Cowell M.M. (2013) Bounce back or move on: Regional resilience and economic development planning. Cities, 30, 212-222.
Abstract: While psychologists and ecologists have identified many factors that increase the odds of resilience in a person or an ecosystem, economic development officials and planning scholars do not yet have a firm grasp on how economic development planning relates to regional resilience.
This study explores how two regions – Buffalo, New York and Cleveland, Ohio – have adapted and responded to deindustrialization using economic development. Interviews were conducted with past and present planning and economic development leaders and historical and current economic development plans were analyzed in order to increase our understanding of how regions respond to challenges, how economic development planning shapes these responses, and how both economic development planning and the larger response relate to adaptive resilience in distressed regions.
Associate Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at the School of Public and International Affairs, Virginia Tech, USA
The interview transcript
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Hi, welcome to coffee break with researchers.
Today I’m having a coffee break with Margaret Cowell
She is an Associate Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at the School of Public and International Affairs in Virginia Tech in the United States
Hello Margaret,Thank you for accepting my invitation to our coffee break, how are you?
I’m well, thank you for having me, this is fun.
Today, I’m having an Indonesian black coffee, which one are you having?
I’m taking a break from conference, so I’m drinking conference coffee which is.. good.
I’m happy you share your coffee break with me you wrote a paper about regional resilience and economic development planning that caught my attention. Could you please tell me, what the paper was about?
Sure, the paper was an exploration in looking at historical plans to uncover information about what happened in Buffalo, New York and Cleveland, Ohio and then look at how the plans affected the development trajectory in those two places and then seeking, sort of an update through more recent plans to get a sense of what has happened in the interim and how that affected the adaptive resilience of those two places. I can see that the key concept of your research is regional resilience. Could you please define it for me?
Regional resilience is a complex concept that a lot of people spend thinking about specially from a variety of other disciplines.
I’ve come to a sort of definition that works for me it is looking at it as adaptive resilience in thinking that regions are capable of adaptation, and those who strive in the longer term are the ones who continually develop and work towards increasing opportunities for the people who call them home.
Could you please provide me with the summary of the key results?
A couple of key findings:
The first is that, you know it is important to acknowledge that regions take different paths in their quest towards adaptive resilience. So, whatever it is they are striving for and it these cases, these two cities took fairly similar preconditions and took their own decisions and framed things a little bit differently
and ultimately sort of working towards similar goals, but taking different paths how to get there
Another key finding is that looking back in history so, the late 1970’s or early 1980’s
When these earlier plans were written there was a sense of, I use the term irrational exuberance in the paper itself and I think that is evident in both of these plans there is this sort of denial about
what was happening in terms of the loss of manufacturing jobs and the sort of deindustrialization trend in both of these places and I think ultimately one of the key findings is that we need to do a better job in sort of and I think they do, in the subsequent plans
of kind of balancing aspiration and reality and that is an important lesson for regions to think about and that is a key finding of the paper.
Thank you very much for that, that is very good to know.
I also want to know what was your main motivation in doing this paper.
A combination of things, I think methodologically, I found both an archival research the nature of these historical plans which is kind of a rarity to be able to uncover regional economical development plans from that time period is fairly rare and hence, the two cases. and I think the archival piece was really interesting to me matched with oral history component, which I think is essential. I was able to capture the lived experiences of the stakeholders who were engaged in the decision-making process about how these two regions would respond to the loss of manufacturing jobs and the sort of deindustrialization trend.
So, capturing their stories, before it’s too late
was an important, kind of a motivation for this piece and
some of the other things that I have been working on through the years I think this is an important part of learning
about mistakes that we have made
and kind of how we can do better in the future and finally I have a personal connection to Buffalo.
I lived and worked there for some time
working on questions of regional economy.
It makes perfect sense to sort of
revisit that space and think about
how things played out in a place that I know very well.
Cleveland came in as a great, sort of, comparison piece
and it is in close proximity to Buffalo so
naturally lend itself to being a
focus of this paper as well.
That is very nice to know
could you please tell me in your opinion what is the main policy implication based on your research?
I think in terms of policy development before we decide on strategies about how to shape our regions going forward
I think it is really important, this paper reminds us that
it is important to learn from history
and to think about the intentions of previous
plans and policies that we’ve developed
and think about whether they worked or not
and think whether they fit into you know, a realistic picture of what is possible.
I think it is a great reminder that we are not always supposed to just be looking forward we should also be thinking about
you know, how things are shaped by decisions we made in the past as well and I think that is a key kind of reminder for people who are grappling with policy decisions is to think, what have we done, what have we done well, what have we struggled with and how can we improve upon that and going forward.
I think that is a key research implication for regions and people grappling with these challenges.
I think it is also, in order to do that work, in order to think about, you know, how best to proceed it is really important to get a solid understanding of our strengths and weaknesses within our region before making those decisions. It is essential that you have a realistic depiction of what are the assets that we have and what are the sort of, detriments that we are dealing with, and getting a very, you know, stood picture of that, it is essential to making the kind of decisions that we ultimately hope will improve our outcomes and increase adaptive of resilience down the line.
Thank you once again, Margaret for having this nice chat with me.
It was a pleasure to have you here and hope to see you next time.
My pleasure, thank you so much.
Thank you for watching, if you are interested in more details about this research find here the link to the academic publication bye bye
Tags: Buffalo, Cleveland, Economic development, Economic restructuring, Regions, Resilience