Over the past few years I have been the faculty lead in developing a number of written and multi-media teaching cases and simulations with the Kennedy School’s Case Program. These reflect my interest in the question of how the design and reform of political institutions, particularly at the local level, can empower citizens, especially citizens and communities traditionally marginalized from policy-making process.

Megaprojects & The Role of the Public: Germany’s Embattled ‘Stuttgart 21’ Rail Project

In February 2010, Germany's national railway broke ground on a multi-billion dollar railway redevelopment project in Stuttgart that had been under negotiation for more than 20 years. Yet within the year, the project would spark the largest citizen demonstrations Germany had seen since the reunification of the country. The Stuttgart 21 opponents were diverse, and so were their concerns, but nearly all were united by one overriding contention: that political elites had conceived the plan without public input and had later refused to take citizen objections seriously. The case provides basic background and context for this controversy, then describes four kinds of public participation that took place in the course of developing the project, allowing students to identify and compare the salient features of each, then to assess their relative effectiveness at different stages of the process and from different points of view.

Caño Martín Peña: Land Ownership and Politics Collide in Puerto Rico

This case offers rich material for thinking about the most appropriate scale and means for addressing a range of complex socio-economic and environmental urban challenges, such as community empowerment, affordable housing, urban planning, gentrification and water pollution. Pundits and politicians across the globe overwhelmingly view the everyday operation of the private market, coupled with some degree of local and state action, as offering the best way forward in tackling these thorny, complex issues. The Caño Martín Peña community land trust provides students with an opportunity to critically assess an alternative solution -- namely, collectivizing land ownership at the small scale of a neighborhood and rebalancing decision-making power away from city and state authorities as well as private developers to the communities that make the neighborhood their home. Using this case, students can analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the CLT model and consider how effective and sustainable it might be in different contexts.

Detroit’s Troubled Waters: Race, Politics, Bankruptcy, and Regionalism

This decision-forcing case (which includes a video supplement) places students in Detroit during the city’s financial crisis and bankruptcy, events that set the stage for the controversial 2013-2014 negotiation to create a regional water system in greater Detroit. Set after an initial round of negotiations has collapsed, and a second effort is about to begin, the case challenges students to step into the shoes of the negotiating team, including the City of Detroit, three suburban counties, and the state of Michigan.

The Rise and Fall of an American City: Race and Politics in Detroit, 1910-2013

This video/multimedia case can be used to discuss key issues in the evolution of many American cities, such as white flight, institutional racism and deindustrialization. The video can also be used to inform a class discussion about the historical factors that led to Detroit’s crisis and influenced the controversial decision to suspend local government in order to restore financial stability to the city.

Choosing the Road Less Traveled: How Cycling Took Hold in Copenhagen

In the first two decades of the 21st century, Copenhagen has vaulted to international attention for its enthusiastic bicycle culture and infrastructure. While it’s tempting to dismiss this accomplishment as inherently easy because it took place in a city and country known for socially liberal politics, this case—by summarizing the history of cycling politics and policy in Copenhagen since the 1970s—shows that the evolution of Copenhagen as a bike city was neither quick nor easy, and that the city wrestled (and continues to wrestle) with many of the same conflicts that have hampered efforts to promote biking in other cities around the world. In so doing, the case invites a more nuanced analysis and discussion of the actual keys to Copenhagen’s success.

Power-Sharing and Political Reform in Northern Ireland: A Simulation

Many societies across the world are characterized by deep social divisions, rooted in religion, race, ethnicity, and class. These deep divisions are both produced and reproduced in important ways by the structure and design of political institutions. Democracy in and of itself provides no guarantee that these deep divisions will be well-managed; depending on the form that they take, democratic institutions may perpetuate and even worsen deep social divisions. With this in mind, the central question that students grapple with in this simulation is the following: what kinds of democratic political institutions are appropriate in deeply-divided societies?

LaToya Cantrell, Mayor of New Orleans: A Political ‘Outsider’ Takes Charge of City Hall

This multimedia case blends 13 short videos (Mayor Cantrell, colleagues, and experts in New Orleans politics), a text narrative, and assorted images to tell the story of LaToya Cantrell, the first woman elected mayor of New Orleans. A native of Los Angeles, Cantrell was also the first “outsider” in several decades to win the top elected post in a city known for its entrenched political families and machine politics. The case begins with Cantrell’s reflections on her upbringing in Los Angeles and Alabama, then tells of her early rise as a citizen-activist fighting for the survival of her Broadmoor neighborhood after the devastating floods of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The case describes her election to the New Orleans City Council in 2012 and her unconventional approach to her new role as district councilmember. It then details her hard-won election as Mayor in 2017 and describes, in her first year in office, her bold, high-stakes move to address (and link) the ticking time-bomb of New Orleans’ crumbling water infrastructure and the fact that three quarters of New Orleans’ hotel tax revenue bypassed city coffers, destined instead for state and private entities designed to promote the tourism industry. The case ends with a question: as of April 2019, Cantrell has a few impressive wins under her belt, a collection of devoted friends and supporters, and some bitter political foes. By stopping at this juncture, the case allows students to assess the course of Cantrell’s political career midstream, and to consider what course she might chart, going forward.