What is new regionalism?

Jen Daniels, DavidJ.A. Douglas, Kelly Vodden, and Sean Markey

Introduction: roots and characteristics

New regionalism has been described and defined through a variety of theories, concepts, and general descriptors that attempt to explain the evolution of a regional development regime from the 1950s to the present. The earlier version dominated the era of state intervention described in Chapter 2 as “old regionalism”, which was replaced by one that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s as the former faltered. Hettne (1999) and Scott (2016), for example, have described new regionalism as both a process of region-building and a package of policies that has several aims, from enhanced territorial control and democratic governance, to fostering regional cooperation, integration, and identity, and increasing “economic and environmental viability” (Scott, 2016, p. 21). This new regionalism is presented as a significant shift in the intellectual trajectory of regional development discourse and practice.

The era of restructuring in the final quarter of the 20th century saw the ascendancy of neoliberalism and the hegemony of the market perspective as primary informants of public policies. This was in turn associated with a selective “hollowing out” of the state (Jessop, 1994), and refocusing of the state’s development activities on facilitating competitive advantage, accumulation, and regulation (e.g., Keating, 1998; Brenner, 1999; MacLeod, 2001). This facilitated the selected decentralization and downloading of government and publicly supported services to the local level, while simultaneously fueling an already vibrant “localism” that saw increased self-assertion and self-reliance at the community level. This localism was fueled by (a) a broad-based disenchantment with the ineffectiveness of so- called top-down national and state/provincial regional development policies and programs, (b) a growing realization of the inadequacy of the narrow economic perspectives (e.g., comparative advantage) which dominated these policies, and (c) a shift away from the dominance of a needs-based approach to development toward a more balanced and nuanced assets-based approach. Markey (2011) refers to these shifts as “push” and “pull” factors characteristic of the terrain in which new regionalism emerged.

New regionalism, Markey (2011) argues, “occupies an intermediating position, within a dynamic tension between the abandonment of traditional patterns of top-down stewardship and the appeal of local control and place- sensitive intervention” (p. 4). This new place-particular perspective calls for more heterogeneous and flexible public policies and practices, in contrast to a generic space-based perspective, together with greater emphasis on local democracy and collaboration, integration of horizontal and vertical processes, and relational perspectives that temper or supplant older top-down controls. This emergent place-based approach, usually associated with “thick institutional” conditions (Amin & Thrift, 1994) and supportive networks of various social capitals, allows for a plurality of interests, agents, and perspectives cultivating what has come to be known as a governance approach to development (e.g., Rhodes, 1996; Stoker, 1998), in contrast to the former government-dominated approach.

New regionalism emerged in tandem with a re-assertion of the region as an appropriate and effective spatial framework for development (Douglas, 1997; Storper, 1997; Amin, 1999; Harrison, 2006; Zimmerbauer & Paasi, 2013). New regionalism provides a focus on specific territories, allowing greater sensitivity to regional particularities among theorists and regional planners (Wheeler, 2002). Yet the spatial manifestations of this emergent practice permit multi-scalar and shifting, dynamic formations and processes in identifying all manner of regional designs, in contrast to the previous “official” regions of the state and its local government apparatus.

Many authors focus on new regionalist political-economic arrangements on an international scale, with multiple countries forming alliances (e.g., the North American Free Trade Agreement, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, Mercosur). In contrast, rural development scholars often speak of new regionalism as an intra-national phenomenon: occurring within provinces in the case of Canadian regional development (Markey, 2011), or within states in Australia (Peterson, McAlpine, Ward, & Rayner, 2007). In other cases, development processes are examined on local and extra-local scales, with regions constituting a network of relations as opposed to a discrete, physical geographic space (Young, 2010). New regionalism in Europe, for example, employs a regional governance model that manifests itself in sub-national administrative units, metropolitan regions and/or cultural areas with increasing degrees of political autonomy, while at the same time recognizing the significance of macro-regional dynamics within the European political economic landscape.

New regionalism embraces fluidity in how regional scale is defined; while

the old regionalism was concerned with defining boundaries and jurisdictions ... The new regionalism accepts that boundaries are open, fuzzy or elastic. What defines the extent of the region varies with the issue we’re trying to address or the characteristic we are considering.

(Young, 2010, p. 3)

While we accept this openness and fluidity in regional definitions in this volume as a characteristic of new regionalist thought, our focus is on sub-provincial regions in Canada (variously defined, as we discuss further in Chapter 4), but with a recognition of the extra-local networks of which these regions are a part.

