Earlier this spring, I was amazed to read a new research report prepared by UK group Localise West Midlands evaluating how localised and community economic development can be scaled up to help create more successful, socially just and diverse places.
Their literature review struck me as one of the most thorough analyses of the evidence base for CED that I have seen for a long time. But I wanted to get the opinion of an expert, so I asked honorary lifetime CCEDNet member Stewart Perry to review the document and provide his comments on how relevant it was for a North American audience.
Stewart is one of the pioneers of CED in the US and Canada, as both a policy adviser and a designer and manager of CED institutions. As head of the (U.S.) Center for Community Economic Development, he helped create the first finance institution for CED, the Massachusetts Community Development Finance Authority. He helped start Canada's first community development corporation, New Dawn Enterprises, and headed the Community Economic Development Center in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. A consultant, researcher, and author, Stewart currently specializes in community and development finance as an associate with the Canadian Centre for Community Renewal.
Stewart generously agreed to review the report and here is what he had to say:
- This is a very valuable consolidation of the literature on the evidence for a crucial range of impacts that CED intends, both economic and social impacts. It usefully enlarges the analysis to the general frame of localizing economic effort.
- It's a careful and penetrating analysis.
- A side benefit is that it explores what might be called the other side of the debate: for example, that big corporations do the important work. It cites evidence for the other side, but carefully analyzes it.
- It recognizes and uses the fundamental insight that social and economic conditions are intricately and visibly interwoven at the local level, entangled such that we have to take this into account in any programming and policy. This should be evident yet is so often not recognized.
- There are insightful comments on the relation of the idea and reality of social enterprises in regard to CED -- with the former seen as being a valuable but limited strategy in what has to be a more ambitious effort
- It might have benefitted by closer contact with USA literature of yore, especially to use the careful work of Avis Vidal, Rebuilding Communities (1992).
- Some of the UK vocabulary would need translating for a North American audience:
- high street - which I take to mean the downtown or commercial district?
- inward investment - importing outside industry and its branch plants
- the spend - the expenditure, particularly government budget expenditures
- multiples - chain stores?
- I was struck by some of the helpful analysis of the hard-to-assess contradictory findings—for example, whether little local shops or a chain supermarket will serve a local population better. Some of the findings were fascinating news to me.
Stewart’s reaction suggests that the report is a valuable addition to the literature that we here in North America would benefit from taking note.