Urban America Reconsidered

Urban America Reconsidered: Alternatives for Governance and Policy

David Imbroscio
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Urban America Reconsidered
    Book Description:

    The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina laid bare the tragedy of American cities. What the storm revealed about the social conditions in New Orleans shocked many Americans. Even more shocking is how widespread these conditions are throughout much of urban America. Plagued by ineffectual and inegalitarian governance, acute social problems such as extreme poverty, and social and economic injustice, many American cities suffer a fate similar to that of New Orleans before and after the hurricane. Gentrification and corporate redevelopment schemes merely distract from this disturbing reality. Compounding this tragedy is a failure in urban analysis and scholarship.

    Little has been offered in the way of solving urban America's problems, and much of what has been proposed or practiced remains profoundly misguided, in David Imbroscio's view. In Urban America Reconsidered, he offers a timely response. He urges a reconsideration of the two reigning orthodoxies in urban studies: regime theory, which provides an understanding of governance in cities, and liberal expansionism, which advocates regional policies linking cities to surrounding suburbs. Declaring both approaches to be insufficient-and sometimes harmful-Imbroscio illuminates another path for urban America: remaking city economies via an array of local economic alternative development strategies (or LEADS).

    Notable LEADS include efforts to build community-based development institutions, worker-owned firms, publicly controlled businesses, and webs of interdependent entrepreneurial enterprises. Equally notable is the innovative use of urban development tools to generate indigenous, stable, and balanced growth in local economies. Urban America Reconsidered makes a strong case for the LEADS approach for constructing progressive urban regimes and addressing America's deepest urban problems.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5881-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface Beyond Liberalism
    (pp. ix-xii)
    David Imbroscio
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction. Reconsidering Urban America
    (pp. 1-14)

    Over the past two decades two related but distinct orthodoxies have taken hold within the academic study of urban America. Both are grounded in elements of philosophical liberalism. And both are deeply misguided. The first, urban regime theory, concerns urban governance in American cities; the second, what I call liberal expansionism, concerns urban policy for addressing the problems faced by American cities. It is the central argument of this book that both of these orthodoxies need to be challenged, reconsidered, and, ultimately reformulated with or replaced by superior alternatives.

    Although these two orthodoxies consume and adversely affect the academic realm,...

  6. Part I Reconsidering Urban Governance:: The Critique of Regime Theory

    • 1 Reconceiving the State-Market Division
      (pp. 17-33)

      By the mid-1990s, urban regime theory emerged as the dominant, even orthodox, way to understand the nature of governance in urban America. Urban regime theory’s dominance did not immunize it against criticism, however. In fact, over the past decade and a half, scholars have proffered a number of sympathetic critiques of it. Such critiques have pointed to conceptual limitations and weaknesses inherent in the approach. To correct for these limitations and weaknesses, these sympathetic critics frequently have suggested modifications to its original formulation.

      In accordance with this trend, I offer my own sympathetic critique and modification to urban regime theory....

    • 2 Reengaging Economics
      (pp. 34-50)

      Conventional urban regime theory’s deep philosophical liberalism, which posits a strict distinction between the public and private, causes the theory to conceptualize the division of labor between market and state in ways overly rigid and largely static. This misconceptualization arises from regime theory’s current lacuna that prevents it from seeing the possibilities for alternative wealth creation and economic development in cities. The root of these missteps lies in conventional urban regime theory’s failure to engage economic questions in a sustained and systematic way. This failure has left it with deep deficiencies. These deficiencies once again weaken urban regime theory not...

  7. Part II Reconsidering Urban Policy:: The Critique of Liberal Expansionism

    • 3 Reassessing the Shaming of the Inside Game
      (pp. 53-71)

      Over the past decade the dominant—perhaps even hegemonic—policy approach embraced by urbanists to address America’s urban problems has been what I term liberal expansionism. In this chapter I will build a critique of liberal expansionism by focusing on one key facet of it—namely, the spirited case made by liberal expansionists against what former Albuquerque mayor David Rusk (1999) calls the inside game. Rusk’s experience as mayor of Albuquerque, a city that aggressively annexed its adjacent territory in the postwar period, led the politician turned scholar to strongly advocate that cities should be without suburbs (also see Rusk...

    • 4 Rethinking the Dispersal Consensus
      (pp. 72-92)

      One salient element of liberal expansionism has garnered an especially orthodox hold on urban policy discourse: the idea that the amelioration of urban problems requires, almost above or prior to all else, that the central city’s poor be deconcentrated—that is, dispersed—into wealthier, and usually suburban, neighborhoods. Thus, the general challenge to liberal expansionism demands that special critical analysis be devoted to what I refer to as the dispersal consensus.

      Crisis and desperation can beget revelation. Such periods often expose, with remarkable clarity, the essence and strength of peoples’ deeply held beliefs and value commitments, as well as the...

  8. Part III Alternatives

    • 5 The Local Public Balance Sheet
      (pp. 95-115)

      The local economic alternative development strategies (LEADS) have emerged as central to both reconstructing urban regimes in more progressive directions and developing a means to solve urban problems in ways superior to liberal expansionism. The next two chapters explore these strategies in more depth by returning to the elements of the alternative economic paradigm set out in chapter 2. Among these elements, two stand out as especially important because they cut across and buttress the entire LEADS project: the local public balance sheet, explored in this chapter, and the idea of community economic stability, explored in the next.

      The public...

    • 6 A Triad for Community Economic Stability
      (pp. 116-136)

      Community economic stability refers to a condition where places “possess job opportunities and a general level of economic activity . . . adequate to provide a decent standard of living for their populations over a sustained period of time” (Williamson, Imbroscio, and Alperovitz 2002, xiv).¹ This is an important element of the new alternative economic paradigm because conventional economics, with its obsessive focus on market dynamism, fails to grasp the economic benefits arising from such stability. To realize such benefits, however, this community economic stability must first somehow be enhanced in a more basic sense. The local public balance sheet...

  9. Part IV On Politics:: The Desirable and the Feasible

    • 7 The Folly of Liberal Politics
      (pp. 139-159)

      Any comprehensive analysis of the particular practices constituting a given politics revolves around the exploration of two overarching evaluative questions: Is such a politics normatively desirable? If so, can it be feasibly practiced? (cf. Elkin 1987; Banfield and Grodzins 1958).

      Following this framework, a critique of the liberal politics underlying both conventional urban regime theory and liberal expansionism can be advanced. A key remaining question from this overall critique of liberal politics is whether the new politics underlying the local economic alternative development strategies (or LEADS) offers a politically superior alternative to both conventional urban regime theory and liberal expansionism....

    • 8 The Possibilities of an Alternative Politics
      (pp. 160-178)

      Taken together, the preceding chapters have exposed the misguided nature of the two orthodoxies that have taken hold within the academic study of urban America—conventional urban regime theory’s understanding of the nature of urban governance and liberal expansionism’s understanding of the policies to address urban problems. But I began by stating that the ultimate goal of advancing this argument is eminently practical: The key failings of these orthodoxies lie not only with their deleterious impact on academic study. Instead, it is that they are detrimental to real world political practice. In particular, while the state of urban governance in...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 179-188)
  11. References
    (pp. 189-214)
  12. Index
    (pp. 215-224)