UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Macro forces and micro initiatives : economic policy planning at the urban level in advanced industrial market countries Dunn, Denis Edward


This thesis is concerned with the efforts of local government in advanced industrial market countries to positively influence urban and metropolitan economic development in response to pervasive economic stagnation and decline, and the implications of this expanding function for the planning profession. It identifies some of the fundamental trends affecting city economies including 'de-industrialisation' impelled by decentralisation and inter-regional dispersion; disinvestment driven by the international mobility of capital seeking lower costs and higher returns; and overall economic stagnation associated with the retrenchment in service sector growth. The consequences for urban areas are then discussed in terms of structural unemployment, physical decay, loss of vitality, and impending fiscal crisis. It is observed that national and regional policies have been largely unsuccessful in altering inter-regional employment, investment and production patterns. Legitimate concern at the local level for both decline and neglect provides a major rationale for a greater role for local authorities as stewards of socio-economic welfare on behalf of constituents. Urban economic development, however, is currently pursued at the expense of sound analysis, clarifying objectives and effectiveness, and coordination and cooperation. Due to the nature and extent of spatial and sectoral shifts occuring in the space economy, the integrity of standard spatio-economic theories is seriously undermined, so that economic policy planning at the local urban level has been undertaken without a satisfactory basis. Moreover, there has been no meaningful assessment to date of both broad strategic approaches adopted and policy instruments employed in local economic planning. In addition, the discipline of planning, in both an academic and applied sense, has tended to focus on land use, design and more recently social issues to the exclusion of the economic dimension, which has resulted in a professional vacuum in this rapidly emerging area. The prevailing deficiencies in policy and practice present a real challenge to those involved. It is therefore timely to reflect upon the diversity of experience and subsequently formulate a set of principles to enhance effectiveness and guide action. The findings are based on an extensive review of literature from North America and Europe in which major themes and issues were identified and then structured into a coherent framework. Because impacts and conditions vary enormously between jurisdictions, and outcomes are highly uncertain, policies should be contextuated in light of ongoing restructuring and local circumstances. This requires a sensitive perception of trends, dynamics and evolving linkages. Furthermore, policies ought to be strategically placed in terms of selectivity and targetting. Innovation is recommended in the creation of new tools because a broad range of intervention points enhances flexibility. Unorthodox initiatives such as worker cooperatives have utility in expanding the range of options but instruments should be precise so that it is clear which objectives are being pursued. It is essential to have a thorough monitoring and evaluation component to assess impact and effectiveness. Because it is also important to be cost-effective in this 'era of limits', costs as well as policy choices for the local economy should be clarified, particularly as significant costs may be involved in both turning around market forces and in ameliorative measures. That the urban authority has a small but significant role to play in economic development efforts is now widely appreciated. As the scope for action is severely constrained by resource and jurisdictional limitations, capacity ought to be fortified by improving local authority funding and powers. Planners can play a central role here in terms of their ability for researching and analysing trends and problems; their political awareness in dealing with local politicians and interest groups; their demonstrated expertise in animating the community and fostering a dialogue around goals, values, needs and priorities; and, finally, their communication skills with respect to inter-government liaison and regional coordination.

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