Posts Tagged ‘urban policy analysis’

As I reflect on my time here at Milano, there are a few things that I think about. One is that I’m going to miss many of the people here after we go our different ways. I’ve met some brilliant, kind, passionate people here. Another thing is that the policy analysis framework is something that I anticipate will be useful far down the road.

But there’s another thought that I have, a thought that I didn’t expect to have when I came into the program. Certain policy issues and neighborhoods tend to be invisible at Milano. In other words, we just don’t see them.

I came to Milano because I have a burning desire to serve my community of Harlem in particular and urban black neighborhoods in general. I thought that at Milano, I would find a community of aspiring policy makers and scholars actively engaged in urban policy matters that directly impact urban communities of color. Sadly, this is not the case. This is not to say that Milano is completely devoid of any discussion of urban communities of color, but there is not the level of emphasis I would like to see in a program that is supposed to offer an alternative to Columbia’s SIPA and NYU’s Wagner. We only have a couple of courses that directly address issues of race, and both of them, to my knowledge, are taught by one professor – Darrick Hamilton. I think Leigh Graham’s classes may also address issues of race, but her Economic Development course wasn’t offered this semester and she’s off to another university next fall. Karen Merson has led the Making a Difference course, but my understanding is that the course is more of a general question-your-assumptions survey of oppression.

I think an urban policy program rooted in social justice should have greater emphasis on the plight and assets of urban communities of color and the potential policy options to improve the lives of people living in these communities.

Now, I should note that the Laboratory in Issue Analysis and Community Development Finance Lab has featured neighborhoods of color including Harlem, the South Bronx, and Brownsville. Political Economy of City definitely includes discussions of race and class but its only a piece. The course helps students understand how ghettoes came to be but doesn’t take the next step in examining possible policy solutions.

I think that a large reason why urban policy impacting communities of color is noticeably absent at Milano is because urban policy aimed at the improvement of communities of color is noticeably absent from government at all levels (notwithstanding Bloomberg’s Young Men’s Initiative). Ironically, we learn about neoliberalism and the devolution of government over the past 30 – 40 years, but we do not examine potential policy alternatives to compensate. Just because the Federal Government isn’t funding community action programs and community development corporations like it was in the 1960’s doesn’t mean that problems that gave rise to such programs have been solved. It seems that once the Empowerment Zones money ran out, once Boyz N the Hood became cliché, and once hip-hop became the best-selling music genre, the problems facing urban communities of color weren’t “sexy” policy issues anymore. At best, we look at pieces – urban education (charter schools vs. district schools), affordable housing, and food deserts. But what about the whole picture?

How can we send policy makers out into the world without ensuring that they have a full understanding of how urban policy has impacted urban communities of color? How can we do this and claim to be a social justice institution?  The Obama Administration was supposed to shine a new light on urban policy in America, but the President’s urban policy efforts seem to be going nowhere fast. As a heterodox and social justice-oriented institution and program, we should not be constrained by what’s hot right now. Of course there is the reality of offering programs and courses based on demand. I’m not challenging that, but what I am saying is that Milano should not just be driven by consumer demand, it should encourage students to engage issues that are overlooked in the popular policy discourse. Milano needs to have a greater emphasis on race, class, and what’s going on in communities of color across the city.

EDITED TO ADD: I also have to give a shout out to Robert Zdenek’s Community Development course. Unfortunately it’s not being offered next year. Supply and demand.


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I’ve been meaning to pen a post about how real in the field it is right now but…well…it’s real in the field! (For those who don’t get the hip-hop lexicon, I’m saying that things are very hectic right now)

I’m a TA for Trial Round of Policy Analysis and the groups presented this week. I’m so proud of both of my groups. They worked very hard and really dug into their issues. I’m blessed to be a TA and I’m grateful for this experience.

That being said, I have my own presentations and papers to get done. The clock is ticking on the final days of the semester and I’m not trying to take a knee or punt.

