Monday, April 26, 2010

Summing LEADS

"Clearly, a case can be made for the proposition that the politics of the LEADS [local economic alternative development strategies] is both normatively desirable and, perhaps, political feasible."

David Imbroscio,Urban America Reconsidered:Alternatives for Governance and Policy

Imbroscio has done a great job with a speculative argument -- debunking current paradigms (e.g. the Dispersal Consensus), taking apart urban regime theory and the beliefs and consequences of liberal expansionism, and buiding upon the slim but hopeful evidence of LEADS. I'm certainly intrigued by the potential of local politics and practice based on the notion of place and community stability -- as opposed to hypermobility and state-driven initiatives.

Imbroscio is provocative, funny, and sharp in his critiques -- but misses a few things or perhaps goes too far in others

1) the suburbanization of poverty is growing from a mix of factors
2) housing mobility from economic/housing insecurity is incredibly high in many urban communities
3) education does have payoff

There is an either/or quality to the book that sharpens the argument but undermines our understanding of how to move things forward and build partnerships.

The Dispersal Consensus crowd is derided for their belief in mobility strategies for the poor even though guided by a sense of historic and contemporary policy wrongs and bad neighborhood conditions. Imbroscio's answer is that we should just fix those wrongs without mobility strategies. That would be social justice. In other words, everyone should stay put in their bad situations until we muster the political will and resources to get it all right. For me, that argument, whether for public housing in Chicago or New Orleans, has always felt like holding the poor hostage for ideological purposes. Are people at all better off from all the dislocation and moves as opposed to staying put. Good question.

Are the liberal expansionists the enemy? Imbroscio thinks so. Or are they potential allies for some things and not others? I know it would lessen the drama of the book, but I wish there had been more discussion of mixed strategies. I'm certain that we will have to build coalitions with these folks and others to advance the LEADS agenda. That would have been a more fitting conclusion

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