A Region in Transition: The Role of Networks, Capitals and Conflicts in the Rainy River District, Ontario.
Ortiz-Guerrero, Cesar Enrique
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This research analyzed declining resource-based communities in the Rainy River District, Ontario, that is typical of the Canadian middle north, and explored their central features using several qualitative and participatory techniques. This work disengages from traditional demographic-economic analysis of decline and offers an alternative multidimensional interpretation. The analysis centers on the role of networks, diverse forms of capitals and conflicts. Literature on regional development, New Regionalism, social networks, capital, conflict, and complex evolving social systems informed the conceptual framework to guiding this research. Among other findings this research demonstrated that: First, economic-demographic “size type” indicators are insufficient to explain the complex, multidimensional, network-based, conflictive and highly politicized nature of decline. Policies based on these type of indicators are misleading and can reinforce the path dependence process of single-industry rural communities. Second, networks, capital and conflicts can be significant in the process of decline. They can speed or slow the process of change. Potentially, they can be transformed and used when planning for decline so as to steer the process toward sustainable rural planning and development. Additional factors identified and proposed for this framework included: learning, interaction, cooperation, connectivity, and psychological and institutional factors restricting rural communities from reacting to decline, and escaping from path dependence. Third, decline should be recognized in order to start a process of planning for decline and rural development. Top-down planning and policy initiatives in the Rainy River District and across North Western Ontario have not recognized a general planning gap and have glossed over the need to approach decline, and rural development generally, using a local perspective and grassroots initiatives of people and communities. Basic elements to plan for decline in rural regions were described. Fourth, rural regions, ethnicity, and power, are insufficiently recognized by New Regionalism theory. Including these elements can benefit the theory and practice of rural planning and development. Analysis of networks and planning is a mutually reinforcing approach, useful for the study and planning of rural areas. Finally, rural decline studies in Canada should pay attention to factors of ethnicity. Significant structural violence against First Nations remains in rural regions.