Thursday, August 30, 2012

Community Economic Development Law: A Text for Engaged Learning a welcome addition to the CED literature

As a professor leading an economic development clinic, I am always on the lookout for good class textbooks that address the smorgasbord of issues that economic development and community economic development clinics face, and can help students get up-and-running with clients.  But despite the growth of CED and ED clinics in the last several decades, the legal academic literature has not kept pace.  Only a few top-notch books exist.  One that I particularly like is that of Roger A Clay, Jr. (a former mentor of mine at the National Economic Development & Law Center, now Insight) and Susan R. Jones' Building Healthy Communities:  A Guide to Community Economic Development for Advocates, Lawyers, and Policymakers (2009), published by the American Bar Association (table of contents here).   Community Economic Development Law

New to the field this year is Community Economic Development Law:  A Text for Engaged Learning (2012), just out from Carolina Academic Press and co-authored by Susan D. Bennett, Brenda Bratton Blom, Louise A. Howells, and Deborah S. Kenn.  The book covers a lot of the same ground as the Clay and Jones text (table of contents here).  One thing I really like about this book, however, is that it introduces a role-playing game to the book to help students understand the multitude of community participants, governmental agencies, and private-sector actors that participate in ED and CED activities.  The book describes this role-playing game as follows:

The text enables students to approach the substantive material as would problem-solving, community-based practitioners. They do so by entering the community of Ourfuture City, whose Old World immigrants built a vanished industrial prosperity; and of its neighborhood, Milkweed Park, whose new immigrants and long-time residents confront the stresses of physical and financial isolation, racial segregation and economic disinvestment. Students assume the roles of advisors and advocates for the families, teachers, clergy, bankers, entrepreneurs, non-profits, public institutions, and activists of this prototypical struggling municipality.

Not hyped enough in the book's materials is that it comes with a map of the hypothetical Ourfuture City that lays forth a visual representation of the very abstract, but very real factors playing into ED and CED issues.  I can't say how much I love to see this. 

For a number of years I have participated in the Urban Land Institute's wonderful UrbanPlan role-playing game (see San Francisco ULI's UrbanPlan page), which provides students a typical redevelopment scenario, a map of a complicated area and a game text replete with gentrification factors, a homeless shelter, historic buildings, and lots of other factors that pose the constant dilemmas of redevelopment.  In the UrbanPlan game, students have to find a way to develop an area that "pencils out" and then, competing against other student groups, sell their vision of the development to a "city council," which is composed of ULI volunteers. 

I absolutely love UrbanPlan, as I believe it provides students a hands on experience in the trade-offs implicit in any redevelopment.  The trouble is that UrbanPlan is very complex and requires a little too much class time to fully integrate it into a law school curriculum.  (UrbanPlan's intended audience is high school seniors, but I have also seen it played by graduate students in planning departments and development professionals who struggle under the game's rigor!). 

And that is why I am excited to dip into this new book.  If there is a way to bring some of that sense of embodied decision-making to the fast-paced legal classroom, which is seems this new book seeks to do with its role-playing component, I would certainly adopt it.  It will be exciting to take a closer look.

Stephen R. Miller

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