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Earlier this week my policy group and I officially completed the first round of lab.  It was definitely a tough haul but everything worked out in the end.  The process itself is very interesting: we spent several weeks going in one direction on the project, but then had to shift and go in another direction – two weeks before we had to present to the client.  With the deadline looming, we re-worked our entire analysis, even to the last minute.  After our briefing, we went to work on the analytic brief, adding information that didn’t make it to the briefing, filling in spots that the client requested, and clarifying key points.  Five people working on one document – not a party.  The whole thing was stressful, time consuming, and very irritating.  The result?  The client is very pleased.

Lab really is one of those experiences that helps you grow as a student, as a professional, and as a person.  Yes it’s stressful.  Yes it’s time consuming.  Yes it’s irritating.  But it’s good for the soul.  And I really do mean that.  Depending on the group you have, you can build very strong bonds with your group mates.  That 12-hour analysis session of yesterday will be the nostalgic joke of tomorrow that you all laugh about.  You learn to work with people.  You learn to compromise.  You learn when to lead and when to follow, when to speak up and when to shut up.  It’s tough, rough, and not fun by any recreation standards.  And it’s all worth it.

On Monday I’ll get a new group and a new policy issue.  And it will all begin again.

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Tis nearly December, so all of our final paper, project, and exam deadlines are coming up fast.  I’ve heard for a couple of years about the ramp-up to the end of term in Public Finance, which goes like this: in very rapid succession, we take our midterm, do a budget simulation project, and complete our final exam.  Let me put it this way: it’s a lot of work at the end of term rather than distributed throughout.  Just a heads up for possibly interested parties!

Tonight, I was geeking out over computing net present value.  My first-year self from the fall of 2008 would be staring incredulous at that statement.  I feel like a finance NINJA, people.

Tomorrow, I’m continuing The Search for My PDR Client.  This little matter, of finding an organization interested in hiring me as an unpaid consultant to complete a policy project on their behalf, is actually the first step towards completing my final project, or Professional Decision Report, which makes up a good part of my upcoming spring semester.  Once I’ve secured a client, I want to discuss that process, because for Urban students this is the other, capstone end of the trajectory which begins all the way back in policy analysis.  (Management students and GPIA students have their own equivalents; think “long paper/deliverable of publishable/client-based quality” and you have the idea).

Guess what this week’s Random Song/Film Quote references?

Have a happy, happy, happy, happy Hanukkah!


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The new school year is a upon us. The orientation manuals have been dusted off, financial aid has allowed our OCD to show through, rosters have been adjusted with additions and deletions, and we are ready to…just do it. This semester I’m taking my first official policy class (policy analysis) and OCM class (foundations of organizational change), both classes are stretching me both organizationally and intellectually.

I think my policy analysis course will challenge me to think more mainstream. As it stands I often find myself looking at issues from the non-dominate position. If  the majority is arguing for stronger public education choices then I feel compelled to argue for decentralized choices such as charter schools. However, if I am with those who are keen on charter school options, then I oscillate to the need for a strong centralized public school system. It’s not that I’m unsure of my position on the issue, but rather that I believe by taking the contrarian position it will allow the conversation to move closer to a policy prescriptive. The problem with this approach is that I have become jaded and there is less policy in the discussions. Hopefully, by the end of the class I will be able to regain a sense of appreciation for the ‘popular’ policy choices and will be able to add some semblance of balance to my policy diet.

One week down and we’ll see how it goes…..

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TWO MONTHS since my last post, internets.  TWO MONTHS.  I am not going to apologize for my dereliction of duty because a) let’s be honest, couldn’t we all tell where my next few posts were going to go (policy lab) and b) Tushar and Laura were such a breath of fresh air around here.  I mean, how many times can you say “I got up, I went to work, I went to school, I met with my group, I finally got home, I did more research, and I napped a couple of hours”??  It sounds unbelievable to me and that pretty well sums up my life from January through June.

