Drewe, Paul, Juan-Luis Klein, and Edward Hulsbergen (Eds.) The Challenge of Social Innovation in Urban Revitalization.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Bunting, Trudi E.
Pub Date: 06/22/2009
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Summer, 2009 Source Volume: 18 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: The Challenge of Social Innovation in Urban Revitalization (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Drewe, Paul; Klein, Juan-Luis; Hulsbergen, Edward
Accession Number: 229218933
Full Text: Drewe, Paul, Juan-Luis Klein, and Edward Hulsbergen (Eds.)

The Challenge of Social Innovation in Urban Revitalization.

Amsterdam: Techne Press, 2008.

272 pp.

ISBN: 9789085940180.

This ambiguously-titled volume provides some conceptual/theoretical thinking on the topic of social innovation followed by nine chapters that relate case studies of very different initiatives, mostly of citizen-led planning in socially- or economically-marginal communities. Unfortunately, as is too often the case with edited books, individual chapters are highly variable in quality. Variable too is the degree to which individual entries adhere to the subject matter as captured in the title.

The text begins with a short, 6-paged introduction by Paul Drewe, called the "Challenge of Social Innovation in Urban Revitalization." Essentially this chapter establishes that the book's focus is limited to the often-overlooked downside of re-structuring, e.g. inadequate housing, poverty, massive unemployment. It underscores the need for/importance of this kind of re-balancing in cities, and it provides a brief outline to subsequent chapters.

Part 1 deals with so-called "Theory," although conceptual thinking rather than 'theory' per se is what is offered to the reader. The first chapter, by Quebec-based Fontan, Klein and Tremblay, is densely-written and not easy to read. Moreover the link to 'social' innovation remains tenuous in what is essentially a review of literature on economic innovation and technology transfer. The next chapter by French scholar Andree Matteaccioli on innovative milieus is well-written and organized; it balances nicely conceptual material with real-world examples of socially-inspired urban regeneration. Chapter 3 treats institutionalized processes. Like the first chapter, this one tends to be very abstract; however it notably provides the book's first and only significant discussion of neo-liberal ideologies. Chapter 4, "The Agile State ... in the Netherlands" reminds us that it remains difficult to find government bodies capable of quick and direct response because complicated, bureaucratic organization and business-as-usual styles of operating tend to negate the best of intentions. The final chapter in this section, "Combating Poverty in Europe and the Third World ..." crafted by four Europeans (from the UK, France and Italy) is very well done, nicely marrying theoretical knowledge with empirical examples while providing good illustrative schematics and excellent summary tables.

Part 2 begins with a useful description of two grass-roots initiatives in former-industrial tracts of Montreal. It is followed by a British case where citizen opposition to planned redevelopment of an inner-city community, Eldonian Village in Liverpool, led to a successful, participatory outcome. A somewhat similar case in the Netherlands (Gouda) is distinguished by a 'design atelier' (like a charette), which was used as a means to generate effective interaction with local residents in a poor part of town that was slated for redevelopment. The chapter on self-help housing in Leon, Nicaragua reviews the classic case of industrial resurgence in the Mondragon area of Basque Spain, as well as a discussion of how the grey economy has provided Internet cafes that apparently do reasonably well at bridging the "digital divide" for poorer households in Lima, Peru. There is even a chapter that recounts an Israeli-Palestinian partnership for a shared planned vision of Jerusalem that references lessons learned from post-partition Berlin. As well, two chapters provide summarized assessment of one European-wide and one French case where senior levels of government led initiatives for partnering with needy communities. The volume concludes with a short editorial overview that singles out the concept of innovative milieu as a common-thread to successful, socially-redistributive innovation within cities.

This text serves to demonstrate the import of social innovation, if only as regards innovation undertaken at the grass-roots by marginalized communities. I must add that I was disappointed by the narrow construction of social innovation at the expense of a broader conception. The title of this volume led me to hope for lessons relating to how we might embrace alternative models of urban growth and development, avoid environmental catastrophe and enact positive social change in these neo-liberal, consumer-driven times. In this regard I was sorely disappointed.

Trudi E. Bunting, Professor, School of Planning, University of Waterloo
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