Research Networks

Research Network on Building Resilient Regions

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

Supported by MacArthur from 2006 to 2013

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 looked more broadly, to regional action. Metropolitan regions—the collections of cities and suburbs and their environs that house two-thirds of America's population—were the focus of the Network on Building Resilient Regions. The Network's experts investigated 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 focused its research on five areas:

Economic Insecurities focused on poverty and equity issues affecting families, including most recently the impact of home foreclosures. Researchers examined, 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 explored why some regions bounce back from a "shock" and others do not. Researchers examined 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 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 focused on challenges of housing supply and transportation, with a particular focus on fast-growing metro areas. Researchers explored 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 examined policymaking and the role of government in creating strong regions. Researchers explored what regional governance looks like, and how regional governance influences a region's resiliency.

Immigration focused 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 compared 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
Building a Resilient Social Safety Net
February 2012
Researchers: Sarah Reckhow and Margaret Weir

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.

Economic Resilience
Economic Shocks and Regional Economic Resilience
February 2012
Researchers: Edward Hill et. al

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.

Bringing Equity to Transit-Oriented Development: Stations, Systems, and Regional Resilience
Researchers: Rolf Pendall, Juliet Gainsborough, Kate Lowe, and Mai Nguyen

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.


Regional Problem-Solving: A Fresh Look at What Works
Researchers: Kathryn Foster and Bill Barnes

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.

Spatial Assimilation and Its Discontents: The Changing Geography of Immigrant Integration in Metropolitan America
Researcher: Manuel Pastor

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.


Economic Insecurity
Resilience in the Face of Foreclosure: Lessons from Local and Regional Practice
November 2010
Researchers: Todd Swanstrom and James Brooks

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. 
Resilience and Regions: Building Understanding of the Metaphor
Researchers: Rolf Pendall, Kathryn Foster, and Margaret M. Cowell

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.

Immigrant Political Incorporation: Comparing Success in the United States and Western Europe
January 2010
Researchers: John Mollenkopf and Jennifer Hochschild

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.

Network Chair

Margaret Weir, Ph.D.
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, CA

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