Edited by Kelly Vodden, David J.A. Douglas, Sean Markey, Sarah Minnes, and Bill Reimer (See bios below)
Canadian regional development today involves multiple actors operating within nested scales from local to national and even international levels. Recent approaches to making sense of this complexity have drawn on concepts such as multi-level governance, relational assets, integration, innovation, and learning regions. These new regionalist concepts have become increasingly global in their formation and application, yet there has been little critical analysis of Canadian regional development policies and programs or the theories and concepts upon which many contemporary regional development strategies are implicitly based.
Recently the volume The Theory, Practice, and Potential of Regional Development: The Case of Canada was published, showing results of over five years of cutting-edge empirical analysis of changes in Canadian regional development and the potentials of new approaches for improving the well-being of Canadian communities and regions, with an emphasis on rural regions. It situates the Canadian approach within comparative experiences and debates offering the opportunity for broader lessons to be learnt.
The volume contributes to our understanding of the recent era of regional development in Canada through the lens of new regionalism (see Figure 1), highlighting approaches for creating more regionally resilient futures supported by informed development policy that is, among other things, flexible, adaptive, and context-appropriate. At the same time, the authors subject the application of new regionalism to research-based critiques through an exploratory examination of its practice (and in many cases its absence) in a selection of Canadian contexts, including in-depth regional analysis in four provinces supplemented by case studies from other Canadian provinces and territories to provide a more comprehensive Canada-wide perspective. While much of the new regionalist literature has focused on city regions and global macro regions as units of analysis, from the North and South, coverage of the practice and implications of new regionalism in Canada, at the intra-national level, and in rural regions is limited. This book seeks to help address this gap.
Figure 1. New Regionalism Framework.
New regionalism is a multi-faceted concept that emerged in the 1990s in response to socioeconomic and political restructuring throughout the 1980s, a period that saw the ascendency of neoliberal concepts, policies, and practices along with increased attention to localized responses to national and global trends. These changes required a reconceptualization of the “old” regionalism. New regionalism has been posited as incorporating various concepts, such as new urbanism, smart growth, and sustainable communities, with a focus on the regional scale. It is acknowledged as taking place in a fundamentally different and changing world, and as having characteristics such as being rooted in place, focusing on competitive advantage, being co-constructed, and having a focus on open governance processes that foster trust, collaboration, and empowerment among a range of development actors.
Our findings suggest that select elements of what has been referred to as a new regionalist paradigm can be seen in Canadian regional development in recent decades. We also identify, however, significant gaps between the expectations, theorization, and, in some cases, rhetoric of new regionalism and policies and practices at federal, provincial, and local levels as witnessed in rural regions of Canada. In short, empirical evidence of new regionalism is uneven and partial. We found instances of collaboration across and within levels of government together with other regional development actors, for example, but evidence of policy co-construction was limited. While identity plays a critical role in fostering regional development processes, it remains largely emergent and/or is actively resisted within our research sites and therefore its power as a significant force for place-based regional development is suspended. Further, integrated approaches were largely lacking, with a focus on innovation and infrastructure for economic growth rather than well-being and quality of life drawing from diverse rural and regional assets. Examples of innovation do, however, illustrate the potential for regional partnerships and productive rural-urban relationships, beyond the view of rural communities seen as subservient to or in service of urban growth centres, and the value of supportive rural development policies with a focus on the regional scale.
Implications for policy, research, and practice outlined include a need to better understand and realize the diverse roles that various actors have to play in addressing the disparities, challenges, and opportunities related to regional development in the world’s second largest country. Greater attention is also needed to rural–urban relationships, which should aim to foster recognition and healthy relations of interdependence in a climate that is all too frequently characterized by “us vs. them” attitudes and urban-centric ideas and discourse. Finally, our findings suggest a need to further encourage and actively engage in regional development learning and knowledge sharing in Canada, an important aim to which our book seeks to contribute. In his preface well known Canadian regional development scholar Dr. Donald Savoie states that this is an important book and it arrives at an important time. We hope you will have a read to find out, and that you will agree.
Are you currently involved with regional research, policy, and development, and want to elaborate your ideas in a different medium? The Regional Studies Association is now accepting articles for their online blog. For more information, contact the Blog Editor at RSABlog@regionalstudies.org.
Kelly Vodden is Associate Vice-President (Grenfell) Research and Graduate Studies and Professor (Research) with the Environmental Policy Institute at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University, Corner Brook, Canada. She has has been involved in community engaged scholarship related to the sustainability of rural communities and regions across Canada for more than two decades.
David J.A. Douglas is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Guelph, Canada, and has extensive experience in rural development across most Canadian regions, the EU, and other contexts (e.g., Indonesia, Iran, Ukraine, Pakistan).
Sean Markey is a Professor, and registered professional planner, with the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University, Canada.
Sarah Minnes is a Research Associate and registered planner, with the School of Environment and Sustainability, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada.
Bill Reimeris a Professor Emeritus at Concordia University in Montréal, Canada. From 1997 to 2008, he directed a Canadian research project on the New Rural Economy which included 13 universities, 35 partners, and 32 rural communities from all parts of Canada.
Douglas, D. J.A. (2014) ‘New regionalism’ as the local development paradigm?: Cautionary evidence from some recent research in Canada. Presentation to the OECD-LEED Conference, Stockholm. http://cdnregdev.ruralresilience.ca/?page_id=29
Lovering, J. (1999). Theory led by policy: The inadequacies of the “new regionalism” (illustrated from the case of Wales). International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 23: 379–395.