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  • Governing from Below: Urban Regions and the Global Economy
  • Randy Lippert
Jeffrey M. Sellers Governing from Below: Urban Regions and the Global Economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2002 395 p. + index.

I sit writing this review in Windsor, Ontario, a city located directly across the river from Detroit, Michigan, arguably the best North American example of social and territorial exclusion, environmental degradation, and failed urban economic development on offer. Post-industrial Detroit has startling spatial divisions along racial and class lines, a dwindling population, a deplorable public transit system, crumbling vacant buildings, and vast deserted, garbage-strewn blocks. Windsor has avoided the starkest of its racial and social inequality, widely thought to be due to vastly different federal social policies in Canada, but Windsor shares Detroit's degraded and polluted environment, economic stagnation, and post-industrial malaise. Governing from Below argues that the causes and the way out of the bleak reality facing Detroit and Windsor are to be found as much locally as beyond their city limits in the actions of federal governments and other higher level public and private institutions.

This book is a detailed study of contemporary urban governance. Broadly defined as "local efforts to shape local society" (p. 6), urban governance encompasses formal and informal efforts of governmental and private groups and institutional actors to realize specified policy outcomes. Sellers focuses on three main policy domains—distributive equity, economic growth, and protection of the environment—in eleven mid-size cities in three advanced industrial democracies: Germany, France, and the United States. Chosen for their similar size and post-industrial characteristics, these cities include Madison, U.S.A., Freiberg, Germany, and Montpellier, France. Adopting a rigorous comparative approach to these carefully-chosen urban contexts, Sellers discovers considerable variation in the three policy domains, both by region and by nation (p. 35). He considers the contribution of policies of "supralocal" governments and then examines local coalitions and agendas in relation to the identified variations. Sellers argues that the sheer variety of outcomes associated with the change from industrial cities to service centres evident in his research points to the important role of local conditions and decisions. Divergences in developmental, environmental, and distributive outcomes, he argues, "rarely come about solely or even mostly through the initiative of national states, organizations or policies" (p. 39). Global influences and trends in the various urban regions are salient, but the variations are too many for an explanation to rest on global causes alone (p. 87). Thus the policy domains in question are shown to emerge from the bottom up as well as to materialize as downward pressure from above. Sellers describes how urban governance works at the side of the varying influence of economic sectors, national infrastructures (that include the supply of legal authority), and social and spatial structures. Regarding infrastructure, for example, Sellers shows how existing typologies of [End Page 171] national models of governance (i.e., characterizing the relationship between federal and local policies and decision-making as typically German or French) are dubious, though less so in relation to the United States. Sellers notes that the remarkable success of German environmental and social policy, usually seen as the result of typical German corporatism (p. 393), is more attributable to specific patterns of governance from below. Interestingly, Sellers cautions that as privatization has continued to transform much of Germany's infrastructure, this may well "undermine the institutional bases for some of the most successful regimes of urban governance in the world" (p. 394). A significant related finding is that in only three of the eleven cities that were studied (Freiburg, Rennes, and Munster, all of which are in Europe) were local coalitions able to realize positive outcomes in all three policy domains simultaneously and that in those contexts, effective governance from below relied on adequate support from higher government levels. Thus, Sellers argues that, although nation-states shape the limits of the possibilities of urban policy, local agents, reacting to the efforts of local business and movements, have often succeeded in important policy areas by drawing on local resources and infrastructure as well as that which flows from higher levels. Overall, Sellers effectively reveals the unexpected and...


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pp. 171-173
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