Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Slumbering Giant?

"[Clarence]Stone restates the specifics of his theoretical commitments...,unambiguously asserting that 'I take a profit-based economy as a given...' This erroneous conceptualization not only distorts the empirical understanding of regime dynamics; more crucially, it biases the normative understanding of political practice by blinding urban scholars and activists to the possibilities for building alternative urban regimes..."

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

This critique represents a big theoretical point but may have relatively minor empirical relevance for understanding urban regimes in most cities. That is, the profit sector is neither inevitable in the long run nor an adequate frame for understanding the range of economic activity and institutions guided by non-market goals and behaviors.

For example, nonprofit anchor institutions --universities and hospitals -- are the last remaining institutions rooted in many communities. Yes, they are nonprofit in many cases, but do they behave differently, have different interests, produce differently, and advocate differently? It's a mixed bag. In Cleveland, several are supporting a group of fledgling worker coops. In other cities they are indistinguishable from the growth coalitions of old.

Similar questions could be raised about public and comnunity development enterprises. What distinguishes all of these is a rooted, place interest that translates,consciously or not, into more commitment to local communities and more openness to building place.

But do these nonprofits represent an alternative economic paradigm? That is the question. One point of view is that they use public or nonprofit structures to achieve market goals? Another perspective is that they are a "slumbering giant" waiting to be awoken and become 'for itself.' Yet another perspective is that they are mostly consumption oriented and live off of private gain and public investments?

Certainly they need to be reckoned with theoretically, empirically, and as a matter of strategic political leverage. But is their inclusion in urban regime theorizing a matter of minor correction-- or does it hold more potential for alternative economics and politics?

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