Do biases in representation arise at the most basic levels of policy implementation, and can political participation contribute to these inequities? Leveraging a panel of geographic administrative data from a large city, I evaluate equity in the provision of a crucial government service: the repair of sidewalks. I combine detailed data on the physical conditions of the city’s sidewalks with data on local residents’ use of the city’s 311 service request system to assess who is represented in local infrastructural policy. I show that the quality of basic city infrastructure is biased along existing racial and socioeconomic divisions. Sidewalks in more heavily minority and less wealthy neighborhoods improve at a rate below those sidewalks in whiter and wealthier neighborhoods. However, participation can compensate for inequities in the improvement and deterioration of infrastructure. To the extent that residents in minority and low-income areas use 311 services to request repairs, their sidewalks improve at rates on par with those in whiter and wealthier places. Yet because of inequities in who participates, sidewalks in low-income and more heavily minority areas do not improve as much on average. Basic local government service provision can be subject to biases, and citizen participation may only have limited ability to resolve these historical inequities.
de Benedictis Kessner, Justin. "Where the Sidewalk Ends: How Participation Contributes to Inequity in Basic Government Service Provision." December 23, 2023.