Expert Commentary

Research-based sources for covering and analyzing city and municipal government

2013 list of key websites, institutions and journals that can help deepen policy knowledge and reporting about urban affairs.

Council chambers, Mansfield, Texas (

In fall 2013, multiple high-profile mayoral races around the United States — including New York City, Minneapolis, Houston, Boston and Cincinnati — spotlighted pressing issues common to many urban areas, raising the level of debate on topics such as economic development, transportation, crime, gentrification, rising inequality and education.

New civic leaders and those reelected now face the task of governing and achieving many of their promises and ambitions. While some of the problems they face have persisted for decades, new research — frequently informed by richer data and enhanced technology — is helping to better understand the dynamics and make more effective solutions possible. For policy observers and the media, there is a wealth of emerging information that can help interpret urban policies and compare them against other efforts around the country. But which knowledge sources should reporters and analysts be paying attention to?

The Urban Institute’s Metro Trends site and the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program are a good place to start. Both have rich, data-driven reports and tools. The Data-Smart City Solutions project, run by the Ash Center at the Harvard Kennedy School, is looking at how technology can help cities function and perform better.

Other important outlets that focus on research are the Atlantic Cities website, which spotlights emerging trends and innovations, as well as Living Cities, Governing, Next City and City Mayors. Journalist’s Resource’s database curates recent academic scholarship on city-related topics such as sustainability and health, crime and education. The article “Economic and Social Change in U.S. Cities” provides a roundup of recent research on emerging patterns.

Recent key research papers include: “Regenerating America’s Legacy Cities,” a report for the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy by Alan Mallach and Lavea Brachman; and “The Two Faces of American Urban Policy,” by Paul Kantor of Fordham University. The 2013 National Bureau of Economic Research paper “Clusters of Entrepreneurship and Innovation,” by Aaron Chatterji, Edward L. Glaeser and William R. Kerr, examines the evidence behind economic development policies that attempt to foster the proverbial “next Silicon Valley.” Further, see here for the latest thinking about innovative crime prevention strategies and “hot spots” policing. For comparative perspective on budgeting issues, check out the Lincoln Institute’s new Fiscally Standardized Cities (FiSC) database.

Ten of the major academic research journals that focus on the area of municipal governance — including those with the top reputational scores — are listed below. Journalists and those interested in deeper policy concerns might sign up for email alerts as new papers appear and email authors for access to papers (or consult academic libraries):

For those interested in a global perspective, the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research publishes a wide range of research. Examples from the November 2013 issue include studies on economic structuring in India and the fate of shrinking cities in the former East Germany.

Keywords: governance, crime, urbanism