Research Network on Building Resilient Regions

The Foundation’s Network on Building Resilient Regions seeks to expand our knowledge base about how regional actions shape the response to major national economic and demographic challenges.  

About This Network

The nation's cities and suburbs have undergone substantial change in recent decades. Immigration and aging Baby Boomers have changed the demographic profile, economies have risen and fallen with new global competition, and the contours of city and suburb have begun to invert in some areas; suburbs are witnessing rises in poverty, for example, while some cities are being reborn as meccas for young professionals and the elite.

How metropolitan areas manage and govern these changes, however, has not changed significantly, largely because of how government is ordered under the arrangements of American federalism. Yet the three tiers of local, state, and national government and the sharp demarcations between each no longer correspond well with the scope of challenges metropolitan regions face.

Frustrated by the constraints of operating only within local jurisdictions or having policies handed down from federal or state governments, public-private efforts are looking more broadly, to regional action. Metropolitan regions—the collections of cities and suburbs and their environs that house two-thirds of America's population—are the focus of the Network on Building Resilient Regions. The Network's experts investigate why metro regions matter now, what constitutes regional resilience in the face of challenges, and what factors help to build and sustain strong metro regions.

The Network focuses its research on five areas:

Economic Insecurities focuses on poverty and equity issues affecting families, including most recently the impact of home foreclosures. Researchers examine, for example, how philanthropies and nonprofit groups are responding to rising poverty in the suburbs, and how leaders can create a strategic vision for housing policy with lessons learned from the foreclosure crisis.

Economic Resilience explores why some regions bounce back from a "shock" and others do not. Researchers examine the factors that allow a region to respond to challenges, including the roles of the private sector, government, and nonprofit organizations. As part of this effort, Network member Kathryn Foster has developed an online tool, the Resilience Capacity Index (RCI), which allows 361 U.S. metropolitan regions to assess their resilience capacity. The RCI is a single statistic summarizing a region's score on 12 equally weighted indicators in three dimensions: regional economics, socio-demographics, and community connectivity.

Infrastructure focuses on challenges of housing supply and transportation, with a particular focus on fast-growing metro areas. Researchers explore how regions are responding to emerging and changing demands on infrastructure, and how federal, state, and local institutions interact to make regions more or less resilient in the face of fast growth.

Governance examines policymaking and the role of government in creating strong regions. Researchers explore what regional governance looks like, and how regional governance influences a region's resiliency.

Immigration focuses on the benefits and challenges of immigration in regions, with a particular focus on discovering what contributes to successful immigrant integration and what increases conflict. Researchers are comparing the experience of metro areas that in the past were less accustomed to rapid immigration (Charlotte, Phoenix, and San Jose) with that of more traditional gateways (New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles), looking broadly at how communities build consensus around immigrant integration.

Key Research

Economic insecurity: The Network's research on economic insecurity has mapped the growing poverty in the suburbs and its ramifications in four regions. In three of four study regions—Atlanta, Chicago, and Detroit—suburban poverty grew much faster from 2000 to 2008 than urban poverty. Yet the services that support low-income families in the central city are lacking in many suburbs. And although private and community foundations are an important source of anti-poverty program funding, poor suburbs receive the fewest grants.

With the 2008 recession and housing crisis, the Network realized the impact that the high number of foreclosures was likely to have on metro areas. To understand better what makes neighborhoods resilient, they compared the experiences of several hard-hit metro regions and found that strong local community-based housing organizations were a significant factor in promoting resilient local responses to foreclosures. They also find that to respond effectively to foreclosures, local actors must collaborate across policy areas, such as housing, jobs, and transportation.

Key publications:

Publication: Building a Resilient Social Safety Net, by Sarah Reckhow and Margaret Weir, in Urban and Regional Policy and Its Effects, volume 4 (Brookings Institution Press, February 2012).

Building a Resilient Social Safety Net. In their chapter in this volume, Reckhow and Weir track the shift of poverty to the suburbs and document the lack of social services and philanthropic networks in those areas to support struggling families.

Publication: Resilience in the Face of Foreclosure: Lessons from Local and Regional Practice, by Todd Swanstrom and James Brooks (National League of Cities, November 2010).

Resilience in the Face of Foreclosure. This report highlights the ways in which cities and counties, and their elected local leaders, are successfully responding to the continuing waves of home mortgage foreclosures, vacant properties, and destabilized neighborhoods. Covering six metropolitan areas—St. Louis, Atlanta, Chicago, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Cleveland and Riverside-San Bernardino—the report offers a summary of significant strategies that help mitigate the foreclosure challenge and set the stage for initiatives designed to revitalize the neighborhoods that have been adversely impacted.


Economic resilience: The Network finds the capacity of metro regions to rebound (or prepare for) "shocks," whether economic, social, or natural disaster, depends on several factors. Regions that have many export industries are more resilient to employment downturns. The greater the income gaps between rich and poor, the more likely the region is to lose jobs during economic shocks and the longer it will take to recover. Decisions among key business leaders are central to how successfully a region rebounds, and government can help alleviate the strain through supportive programs. The study proves that it is also better to plan ahead than be forced to respond with new policies after a regional downturn hits.

