Investing in Place: Economic Renewal in Northern British Columbia
November 4, 2013
Review By Laura Lamb
This book addresses the question of how to bring about sustainable economic and social development in northern British Columbia. It is written from a geographic perspective with influences from policy studies and economics. The authors successfully argue that economic renewal requires a whole community approach, largely dependent on moving from a space-based to a place-based economy in both policy and actions. They set the broad goal of creating resilient rural and small town economies that are flexible, responsive, robust, and able to react quickly to meet the challenges — and capitalize on the opportunities — of a fast-paced global economy. This lofty task involves diversifying existing resource development in a way that complements local assets and meets the needs of residents.
As the title of the book suggests, the concept of a place-based economy is a major theme and is argued to be the most appropriate approach for achieving the flexibility required in the new global economy. A place-based economy is described as having four bottom lines, namely economic, environmental, cultural, and community, each of which is viewed as being complementary to the others as well as providing opportunities for diversification, investment, and development.
The authors provide context by tracing through the history of past development from First Nations involvement in pre-European contact trade, to Bennett’s province-building era of the 1950s, to the challenges brought about by globalization in the 1980s. The role of public policy, both historically and for future development, is a consistent theme throughout the book. In Chapter 2, public policy is described as playing an active role in shaping the destinies of communities in northern British Columbia, with reference to impacts of specific policy decisions such as the provincial consolidation of health care. In Chapter 3, the authors emphasize the importance of public sector recognition that government spending on community, physical, and human resource infrastructure be viewed as an investment with long term returns rather than an expense. An overview of the history of regional development policy is provided in Chapter 4, with public sector responses to the challenges of globalization and business cycles since the 1980s described in Chapters 5 and 6. The final four chapters outline policy recommendations to achieve a place-based economy including an interesting discussion of the need to reconcile top-down and bottom-up relationships in Chapter 8.
The book makes good use of the relevant literature, for example the discussion in Chapter 7 of the dynamics of competitiveness and its applications to northern British Columbia, including some interesting case studies on the role of planning in Smithers and Valemount and the experiment of instant town development in Tumbler Ridge.
In sum, the authors make a convincing case for a holistic approach to sustainable economic and social development in northern British Columbia, a perspective that can be applied to other resource-based economies as well. On the whole, the book is well written with an extensive bibliography and a wealth of material on the economic and social development experiences of rural and small communities in the northern part of the province, with a focus on the last thirty years. This book would make a suitable textbook for courses in regional or community development.