Different groups of new regionalist scholars place varying degrees of emphasis on economic and political dimensions of regional development. Some focus on regions as the key territorial unit for economic development, mobilizing concepts of embeddedness, institutional thickness, untraded interdependencies, learning, and regional innovation systems (Granovetter, 1985; Amin & Thrift, 1994; Storper, 1997; Cooke & Morgan, 1998). Others argue that regions are the key territorial unit for political action, with a focus on institutional restructuring, political mobilization, and a shift away from a state government mandate of ensuring inter-spatial equity toward an approach that enables and facilitates development (Keating, 1998; Polese, 1999). In other words, a governance model is adopted that includes “a set of institutions and actors that are drawn from but also beyond government ... [and] ... recognizes the capacity to get things done which does not rest on the power of government to command or use its authority” but rather “sees government as able to use new tools and techniques to steer and guide ...” (Stoker, 1998, p. 18) within collaborative and multi-level collaborative governance arrangements (Gibson, 2014).

The juxtaposition between the dominant characteristics of regional development policy and practice in the highly centralist intervention era and that of the subsequent eras of restructuring, characterized by greater devolution and negotiation (as described in Chapter 2), offers insights into the elements that are seen to define new regionalism. These include bottom-up and top- down dynamics as well as reactive and proactive responses to the restructuring that began in the 1980s and continued through the 1990s and beyond, as described in the previous chapter (Hettne, Inotai, & Sunkel, 2000; Wheeler, 2002; Hettne, 2005; Buzdugan, 2006; Scott, 2007; Markey, 2011; Perrin, 2012). Table 3.1 below provides this summary comparison.

We explore the empirical bases of new regionalism in Canada through five core themes identified in the literature (multi-level collaborative governance,

Table 3.1 New regionalism versus old regionalism

New regionalism

Old regionalism

Network-based system

Hierarchy-based system













(Adapted from: Wallis, 2002) place-based development, integrated development, rural—urban interdependencies, and learning and innovation). Included in these are the variously articulated themes of sustainable, integrated approaches to development and rural-urban interactions — where the rural is a central consideration. Our approach contrasts with metropolitan new regionalism, which considers city-regions as the key territorial unit for planning, governance, and global competitiveness (e.g., Savitch & Vogel, 2000; Sancton, 2001; Nelson, 2002; Wheeler, 2002; Wolfe, 2003). We argue that the pursuit of sustainable regions, particularly within the Canadian context, must include consideration of the unique development context facing rural communities (Peterson, Walker, Maher, Hovennan, & Eberhard, 2010). While much new regionalist literature has focused on urban areas (discussed further below) the rationale for a regional approach to rural community development has been thoroughly examined by Douglas (1999, 2006), with justifications for greater attention to this context for development having been more recently re-stated (e.g., Markey & Heisler, 2011; Markey, Halseth, & Manson, 2012).

Five key themes of new regionalism

In this section, we will discuss how each of the five themes of new regionalism introduced in Chapter 1 are discussed in the new regionalism literature. In varying degrees, these themes are interconnected throughout the different types of new regionalism, and their use also varies across different scales of regional development.

Multi-level collaborative governance

Governance, and in particular multi-level and collaborative governance, is a salient feature in all varieties of new regionalism literature. The centerpiece in the concept of governance is the acquisition of agency, in contexts of uncertain legitimacies and scarce resources (Stoker, 1998). Governance is a process of collaboration and coordination, and steering of interests involved in decision-making, including community, voluntary, and commercial interests within an area, across economic, social, and environmental sectors (Townsend, 2005; Gregory, Johnston, Pratt, Watts, & Whatmore, 2009; Vodden, 2015). A critical feature of governance is participation, including participation in deciding what ends and values should be chosen and how these should be pursued (Townsend, 2005; Gastro, 2007). Typically, governance is characterized by self-organization and coordination among organizations, often including the participation of various scales of government through vertical (hierarchical) coordination, and through horizontal partnerships, such as between two regional groups (Townsend, 2005; Bogason & Zolner, 2007; Gregory et al., 2009). Collaborative governance often includes government actors, multilateral institutions, NGOs, businesses, academics and others working in partnerships (e.g. private-public partnerships), and networks that produce and coordinate policy decisions (Bulkeley, 2005; Bogason & Zolner, 2007). The goal of a regional governance framework is not the absence of government; rather it is a “better structuring of relations among governments ... to provide an institutional base to house strategic planning and a framework to allow local governments to discern a [regional] interest where one exists” (Vogel & Nezelkewicz, 2002, p. 129).

