THE POLITICS OF IDENTITY AND
Civic Culture in Dallas
Civic Cultureand Urban Change: Governing Dallas. By Royce Hanson. Detroit, MI: Wayne
State University Press. 2003. 457 pp.
What do the assassination of JFK and the 1980s hit TV show Dallas have in common?
Both are considered substantial threats to the image of the city of Dallas. This fits into Royce
Hanson’s thesis that characterizes Dallas as being “image obsessed” in his book Civic Cul-
ture and Urban Change: Governing Dallas. Hanson contends that problems in Dallas were
traditionally framed as threats to the city’s image, and the civicelite responded by producing
public relations campaigns “to restore its luster” in response to such attacks. This image
obsession, coupled with Dallas’s cultural preference for public institutions to be governed by
amateurs and managers, has produced a rather undesirable civic culture.
Hanson argues that the civicculture in Dallas is somewhat toxic. It has produced a superfi-
cial and symbolic approach to urban problems that has led the city to resist the adaptation of
its changing environment, which still remains today. For example, if city leaders support
light-rail and new stadiums, it is not because theyare a necessity or address an urban problem
but because they strive to be a world-class city. Because world-class cities have these sub-
stantial capital investments, so should Dallas, whether or not they are the appropriate
responses to urban problems. Other contentious urban issues such as racial strife havetradi-
tionally gone unnoticed unless a leader can convince the elite that this is harmful to the city’s
image. This has not changed since the transition of regimes has taken place. In fact, Hanson
concludes that most of the solution sets Dallas has employed in the performance of its civic
functions are still inadequate.
Civic Culture and Urban Change: Governing Dallas is an insightful and normative look
into one of the most dynamic Sunbelt cities in the United States and a must read for those
interested in urban regime theory and civic culture. Hanson carefully traces the political
growth machine that has governed Dallas from its inception to its current state of dissolution.
This work highlights the important events that shaped the civic culture of Dallas during the
past 40 years such as school desegregation, the economic decline of the 1980s, racial tension,
and rapid growth. Hanson addresses the question of why it is so difficult to adapt local politi-
cal institutions to the transformations that have occurred in population, economics, institu-
tions, and technology and offers a few solutions to what can be done to enhance a city’s
capacity for effective local self-government in the face of change. He applies a policy
tools approach to answer this question. Hanson finds the city’s civic culture is much like an
organizations—a stabilizing force that is difficult to reckon with, and change is slow and
AMERICAN REVIEW OF PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION, Vol.35 No. 2, June 2005 186-189
© 2005 Sage Publications