Metropolitan Policy Center Research

Part of MPC's mission is to facilitate interdisciplinary collaborative metropolitan and urban research among the faculty at American University. We accomplish this by providing competitive seed grants. In our first year, MPC focused its collaborative research grants on Washington, DC and the surrounding region. In year two, we expanded the emphasis to research at the local, national, and international levels. Below are descriptions of the ongoing faculty research projects supported by MPC.

Ongoing Research

Early Care and EducationEarly Care and Education and Children's School Readiness: Do Impacts Vary by Neighborhood Poverty?
by Dr. Taryn W. Morrissey and Katie Vinopal 
An empirical study of how neighborhood's social and institutional resources may affect children's achievement or moderate the influences of other developmental contexts, such as early care and education

Integration ProtestThe Fragmented Evolution of Racial Integration since the Civil Rights Movement
by Dr. Michael D. M. Bader and Dr. Siri Warkentien 
This paper explores the causes behind the growing number of integrated neighborhoods and the still-high levels of racial segregation in most U.S. metropolitan areas 

Gentrification and Racial RepresentationGentrification and Racial Representation: A Comparative Analysis
by J. Rosie Tighe, James Wright, Robert Renner, and Derek Hyra


Baltimore ProjectsGhetto Walls Go Up and Then Come Down but Nothing Changes:
Exploring the Old and New Urban Renewal Periods in Baltimore

by Derek Hyra
Paper presented at the Ninth Biennial Urban History Association Conference in Columbia, South Carolina on October 19, 2018 (version November 1, 2018)

DC Area Survey

The DC Area Survey, led by Faculty Fellow Michael Bader, centered on understanding racially and ethnically diverse communities in DC and its surrounding counties. The 2016 survey of 1,200 households concentrated on attachment to place, health, safety, trust in local organizations, and governance, with a focus on two relatively new types of neighborhoods: Latino neighborhoods and "quadrivial neighborhoods." Latino neighborhoods exist all over the DC metropolitan area, but mostly in the immediate Maryland and Northern Virginia suburbs. "Quadrivial neighborhoods," with populations of at least 10 percent White, Asian, African-American, and Latino, appeared in the past 20 years, reflecting the increased racial integration of the DC area. This survey is the first of its kind and it provides a detailed snapshot of the social realities and inequalities that exist within the DC region's most diverse communities. The study was a collaborative effort among several centers and units at American University including the Metropolitan Policy Center, the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies, the Center for Health, Risk and Society, the Office of the Provost, the School of Public Affairs, and the Kogod School of Business.

Learn More


Roots of the Riots ProjectSocial unrest has been come a major topic in the United States. At MPC we are bringing together American University scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds to address riot determinants and their consequences. We must better understand the comprehensive set of historic and contemporary circumstances fueling modern-day frustrations so that pragmatic policy solutions can be crafted to minimize discontent and promote democracy.

Making the Just City staffThe Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, under its Interdisciplinary Research Leaders program, supports MPC's gentrification research. MPC director Derek Hyra leads a three-person project team with Mindy Fullilove, a professor at The New School, and Dominic Moulden, the resource organizer for Organizing Neighborhood Equity - ONE DC. Their project entitled, "Making the Just City: An Examination of Organizing for Equity and Health," investigates, over a three-year period, different processes designed to reduce health disparities in two communities currently experiencing gentrification: Orange, NJ and Shaw, DC. The research team's objective is to discover, document, and assess community-level mechanisms in different contexts that help make mixed-income communities more vibrant engines of healthy living, particularly for low-income people.


Political Displacement ProjectIn many neighborhoods, gentrification - defined as neighborhood change caused by the influx of middle-class residents - does not result in residential displacement, but rather political displacement. A sizable proportion of long-term, low-income residents are able to stay in place because of policies that promote greater affordable housing. These new mixed-income neighborhoods, however, often lead to a loss of political voice for long-time residents. Minority groups who were well-represented at the local levels might find themselves losing seats on city councils, county commissions, and community boards as new constituencies and coalitions form among the newcomers. This study analyzes the relationship between newcomer influx and political loss in 100 US cities that contain some of the country's fastest gentrifying neighborhoods. Using 20 years of local election data, we identify and measure the extent to which political displacement has occurred alongside inner-city neighborhood redevelopment. This study will help determine how the contemporary wave of gentrification relates to changing urban political shifts.

