This book began with a hunch. A hunch informed by detailed data analysis and case-study research, to be sure, but just a hunch nonetheless. In a previous book, Just Growth (2012), we set out to explore how and why certain metropolitan regions had been able to link social inclusion and economic prosperity. We investigated employment structures and industrial composition. We examined demographic characteristics and geographical patterns of disparity. We considered patterns of education, housing, and social well-being. And we explored the political, economic, and social strategies pursued by a range of regional leaders—in the public, private, labor, and nonprofit sectors—using a careful selection of regional case studies meant to highlight different patterns of growth and equity.
In the end, as we examined all that data, what seemed most intriguing to us was not necessarily the detailed regression analysis and fancy multinomial specifications we developed (although we definitely lingered with those methods, data nerds that we are). Instead, what struck us was that several of our successful case study regions seemed to have some set of institutions that helped build particularly diverse regional leadership networks. Moreover, at the core of those diverse networks was a messy and very qualitative process of generating information and knowledge about dynamics in the region, and a joint commitment to let that knowledge, rather than ideology or partisanship, be the most important driver of regional development strategies. In short, there was something about knowing together that seemed to promote growing together.
This book represents our effort to systematically investigate that hunch—the hunch that diverse and dynamic epistemic (or knowledge) communities are an important component of building metropolitan regions that can achieve more sustainable and more equitable growth. To say that this approach—striving to blend and balance doing good and doing well—cuts against the grain of contemporary American politics is perhaps an understatement. After all, our country seems to be characterized by growing inequality dividing our fortunes, partisan rancor frustrating national solutions, and narrow-cast cable and social-media news sources fragmenting the very information base that holds our social fabric together.
But there is also a better side of American politics that seems to be in the waiting. After all, a growing number of people recognize that widening inequalities undermine not just the promise of opportunity for all but also our very economic health as a nation; understand that strength lies in our diversity and that fights over policy priorities should be carried out in a manner rooted in a sense of our common destiny; and acknowledge that a truly inclusive process must seek out the voices of the marginalized and excluded, and recognize the dangers of narrow perspectives, half-truths, and distortions.
And we know that this better side of American politics is not just imaginable but exists today—because we have seen it in places across the country. In regions as distinct as Salt Lake City and Seattle, San Antonio and Oklahoma City, leaders from diverse constituencies and divergent political perspectives are letting a commitment to place trump a commitment to ideology. Through processes sometimes obvious and sometimes hidden, sometimes deliberate and sometimes unintentional, these leaders and their constituencies have been able to weave a new metro politics that belies the individualistic and fragmented discourse that dominates the national scene. The challenge for the nation is to lift up lessons from those places where equity, growth, and community have come together—and to do so in a manner that helps inform a new national conversation about how to secure prosperity, promote inclusion, and reweave a tattered social fabric.
In researching and writing this book, we have incurred immense debt to a wide range of people that we would like to thank for their guidance and assistance. First and foremost, we want to thank the entire staff and research allies at the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) at the University of Southern California. Those staff members most directly involved in this project included Madeline Wander (data analysis, case studies, writing), Justin Scoggins (data analysis), Mirabai Auer (maps, data analysis, case studies), Pamela Stephens (data analysis and writing), and Rhonda Ortiz (case studies). Rachel Rosner, long-time research affiliate of PERE, also provided invaluable help with our North Carolina case studies. PERE graduate-student researchers Chad Horsford, Heddy Nam, Sheila Nem, and Hilary Wilson helped gather case-study information and provided editing support, and PERE undergraduate student Paxton Hall helped with formatting. Others on staff, including Vanessa Carter, Jennifer Ito, Jared Sanchez, and Alejandro Sanchez-Lopez, also contributed to some of the data interpretation and analysis, while Jackie Agnello Wong, Michelle Saucedo, and Lauren Portillo provided essential administrative and logistical support.
Knowledge production is a collective process, and the entire PERE team has been an important hub for collective research, thinking, and writing for many years. While one of us (Pastor) has the pleasure of working with this team on a day-to-day basis, including with some staffers for well over a decade, the other (Benner) has also worked closely with PERE staff for nearly as long, and also had the great pleasure of spending a sabbatical year at PERE while working on this book. We cannot imagine having a better crew—and certainly this book would still be just questions in our heads without their ability to keep us on task and on time.
We also want to thank the financial supporters who made this book possible. First and foremost is the Institute for New Economic Thinking, whose grant (no. 5409) enabled Benner to spend a sabbatical year at PERE and work more or less full-time on this project. The Ford Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation also provided invaluable grants to PERE that enabled this research, particularly in the creation of a standardized database to use in case-study selection and our econometric investigation of the relation between measures of inequality and the length of growth spells.
We would also like to thank all the people we interviewed in the regions we visited. The full list of interviewees is included at the end of the book, so we won’t repeat it here. But we wouldn’t have been able to write this book, or share their stories, without the time, knowledge, and wisdom they generously shared with us. In their own ways, they are working to build a more inclusive and successful America, and we hope we have done their efforts justice in these pages.
We have also benefitted from the intellectual insights and contributions to this research from many colleagues along the way. The Center for Regional Change at the University of California, Davis, has been an important hub for thinking about regional equity and provided valuable feedback that helped the analysis. We are particularly grateful to Jonathan London, Nancy Erbstein, Dave Campbell, Alex Karner, Teri Greenfield, Sara Watterson, Mindy Romero, and Cassie Hartzog, whose work on various aspects of regional equity has helped inform our work.
We are also thankful to the members of the Building Resilient Regions (BRR) network, funded by the MacArthur Foundation and guided by Margaret Weir of the University of California, Berkeley. BRR was an important sounding-board for the ideas in this volume as well as the proving ground for the data development. We especially thank Hal Wolman for pushing us to do better econometrics (hope we made the grade, Hal) and Margaret Weir and Todd Swanstrom for pushing us to understand the real mechanisms and challenges of policy change in regions. We want to single out Bill Lester and Sarah Reckow, both of whom started in BRR circles as graduate students and are now professors; they gently delivered (in writing and in a major journal) one of the most insightful—and apt—critiques of our previous work that we have read. It inspired us to respond with a much more nuanced rethinking and restatement of our perspective on how equity gets inserted in a regional conversation. In a way, this book is our attempt to respond to their concerns, and we hope that, with this volume, we demonstrate that we learned as much from them as they claim to have learned from us.
Thanks also to Bob Giloth, Maureen Conway, and other contributors to the book Connecting People to Work, who provided valuable feedback to a book chapter that helped us in formulating the overall argument of the book. Thanks as well to Jennifer Clark and other (anonymous) reviewers of this book manuscript and several related academic articles, portions of which have been included here, thanks to the permission of the publishers.
And while this particular debt may not seem as directly intellectual, we also want to give a special shout-out to Rachel Morello-Frosch for generously sharing her house in Santa Cruz for several writing retreats. The bulk of this book was written during those retreats, and the inspiration of being in her place—mere steps from the Pacific Ocean and pretty close to multiple cappuccino shops—made writing this book a true pleasure. She’s also one of the smartest people we know, and we’re just hoping that hanging in her place rubbed off on us.
Finally, we have written together for years and had the chance to dedicate our books to spouses and movement heroes. This one is for the kids. Tioga, Joaquín, and Anna Eliza—it’s your world. We know that the spirit of collective enterprise and creativity in the name of justice that we write about in these pages is dear to your hearts, and we hope that we and others contribute to building the world of shared opportunity, civil discourse, and common-ground economics that you and your generations deserve.