Monday, April 12, 2010

Urban Theory Fix

"If a deep philosophical liberalism lies at the heart of the failure of both conventional urban regime theory and liberal expansionism, remedying this failure requires developing an alternative approach...At the approach's core lies an array...of local economic development strategies...."

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

Imbroscio packs a lot into these couple of sentences that represent the essential argument of the book. I'll be commenting on the book over the next few weeks -- as I read it. Few books, these days, make such a forceful argument for the potential of localism -- and alternative economic approaches.

The failure of philosophical liberalism involves the sharp divide of public and private, individualism, materialism, and the importance of mobility. Sounds like America. Urban regime theory represents a body of ideas about the social production of cooperation among public and private actors in city regions to create governing coalitions that are tilted in various directions. The failure of this theory is its inability to provide much of a prescriptive roadmap for constructing more equitable regimes. Liberal expansionism relies upon more growth or access to growth as the answer to all social problems. It jettisons cities in favor of regions -- and argues for mobility rather than place-based community.

In contrast, local economic development strategies, or LEADS, changes the frame of philosophical debate and political action in terms ownership, democratic control,and the role of place and community.

Sound plausible? Does fixing theory help us imagine a different urban future? Does it help us take effective action in the present? Or does it only underscore what America is not and probably never will be? Let's see.

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