Earned Income Tax CreditFaculty Fellow Bradley Hardy's research uses administrative tax data to assess the effects of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program and its DC supplemental program on poverty, employment, and income dynamics within Washington, DC. The supplemental DC EITC program, first implemented in 2001, has expanded from 10 percent of the federal credit to 40 percent as of 2009. At the federal level, the EITC is the nation's largest cash transfer program for low-income families. In preliminary work with coauthors, Hardy finds that the combined EITC raises employment, lowers longer-term poverty, and reduces instability from income declines.

Grant Seeking and Grant MakingFaculty Fellow Lewis Faulk is working on the Grant Seeking and the Grant Making Study, which involves two parallel surveys of nonprofit organizations and foundations. Together these surveys will collect data on over 450 nonprofit organizations and 300 foundations. This project examines both the effectiveness of nonprofits' grant-seeking behaviors and the recent challenges foundations face when distributing their grants. The research provides key insights into the state of civil society in metropolitan America.

Completed Projects

SBA LendingHyra, Derek and Meghan Doughty. 2015. SBA Lending: Equity and Efficiency Challenges. White paper commissioned by the National Association of Government Guaranteed Lenders. 

This report analyzes the equity and efficiency challenges of the Small Business Administration's lending programs. As America has slowly recovered from the Great Recession, the SBA's 7(a) and 504 programs have grown and supported over $122 billion in private loans to America's small businesses. However, during this period of SBA loan dollar expansion, lending rates for African American firms have decreased while loan guarantee assistance increased or remained relatively stable for other racial and ethnic group owned firms. This report recommends an emerging market program to address racial lending inequities and suggests further research to better document the ways in which SBA lending contributes to America's prosperity.

Capital Dilemma Book CoverCapital Dilemma: Growth and Inequality in Washington, DC is the most comprehensive volume on the contemporary economic conditions in DC. We released the book on February 25, 2016 to a packed audience. At the event, editors Derek Hyra and Sabiyha Prince spoke about the complex circumstances driving the recent economic advancement of Washington, DC as well as how the city's history of inequality relates to its current pattern of neighborhood gentrification. The book launch also featured Parisa Norouzi of Empower DC and Dominic Moulden of ONE DC who provided insights into how the book's findings could be translated to practical, equitable development policy responses to mitigate the city's growing social and economic inequalities. The Capital Dilemma for DC, and other major cities, is how to produce economic development and growth that is more equally shared among its residents. Since the book launch, several of the contributing authors have spoken about the book at DC venues including Busboys & Poets, The Potter's House, All Souls Church, the Anacostia Smithsonian Community Museum, and the Historical Society of Washington, DC. The book has also been incorporated into classes focused on the development of the nation's capital at Georgetown University, American University, and the University of Maryland.

Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino City Book CoverFor long-time residents of Washington, DC's Shaw/U Street, the neighborhood has become almost unrecognizable in recent years. Where the city's most infamous open-air drug market once stood, a farmers' market now sells grass-fed beef and homemade duck egg ravioli. On the corner where AM.PM carryout used to dish out soul food, a new establishment markets its $28 foie gras burger. Shaw is experiencing a dramatic transformation, from "ghetto" to "gilded ghetto," where white newcomers are rehabbing homes, developing dog parks, and paving the way for a third wave coffee shop on nearly every block. Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino City is an in-depth ethnography of this gilded ghetto. Derek Hyra captures here a quickly gentrifying space in which long-time black residents are joined, and variously displaced, by an influx of young, white, relatively wealthy, and/or gay professionals who, in part as a result of global economic forces and the recent development of central business districts, have returned to the cities earlier generations fled decades ago. As a result, America is witnessing the emergence of what Hyra calls "cappuccino cities." A cappuccino has essentially the same ingredients as a cup of coffee with milk, but is considered upscale and double the price. In Hyra's cappuccino city, the black inner-city neighborhood undergoes enormous transformations and becomes racially "lighter" and more expensive by the year. This book offers several policy recommendations to make mixed-income, mixed-race communities more equitable and just.

Road Map InitiativeThe Roadmap for the Washington Region's Economic Future was an initiative that investigated key aspects of the Washington area's regional economy. This region remains overly dependent on federal spending as its principal driver of high wage employment growth. The research investigated the region's core, non-federally dependent industrial clusters, highlighted the main business constraints across these clusters, and assessed the current state and local economic development policy landscape that targets these business growth sectors. The research concludes with policy reforms to advance the DC regional economy.

Metropolitan Policy Center has established 6 DC partnerships

Our faculty fellows have published 50 plus journal articles

Our faculty fellows have presented in 115 countries and locations.

