Governing Urban Regions Through Collaboration

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Governing Urban Regions Through Collaboration

Author: JoŽl Thibert
Published: February 2015, Ashgate Publishing

The Book

Aims and contribution to the field

Three decades ago, Danielson and Doig (1982) asked an important question: to what extent do the actions of governmental organizations have a significant independent influence on urban development within the metropolitan sphere? Since then, the focus of most scholars in the field has shifted from the structure and influence of formal government to that of civil society and informal modes of governance, more generally. This shift can be explained, partly, by the rise of the “new regionalist” school, which emphasizes the importance of informal and voluntary regional collaboration between both local governments and private, non-governmental actors.

Given that voluntary collaboration has become the modus operandi of a large number of North American metropolitan regions and that the scholarly community has generally been more interested in the determinants of collaboration than in its effects, this book asks (echoing Danielson and Doig): to what extent does regional collaboration have a significant independent influence on urban development within the metropolitan sphere (whether by giving weight to existing policies, facilitating policy implementation or fostering the development of new regional policies), as opposed to having no influence or influencing governance capacity without influencing policy outcomes? In other words, this research seeks to discover whether regional collaboration makes a difference – and if so what type of collaboration, under what conditions and in what ways.

More specifically, this research concentrates on the effect of three types of collaboration (bottom-up, state-mandated and functional) and the moderating role of three factors (regional awareness, governmental initiative and civic capital) on three main outcomes (environmental preservation, socio-economic integration and economic competitiveness). In short, the book seeks to understand whether and how urban regional collaboration contributes to regional resilience, defined as “the ability of a [region] to recover from a stress, either an acute blow, as in the case of an earthquake or major plant closing, or a chronic strain, as may occur with longstanding economic decline or unremitting rapid population growth” (Institute of Governmental Studies, UC Berkeley, 2012).

The thesis behind this work is that voluntary regional collaboration – whether between governmental actors, non-governmental actors or a combination of both – usually produces intrinsic benefits (i.e., internal to the collaborative process), but may or may not produce extrinsic benefits (i.e., concrete and perceptible changes in socio-economic or environmental conditions). In short, this book aims to test whether regional collaboration produces extrinsic effects, i.e., effects outside of those intrinsic effects already described in the literature.

Contents list and synopsis of each chapter

Chapter 1 (completed) reviews the literature on inter-municipal cooperation and collaboration and, generally speaking, makes the case for a) studying urban regions; b) using a trans-national comparative approach in doing so and c) focusing on regional collaboration and its effects. Important concepts, such as regional resilience (in contrast to regional sustainability), civic capital (in contrast to social/cultural capital) and higher governmental initiative (in contrast to higher governmental interventionism) are also defined.

Chapter 2 (completed but optional) develops a conceptual model for thinking about and measuring regional collaboration in U.S. and Canadian metropolitan regions. The concept of regional collaboration is differentiated into its three main “forms” (i.e., bottom-up, functional and state-mandated collaboration) and the importance of each mediating variable (civic capital, regional awareness and higher governmental initiative) is explained. In addition, the choice of case studies is explained in detail.

Chapter 3 (completed) reports on the large-N, quantitative analysis of regional collaboration (measured in each of its three forms) in North America’s 110 largest metropolitan regions. The chapter is written so as to make the methodology clear and transparent even to readers less familiar with advanced statistical techniques (such as two-stage least square regression). Each hypothesis is then confronted to the results of this analysis, and further questions and hypotheses are formulated.

Chapter 4 (completed, could be split into two chapters) “strings together” the events that unfolded before, during and following important “collaborative moments” in the metropolitan histories of the San Francisco Bay Area and the Greater Montreal so as to trace as clearly as possible the process of regional collaboration from initiation to implementation and, in some cases, on to formalization or institutionalization. Each major case study (one about each site) is divided in three sub-cases, which are connected through a historical narrative of regional collaboration in that region.

Chapter 5 (not yet written, but all data collected) would compare and contrast the fate of two regions abutting one another: Niagara, ON and Niagara Falls-Buffalo, NY.  The idea would be to look specifically at the role of regional collaboration in the realm of economic development in two regions that resemble each other in every way except for the fact that they are situated in different countries (and very different sub-national territorial units of government, namely, the province of Ontario and the state of New York).

Chapter 6 (completed) summarizes the key findings of preceding chapters and proposes a few conclusions, which are complemented by supplementary quantitative analyses. The conclusion centers around the idea that regional collaboration without a clear purpose may lead into a “collaborative trap” wherein large amounts of time and energy are dedicated to working “in collaboration”, to no real effect, even as the pressing regional issues that provoked collaboration in the first place go unattended.


The near complete manuscript contains 14 tables and 14 figures; among these figures, four are maps, nine are diagrams and one is a satellite photograph.

Word extent

The near complete manuscript is currently 80 437 words, including the table of contents, all tables and figures and each chapter’s bibliography. The remaining chapter should not be more than 4000-5000 words.

Estimated delivery date

The full manuscript, including the new chapter about the trans-border region of Niagara, could be completed by the end of October 2013.