Economic Ideas and Development Strategy: The Case of London, Ontario

By Bradford, Neil | Canadian Journal of Urban Research, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Economic Ideas and Development Strategy: The Case of London, Ontario


Bradford, Neil, Canadian Journal of Urban Research


Abstract

The past two decades in Canada have witnessed significant economic restructuring and public policy innovation. While most research concentrates on federal recovery plans and provincial adjustment strategies, this article makes the case for studying actors and places on the restructuring front lines. Offering an ideational analysis of change dynamics in London, Ontario, a mid-sized manufacturing city, the article reveals a pattern of incremental policy adjustment even as bold ideas contesting the status quo were brought forward. Arguing that particular institutional-political settings operative at different governance scales shape the policy influence of ideas, the article situates the London experience in broader theoretical debates about institutional innovation. At the national level, ideas often supply "weapons of mass persuasion" for political parties seeking electoral breakthroughs. At the local level, ideas serve a different purpose--providing focal points for problem-solving networks that over time and across issues may bring about significant change.

Key words: local economic development, social learning, policy innovation, London Ontario

Resume

Recemment, le Canada a connu une periode significative de restructuration economique et d'innovation publique. Tandis que la plupart des recherches s'interessent aux plans federaux et aux strategies provinciales de relance, le present article propose d'etudier certains acteurs et milieux fortement impliques par la restructuration. A partir d'une analyse des idees et des dynamiques de changement a London, Ontario, une ville moyenne manufacturiere, l'article constate des tendances d'ajustement incremental des politiques pendant que sont avancees des idees audacieuses remettant en question le statu quo. Arguant que les contextes politico-institutionnels et les differentes echelles de gouvernance marquent l'influence des idees sur les politiques, l'article situe l'experience de London dans le debat theorique plus large relativement a l'innovation institutionnelle. Au niveau national, les idees procurent aux partis politiques des "outils de persuasion de masse" en vue de gains electoraux. Au niveau local, les idees visent plutot a offrir des points d'ancrage pour des reseaux de resolution de problemes qui, avec le temps et par-dela les enjeux particuliers, peuvent mener a des changements significatifs.

Mots cles: innovation publique, restructuration conomique, ides politiques

Introduction

The past two decades in Canada have been marked by significant economic restructuring and public policy innovation. Difficult adjustments to continental free trade across the 1990s have been followed by an even more wrenching set of changes forced by the 2008 global financial crisis. Urgent concerns about global ecological sustainability add yet another layer of complexity to the search for new economic strategies. Given the scope and scale of these recent shocks to the Canadian political-economic system, it is not surprising that public policy scholars have focused their attention on the high politics of federal recovery plans and provincial adjustment policies.

In this article we turn the spotlight on another scale of action typically overlooked in relation to the big issues of economic change--local municipalities and communities. Indeed, a growing body of literature on the new localism argues that global shocks and continental challenges play out in locally-specific ways as municipal governments, typicially in partnership with community-based organizations, seek to lead their places beyond crisis (Pike et al. 2006). The OECD and other influential think tanks catalogue the creative work of cities across Europe and North America testing new ideas and innovative practices (OECD 2006; Wolfe 2009). What is needed now are more fine-grained analyses of such local experimentation, probing how and whether these actors reposition their economies for future success.

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