Urban policy is heavily influenced by politics, and the shifts in federal policy are no exception. Indirectly, metropolitan areas are influenced by any number of policies that do not address cities themselves: macroeconomic policy, trade concerns, and social welfare, for example. The federal government got more directly involved with cities during the New Deal, taking an active role in housing and urban redevelopment. A major concern throughout the mid-twentieth century was Urban Renewal. Considerable resources were directed to redeveloping older areas of cities, and the results were mixed. In some cases, such as New York City’s Lincoln Center, projects were quite successful in revitalizing an area of the city. In other cases, however, slow time-lines and ill-conceived or underfunded projects failed to do so.

Policy failures were cited during the 1980s as a reason to change federal policy away from specific programs toward the “New Federalism.” The new approach allowed states and cities to spend federal money with few restrictions, replacing individual programs with Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). In practice, this shift also cut federal aid to cities.