Faculty Seed Grants

DC Area SurveyPIs: Brenda Smith (WCL) and Angie Chuang (SOC)

American Legion James Reese Europe Post 5 used the MPC's grant to explore the experiences of African American veterans who had fought in American wars from World War I to the present. Under the supervision of Faculty Fellows Brenda Smith and Angie Chuang, The Washington College of Law Community and Economic Development Law Clinic (CEDLC) and American University School of Communication (SOC) joined to document the history of Post 5. This documentation and preservation included interviewing current members, archivists, and project participants about the significance of the Post's history and its artifacts. These stories, artifacts and photos in the Post's home, comprise the content of a website created to showcase this important preservation effort. Project leaders are exploring ways to link this preservation effort with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Learn More

City Construction SitePIs: Lewis Faulk (SPA) and Michael Bader (CAS) 

This proposal investigates the emergence, expansion, and funding challenges of nonprofit organizations in metropolitan neighborhoods that have experienced gentrification or an influx of poverty due to migration from gentrifying neighborhoods. The research sample will include 300 community-based nonprofit human service and community organizations in five central DC neighborhoods that have experienced recent gentrification and five neighborhoods beyond the central city where people have moved from gentrifying neighborhoods. Research focuses on the responses of community-based organizations to changes in their neighborhoods, the emergence of new organizations, competition for funding to address new needs introduced by population shifts, and the collaboration between existing organizations with local government in addressing those needs.

Climate Justice and Social VulnerabilityPIs: Malini Ranganathan (SIS) and Eve Bratman (SIS)
This research explores social vulnerability in line with the broader goal of fostering climate justice in the DC region. The study collects both qualitative and quantitative data at micro levels to assess why certain populations and areas of the city may be more or less vulnerable in the face of climate events. The hope is to shed light on whether existing strategies around economic displacement and gentrification might be transferable for building climate resilience. This project seeks to carefully apply the insights and concepts from the 'Third World" literature in a seemingly "First World" context. The findings will be used to inform the global cities literature and strengthen conversations across the North-South theoretical divides.

NGO GlobePI's: Khaldoun AbouAssi (SPA) and Jocelyn Johnston (SPA)
This project aims to fill a gap in the existing literature on local government-nongovernmental organizations (NGO) relationships, especially in developing countries. Across the globe, countries are experimenting with an array of approaches and structures intended to democratize governance and many of these efforts involve decentralization. To fully understand what decentralization looks like and how it works-and consequently to dig deeper into this challenge, we need to examine the distribution and interaction of the comprehensive set of actors (nongovernmental organizations [NGOs] such as community foundations, community-based organizations and others) currently deployed at the local level. The investigators intend to use MPC funding to develop a framework that captures the nature of and variation in local government-NGO relationships, propose and test a set of propositions about the relationship between local-NGO partnerships and governance, collect qualitative and quantitative data to test those propositions, and present policy implications to guide decision-makers. This is a pilot study that will be concentrated on Lebanon and expand MPC's research on non-profits to the international context.

Early Childhood EducationPI's: Seth Gershenson (SPA) and Taryn Morrissey (SPA)
In the United States, the gap in achievement between children from low-income families and those from high-income families is wide, begins well before kindergarten, and persists over the K-12 years and beyond. One intervention that effectively narrows this achievement gap and has positive economic returns is high-quality early care and education (ECE). While most research has examined the direct effects of ECE programming on children's cognitive test scores, ECE attendance may also narrow SES inequalities through increased parental educational investments at home. We address gaps in the literature by applying a difference-in-differences strategy to nationally representative time diary data to investigate whether access to ECE changes how the parents of young children allocate their time. Specifically, we examine how the implementation of universal voluntary prekindergarten in Florida, beginning in 2005-06, led to changes in parental time spent in developmentally beneficial activities such as reading and conversing with children, time spent facilitating children's activities, and parental time in physical child care, either with ECE-aged children or with other household children. Findings will shed light on a potential strategy for narrowing SES and racial/ethnic achievement gaps, and how the effectiveness of such strategies varies across urban, rural, and suburban locales.

BilingualismPI's: Amelia Tseng (CAS) and Noemi Enchautegui (CAS)
Bilingualism, or proficiency in two languages by individuals and within a community or nation, is important along multiple dimensions relevant to social cohesion and equity, particularly in terms of access to resources, as part of social justice, and culture and identity, as part of linguistic human rights. This proposed study pioneers focus on four key dimensions of language use and bilingualism as they relate to social equity. The project will be the first to systemically examine language practices, access to resources, and their impact on multiple generations of Latino immigrants' social experience. This has implications for their integration and social support, and also for the maintenance of Spanish fluency in younger generations, which relates both to culture and identity and to educational and economic success. The project will create a body of pilot data and result in scholarly publications.