Wait?! That’s now!  Yes, yes, it is, and as my full-time colleagues Tushar and Laura are off working for their summer, I am proceeding with other mostly-part time students into another course.  In my case: Economics for Management and Policy.  I asked friends for snack recommendations, as I am trying to avoid plying myself with even more rice pudding, and one vet of this course advised “chocolates filled with vodka”, which was just about the most encouraging pep talk you could ask for.  Spot on, too, because the logistical challenge of this course isn’t coordinating five people’s schedules and snagging meeting rooms (to say nothing of coming up with quality work that is actually useful to your client), it is concentrating intently for four hours one night weekly, plus another two hours on another evening, making notes on economic policy and how to find the slope of a line.

It is not a total shock that I actually find this quite interesting–while I pride myself on being an outside of the box thinker, the beauty of a class like this following policy lab is that it feels so eminently logical that I am finding much to engage me in marathon reading sessions.  Also, this will be over rather quickly, and so the one-month-until-completion of my first year countdown is ON, people.

A good thing, too, because one painful bit of evidence as to how exhausted I am can be found reading through my posts this year, and seeing writing errors and cliche usage that makes me very, very sad.  Case and point: “I am an outside of the box thinker!”

Right.  I am also a creative dresser who shops at the Gap.  What a weak way to make a point, and I am trying to eke out the homeworks and assignments left this term so that I can join my colleagues who have embarked on The Summer of Greatness.

Just as soon as I graph these curves…


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Well, internet, you may have heard there was some ruckus going on at the New School lately, and I can report this: most of us were honestly so crazed about Lab that after our question “OK, but CAN WE USE THE MEETING SPACE?” was answered, my compadres and I really didn’t have time to raise our heads from computers long enough to get a read on that situation.  I will just say that I am an advocate of nonviolent protest and am likewise concerned whenever I see what appears to be a very aggressive physical law enforcement response.   It is really not affect to say that the Lab people have been too busy to notice much else.

So I’ve been mighty quiet lately but that is owing to a few things.  First off, um, LAB.  Secondly, I’m really trying to take better care of myself during this round, so doing things like going to yoga, Carnegie Hall, Central Park, watching movies, reading poetry, and meditating amidst the sorry scene of my living room have somewhat taken precedence over writing.  Not to mention the fact that this time I’m in a new place which is this: I just don’t know what to say.  There.

Saturday, as on most days this term, I schlepped Bagzilla, my beloved (est.) 47-pound bag bearing my laptop, chargers, water bottle (which is always empty by the time I get to Milano after a day at the office), Advil, some notes, a deteriorating calendar, and assorted daily effluvia to campus and our group met.  Yadda yadda yadda, I realized I had to grapple with Excel to come up with some numbers for this project.

Now here is the thing.  I have NEVER claimed to be any sort of economist.  This isn’t owing so much to math anxiety as much as, well, more of an interest in and natural affinity for WORDS.  (Please, economists, don’t hate, congratulate, and we’ll all be just fine.)

So I spent Sunday trying to figure out how to generate numbers that were actually meaningful to our project, and then realized I was doing it wrong, and then saw my colleagues’ work, and sort of tweaked some things, but frankly?  I’m still not sure on this math. 

So what has been lovingly christened The Excel Spreadsheet of Doom is out there in google group land, and better numeric minds than mine shall hopefully make more sense of it.  In the meantime, I am trying to muster the strength physically, emotionally, and mentally to push through to the end of the term.  I’ve had some rather sad moments over all of this lately, even wondering what I could have to look forward to other than lab, and then someone reminded me, this ends SOON.

It is supposed to be gorgeous this weekend, so after a Friday of work and lab, spending a spectacular Saturday enjoying, somehow, some part of this weather is really eagerly anticipated.  Another?  I realized I should start trolling for a really amazing, cheap summer vacation destination so I have some great incentive.  So far, hanging out with the sea turtles and monkeys in the Costa Rica rainforest is sounding fabulous.  We’ll see.  Also?  FROGS!!!  (I love frogs.)


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