-down impositions of dominant political systems. The aim of this type of education is to embed within the process of citizenship formation constant reinterpretation of experience, and thereby stimulate conscious social reproduction (Gutmann 1987). This is the ideal of democratic politics.


Cabannes, Y (2004) Participatory budgeting: a significant contribution to participatory democracy, Environment and Urbanization, 16, 1, 27-46

Chitty C (2010) Educating for Political Activity, Educational Review, 64, 2, 371-377

Franklin, A., Ho, A., & Ebdon, C (2009). Participatory Budgeting in Midwestern States: Democratic Connection or Citizen Disconnection? Public Budgeting & Finance, 29, 3, 52-73

Gandin L., & Apple M (2002) Thin versus Thick Democracy in Education: Porto Alegre and alternatives to neoliberalism, International Studies in the Sociology of Education, 12, 2, 99-116

Gutmann, A. (1987) Democratic Education, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press

Harber, C (1984) Politics and Political Education in 1984, Educational Review, 36, 2, 113-120

Massey, D (1991) A Global Sense of Place, Marxism Today, June, 24-29

Parry, G (1999) Constructive and Reconstructive Political Education, Oxford Review of Education, 25, 1-2, 23-38

Schumpeter, J (1942) Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, New York: Harper and Brothers

Sintomer, Y., Herzberg, C., & Röcke, A (2008) Participatory Budgeting in Europe: Potentials and Challenges, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 32, 1, 164–178

[1] See Sintomer et al 2008, and Franklin et al 2009 for broader discussions on participatory budgeting experiments across the globe.