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Book Summary

Pastor, Manuel, Chris Benner and Martha Matsuoka 2009. This could be the start of something big: How social movements for regional equity are reshaping metropolitan America, Cornell University Press: Ithaca, NY.

Throughout This Could be the Start of Something Big, Pastor, Brenner, and Matsuoka attempt to illustrate that a focus on regional equity is a crucial component when seeking to foster social justice and economic growth. Citing a variety of case studies throughout the book, our authors demonstrate how progressive, local campaigns with regional considerations have been on the rise for the past few decades. By presenting these localized movements, our authors hope to offer a roadmap for launching similar initiatives at a national level and reviving progressive politics in America.

Our authors define regional equity as a state that promotes an economically competitive region and provides all members of society equal opportunities for living and working in all parts of the region, regardless of race, ethnicity, or income. It is a holistic concept that embraces the provision of equality and justice across the diverse fields that define a region. Pastor et al argue that regional solutions are logical because the most challenging urban problems can be attributed to local urban development and spatial configuration; the regional scale may be the most efficient tool for effecting comprehensive, equitable solutions. From a political perspective, it is arguably the most strategic scale for launching policy initiatives that incorporate cross-border interests and foster new partnerships.

While regional equity has not yet been wholly achieved, Pastor et al present examples of how regional equity has been gaining momentum through legislative, programmatic, and social developments. As such, it includes a broad set of actors who operate in different capacities. Our authors argue that three dominant perspectives of regional equity have emerged: (i) c ommunity development regionalism ( practitioners who use regional tools to complete projects); (ii) policy reform regionalism ( technical policy experts who look for change via collaboration with policy-makers), and (iii) social movement regionalism ( advocates who see regionalism as a means for building political power and fostering social movements). By transecting scales and communities, activists can identify unexpected allies with common interests, which can help shift the balance of power. Embracing a wider, regional scale can also have a dramatic effect in sustaining a movement by increasing interaction among different members with shared goals: CDCs, academics, and policy reformers alike.

Beginning in Chapter 3, Pastor et al set out to examine the efforts of community-based organizations through a diversity of contexts, experie nces, and actions. In each case, our authors attempt to illustrate how these organizations embody the importance of a regional agenda . In particular, the authors examine:

1. The San Francisco Bay area: Given its history of progressive social movements , the bay area has proven to be conducive for a regional approach . Many groups in the area have turned to regional organization, which they believe more effectively addresses the economic and ethnic dispersion of the bay area population .

2. Milwaukee: With its rapidly de-industrializing economy and a long history of organized labor, Milwaukee has seen some unions adopt a regional cluster industry approach to ensure the competitiveness of local firms, promote job training, and foster a number of labor-community alliances.

3. Detroit: Local faith-based organizations and community financing corporations have been able to achieve successes across a diverse array of community challenges, focusing on areas that lay across jurisdictional boundaries.

4. Chicago/Gary: Community-based coalitions have been able to come together to promote a regional transportation agenda and leverage off of neighborhood strengths to achieve economic gains in the community.

Yet, these different organizations do not necessarily see themselves as models of regional equity, but rather as advancing their unique mission. As such, the authors conclude that it is difficult to weave the tapestry of a national movement from so many different threads.

Chapter 4 narrows in to focus on the successes three organizations that advocate for low-income residents in metropolitan Los Angeles. Our authors find three common regional threads in the tangible successes of each group. First, because the business community in Los Angeles was fragmented and lacked leadership, the groups were able to insert a new dialogue into the vacuum. Second, each group understood that regionalism was a way to bridge gaps that emerged due to large demographic shifts. Going regional required building trust and relationships between ethnically-divided communities, which helped to unite the inner-city and inner-ring suburbs into bases of mass support. Finally, each realized that the City of Los Angeles, as the regions center of power, was the key target due to the regional impact of policy decisions made there.

Most importantly, the three groups were able to overlook their inherent ideological differences because they realized that mutual support strengthened their ability to serve low-income residents. Pastor et al even venture to say that the coordinated efforts of these groups resulted in a change in the LA business climate, thanks to a shifting political economy that valued labor-friendly liberal politicians. While admitting that LA is a fairly unique case because of the unique confluence of circumstances, our authors see the potential for the regionalist approach to be replicated, so long as there is a central role of organized labor, a solid research capacity, and the ability to organize on a large scale.

Leveraging off of the Los Angeles example, Chapter 5 looks at what makes regional equity work. Intuitively, the level of local government fragmentation directly impacts the ability to facilitate regional goals. High levels of fragmentation between adjoining localities make it difficult for city, county, and town administrators to coordinate. Likewise, localities with weak economies with declining urban cores act in concert to cripple regional innovation. Yet, strong economies also face regional equity challenges, epitomized by low-income individuals unable to locate affordable housing solutions due to escalating real estate values. Beyond administrative and economic considerations, Pastor et al illustrate the importance of diversity; melting pot metros - those with greater diversity - are more likely to form strong bonds that enable equity-based social movements.

This is not to suggest that government, economics, and demographics alone will determine the effectiveness of regional equity movements. Indeed, the actors involved must incorporate the aims of regional development into their message and conduct adequate research of community issues at the regional scale. Beyond the rhetoric of building regional structures, our authors highlight the challenge of connecting the concept of regionalism with everyday actions.

Our authors conclude by focusing on the possibilities that exist across regions for social movements. First, they argue that regional organizations must address the gap between the local and national levels and build a middle ground. Currently, there are no connections between local movements and national politics. Strategic forms of regional equity (those groups that pursue equity as an end in and of itself) must ally with tactical forms (those that promote equity to achieve other means). Similarly, organizations must recognize and work with other organizations and available resources, such as funding and policy groups. The movement also needs leadership that will guide the expansion of the regional equity movement, ensuring that these networks are able to work across constituencies

Balancing community equity and business interests will often be an inherently difficult task. Moreover, because of the specificity of certain community issues, increased development coverage may weaken the power base of certain local initiatives. Every city is unique and must be understood as such in order to make full use of its resources. Basing their analysis on numerous case studies, Pastor et al highlight the merits and challenges of this new regionalist approach and conclude that its success is largely determined by the ability of its proponents to be adept at power analysis, community organizing, and leadership development. In all, our authors believe that the regional equity approach may hold the key into the revitalization of progressive politics in America.