Key Publications:

Publication: "Economic Shocks and Regional Economic Resilience," by Edward Hill et al., in Urban and Regional Policy and Its Effects, edited by Margaret Weir, Nancy Pindus, Howard Wial, and Harold Wolman(Brookings Institution Press, February 2012).

Economic Shocks and Regional Economic Resilience. Hill and colleagues document which factors make metro regions resilient to economic or natural shocks. The analysis shows that there are no silver bullets, but the area's economy, labor market flexibility, and level of income disparity are important factors. Most important, they find, are the area's business leaders. The area's resilience often turns on their business decisions to expand, diversify, or hold steady.

Publication:  "Resilience and Regions: Building Understanding of the Metaphor," by Rolf Pendall, Kathryn Foster, and Margaret M. Cowell (Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy, and Society, 3(1) (2010)).

Resilience and Regions. This article examines how disciplines including ecology, psychology, disaster studies, geography, political science, and economics view resilience. Some describe resilience as a return to conditions before a shock. Others embrace a complex systems perspective. For other fields, resilience describes the ability of people, regions, or ecosystems to thrive despite adversity. The authors conclude that although the resilience metaphor can be fuzzy, it proves useful for illuminating regional change and linking different types of regional stresses to alternative resilience frameworks.

 

Governance: The Network has identified five dimensions of regional governance: the actor group, the agenda, internal capacity, external capacity, and regional track record. When it comes to governance, the Network finds, regions whose leaders adopt more creative responses to regional changes are more likely to successfully adapt than are those who attempt to only recreate the past. In addition, regions that "bet on the basics" are less resilient that those that instead diversify their economy. Timing matters. Many of the regions that responded swiftly to changes were more adaptive. New work is creating a quantifiable way to compare regional governance.

Key Publications:

Publication: Regional Problem-Solving: A Fresh Look at What Works, by Kathryn Foster and Bill Barnes (National League of Cities/ BRR, 2011).

Regional Problem-Solving. This essay proposes a new way of thinking about what it takes to solve problems at the regional level. The framework, which emphasizes regional capacities and purposes instead of the traditional focus on governance structures, identifies five dimensions of regional governance.


Infrastructure: The Network's focus on infrastructure examines how fast-growing cities are responding to the influx of new residents and new demands—a form of shock and resilience. They find that regions are more resilient when local, regional, and larger institutions work to support vulnerable households during periods of fast growth. They also find that few regions are planning for the coming "handoff" of older Baby Boomer neighborhoods to new working-class and low-income households. They also look at water infrastructure, finding that some of the biggest water challenges in the near future may likely be in the East, in particular Atlanta. Finally, they find that transportation and housing are integrally linked. Political coalitions focused on new rail systems also spark support for mixed-use and mixed-income development.

Key Publications:

Publications: Rolf Pendall, Juliet Gainsborough, Kate Lowe, and Mai Nguyen, "Bringing Equity to Transit-Oriented Development: Stations, Systems, and Regional Resilience," in Urban and Regional Policy and its Effects, volume 4. (Brookings Institution Press, 2012).

Bringing Equity to Transit-Oriented Development. Pendall and colleagues explore how to build transit routes and stations that serve low-income communities instead of pushing them out with the gentrification that can follow well-designed transit. Using case studies in four cities, the authors consider issues of affordable housing, mixed-used development, and other opportunities to inject equity into transit development.

 

Immigration: The Network's research on immigration as a factor in regionalism and regional resilience finds that the risk for conflict grows where the "demographic distance" between the relatively young immigrant population and the relatively old (and white) native-born population is greatest. It also finds that the level of regional cooperation is low, and suburban jurisdictions often shift the burden of providing immigrant services to organizations in the urban core.

Key Publications:

Publications: "Spatial Assimilation and Its Discontents: The Changing Geography of Immigrant Integration in Metropolitan America" by Manuel Pastor. In Handbook of Urban Economics and Planning, edited by Nancy Brooks, Kieran Donaghy, and Gerritt Knaap, (Oxford University Press, 2011).

Spatial Assimilation and Its Discontents. Pastor argues in this chapter that the traditional "moving up and moving out" story of immigrant mobility may be changing, partly because the "racialization" of immigrants has led many to remain in ethnic enclaves over time, form new enclaves in older inner-ring suburbs, or compete for physical space in what were formerly black neighborhoods. This change is creating complex tensions over employment and other resources as well as theoretical challenges for scholars of immigration and urban form, particularly with regard to understanding patterns of settlement.

Publications: "Immigrant Political Incorporation: Comparing Success in the United States and Western Europe," by John Mollenkopf and Jennifer Hochschild (Ethnic and Racial Studies 33:1 (January 2010)).

Immigrant Political Incorporation. This paper explores why the United States incorporates immigrants more seamlessly than Western Europe. The authors find, first, that the history of the U.S. as a beacon for immigrants contributes to public attitudes toward immigrants. Its long history dealing with civil rights and racial issues has no comparable experience in Western Europe. The U.S. political system of nomination and election is more open to insurgent candidates (and newcomers), and its social welfare and school systems make incorporation slightly easier for immigrants.