Investing in Emerging Regional Institutions to Promote Equitable Climate-Ready Regions


In this contribution, Catherine Ashcraft (University of New Hampshire) and Christina Rosan (Temple University) explore the potential for regional planning solutions to the climate crisis in a case study of two initiatives in New England. They note that climate change, like many wicked problems, is a complex set of issues that faces numerous political barriers, and that solutions are unlikely to be unlocked at one level of government. They see the region as an important scale to coordinate local action but aligning “problemshed” and “solutionshed” means thinking flexibly about defining that scale - this means adopting more creative solutions that do not necessarily rely on strong institutionalization. This doesn’t mean we should stop thinking about creating powerful regional institutions but that shouldn’t be our only focus. In the interim, there are many tools to make progress on wicked problems, such as climate change, at the regional scale. They argue that we should explore the network of institutions emerging in the U.S. that already “does regional work.” In short, this means leveraging the constellation of (regional) actors that can contribute to collaborative solutions and focus on coordination, learning about localized needs and capacities, and making impacts (no matter how small). Relying on such a broader network has the added benefits of tapping into and giving voice to local knowledge and experience and of creating opportunities to center social justice and equity through inclusion. The focus on the strength of informal relationships in this contribution has strong parallels with Lucky Anguelov’s exploration of networks that have formed around the opioid crisis in the Pacific Northwest, reinforcing the point that our focus on “formal” and “visible” forms of regionalism may be overlooking the important impact that ad hoc forms of regionalism can have. Together, these findings suggest that, in the absence of or in tandem with “powerful” centralized leadership or regulatory authority, some solutions to the wickedest problems - associated with housing, climate change, equity, public health, and more - may be effectively found in the humble and improvised comings together of existing actors.


Natural Resources and the Environment

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Urban Affairs Review

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