The principal drivers and characteristics of governance vary greatly across the new regionalism literature, due to the different scales of regions and forms of regionalism. The economic new regionalism discussion includes multi-level collaborative governance forms, where regional economic development is considered a key driver (Storper, 1997; MacLeod, 2001; Zimmerbauer & Paasi, 2013). This often takes the form of explicit multi-level attempts to improve regional competitiveness in the global economy, throughout Europe, the Asia Pacific, and North and South America via macro-regional policy directives and the establishment of bottom-up regional partnerships. We also find related initiatives in southern African countries, such as small, medium, and micro- finance enterprise development and other localized employment creation and community empowerment programs (e.g., Rogerson, 2001; Harrison, 2006; Scott, 2016). Other key drivers include: the desire to increase regional capacity and coordination in (political) decision-making to increase autonomy and improve community quality of life (Bellamy & Brown, 2009; Keating & Wilson, 2014), and the desire to tackle complex environmental and social issues that are difficult for government alone to address (Bulkeley, 2005; Clarke, 2016). A survey of the primary characteristics of and actions for regional governance are included in Table 3.2.

The critiques posed to regional governance are similar to those that challenge new regionalism itself, namely a lack of clarity around the definition of the region and the challenges posed by shifts in scale. Frisken and Norris (2001) argue that new regionalism proponents only vaguely define what they mean when they use the term “regional governance”, and have historically leaned too strongly on the idea of cooperation, which they argue in and of itself is insufficient for achieving sustainable regional governance, whether in the form of economic competitiveness or greater political autonomy. Breen and Minnes (2014) note that rescaling governance is difficult, “particularly as giving power to the local level without accompanying capacity can have opposing effects to what is intended” (p. 8). Such initiatives can alter power imbalances and sharpen dichotomies between “winners” and “losers” (Bakker & Cook, 2011). As well, in light of the issue of a “relativization of scale”, or hollowing out of the state, (Jessop, 1994) with “no privileged level yet assuming a preeminent role in the meta-govemance of socioeconomic affairs” (MacLeod, 2001, p. 824), Morgan (2004) argues that conceptualizations of multi-level collaborative governance often pay too little attention to the inter-dependencies at work. To mitigate this issue, regionalist scholars and practitioners must pay close attention to the role of the state and international governing bodies (in addition to those on the ground or in the region), the interplay between levels of governance and the power imbalances, inequalities, social and environmental costs — and overall unequal geographies — that result from governance practices (MacLeod, 2001; Morgan, 2004).

What is new regionalism? 35


Cited in (not exhaustive)

Multi-level partnerships and associations, including vertical and horizontal linkages

Savitch & Vogel, 2000; Gainsborough, 2001; Gibbs &Jonas, 2001; Healey, 2004; Bulkcley, 2005; Townsend, 2005; Harrison, 2006; Pahl-Wostl, Gupta, & Petty', 2008; Bellamy & Brown, 2009; Pitschel & Bauer, 2009

Adaptive and flexible

Savitch & Vogel, 2000; Bellamy & Brown, 2009; Scott, 2016

Public involvement, engagement, and participation

Gibbs & Jonas, 2001; Sancton, 2001; Townsend, 2005; Castro, 2007; Nelles, 2009; Riggirozzi, 2010

Inclusive/institutional thickness

Giordano, 2001; Bellamy & Brown, 2009; Bakker & Cook, 2011

Networks and information sharing

Bulkcley, 2005; Bogason & Zolner, 2007; George & Reed, 2015; Scott, 2016

Calls for increased institutional and structural capacity and support

Gainsborough, 2001; Bulkcley, 2005; Harrison, 2006; Maxwell, 2008; Pahl-Wostl et al„ 2008; Clarke, 2016

Calls for civic capital and inter-municipal cooperation and agreements

Savitch & Vogel, 2000; Pahl-Wostl et ah, 2008; Nelles, 2009

Need for co-construction of regional policies and governance arrangements

Zirul, Halseth, Markcy, & Ryser, 2015

(Adapted from: Breen & Minnes, 2014)

As evident throughout this section, governance is highly interconnected with several other themes in our new regionalism framework (see Figure 1.1). Regional identity and the role of a place-based development are reflected in many of the characteristics present in governance, for example, especially public participation and consent in defining values and the goals of governance structures (Reimer, 2005; Makoni, Meiklejohn, & Coetzee, 2008; George & Reed,

2015). Shared learning and networks are also important to ensuring successful regional governance, while the pursuit of economic growth and competition should be accompanied by considerations of social and environmental factors and their role in regional resilience and sustainable governance (MacLeod, 2001; Christopherson, Michie, & Tyler, 2010). For more on our conceptualization of governance within our research and related findings, see Chapter 5.

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