Economic Development Roles in
American Cities: A Contextual Analysis of Shifting
Susan E. Clarke
This chapter provides an overview of changing conditions and new institutional and political roles in local economic development activities. To the extent that some of the contextual features evident in American cities emerge elsewhere because of devolution, global competition pressures, taxpayer resistance, and other trends, local governments may take up similar initiatives and the public-private partnerships featured here may become more widespread (Harding 1994; Stoker 1995; Wolman with Spitzley 1996).
Three distinct characterizations of partnerships are considered. On one hand, these partnership arrangements are pragmatic solutions to the need for more coordination and cooperation in many American cities. Partnerships are governance strategies as well; they enhance cities’ problem-solving capacities and strengthen integration of different institutional or relational webs within cities. Yet others claim that partnerships are myths, that they legitimize and maintain existing social and political structures that generate inequalities and limit public deliberation and discourse. In the American context, partnerships appear to be necessary, but not sufficient, institutional means for governance; those valuing democratic practices will demand more diverse and more deliberative arrangements for resolving questions of economic and social well-being.
To put the American case in a perspective amenable to comparisons, it is useful to contrast it with the elegant Westminster Model of central-