Urban Policy vs. Municipal Policy

… a core concept in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100

Concept description

The distinction between urban policy and municipal policy is sometimes made when considering the constitutional limitations on central governments.

Although there does not exist a settled definition of either term, urban policy is generally considered a more expansive and comprehensive than municipal policy.

In Section 92 (8) of the Constitution of Canada, the authority to make laws relating to “Municipal Institutions in the Province” is placed under the exclusive jurisdiction of provincial legislatures. In Canada, therefore, the term municipal policy is usually used to refer to provincial laws and regulations that govern municipal institutions, or to the bylaws and regulations made by those institutions. See Local Government and Provincial Controls over Local Government.

The term urban policy is used more expansively and is less related to legislative jurisdictions. The term can be used to describe a multidisciplinary an academic field, as illustrated in the following course descriptions.

Toronto MPP, PPG2017 Urban Policy – The goal of this course is to unravel the various policy challenges and possibilities created by our increasingly urban world. Cities are fundamental features of contemporary civilization. More and more, issues of good governance, citizenship, economic growth, social equity, and environmental sustainability are being confronted by municipalities and city regions, not states. This course provides an overview of some of the major policy debates surrounding this new urban reality.

NYU Wagner, PhD in Public Administration, Urban Policy PhD – This field prepares students to undertake research related to urban areas. Fundamentally, cities are about proximity and heterogeneity, which bring both benefits and costs. Bringing large numbers of diverse people together in small spaces means opportunities for exciting and productive interaction on the one hand, but also greater possibilities for conflict, contagion, and congestion on the other. Students in this field will gain a solid understanding of these benefits and costs and how they are related. … The field is divided into two main parts. The first – cities and urban government – provides a foundation in urban growth and development, government, and public finance. … The second part focuses on specific policy areas. We include a broad array of issues, such as racial segregation, infrastructure, transportation, high housing costs, homelessness, crime, health problems, education, economic development, and poverty. The areas are tied together by their focus on the spatial aspects of these problems and the policies directed at them. … Mastery of these areas requires some knowledge of contributions from a variety of disciplines, including political science, economics, and sociology.

Advocates for stronger roles for the central governments, or for better coordination among governments to address issues in cities draw on urban policy arguments. See, for example, Multilevel Governance in Cities and Project-based vs. Program-based Federal Involvement in Urban Affairs.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Municipal Governance (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.


University websites http://publicpolicy.utoronto.ca/ppg2017h-topics-in-public-policy-urban-policy/ and https://wagner.nyu.edu/education/degrees/doctorate-public-administration/fields/urban#, accessed 21 May 2018.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 21 May 2018.

Image: Johns Hopkins University HUB, at https://hub.jhu.edu/2017/01/25/21st-century-cities-grants-event/, accessed 21 May 2018.