Master of International Affairs   Master of Public Policy  

Urban bureaucracy and policy in the age of political turbulence

The city is an increasingly relevant – and contested – venue for policymaking. Key policy issues, such as housing, mobility, social inclusion, migration and crime are played out in the urban context. Pressing problems – such as rent overload, gentrification, homelessness, pollution and access to public services and transportation – cluster in urban areas. In the past, urban and local policymaking were considered apolitical jobs for ‘urban mechanics’ fixing things. Societal change, political polarisation and identity politics have increased the level of contestation and conflict. Digitalisation and the rise of platform businesses – such as Airbnb, Uber and many delivery services – have contributed to these changes. New actors and activists populate urban politics in response to such developments. In mobility policy, for example, pro-bike advocates are pitched against car users. With local bureaucracy being caught in the middle of such conflicts, it has to deal with adversaries in urban policy conflicts and, at times, it becomes a (partisan) actor itself. Local bureaucracies work under challenging conditions: Limited resources, diverse populations and the combining of front line and policy work with direct exposure to politics. How do bureaucracies respond and adapt to these challenges? How do capacities and expertise develop under such conditions and what kind of innovations are proliferated in the “age of turbulence”?

In this course, we explore how new politics shape (urban) bureaucracy and policy in the fields of housing, transport and policing. We will explore how urban bureaucracies adapt to changing political, societal and economic conditions. The course brings you to the “coalface” of policy implementation, where policy (and power) hits the street. You will engage in small-scale field research that explores the responses of urban bureaucracies to new types of challenges in terms of enforcement, service delivery and planning (i.e. classic functions of local bureaucracies). The course encourages field work on cities in any world region to allow for a comparative perspective.

This course is for 2nd year MIA and MPP students only.


  • Kai Wegrich , Dean of Faculty and Research and Professor of Public Administration and Public Policy