Dr Neil Reid, Executive Director, North American Regional Science Council
Advancing our understanding of regional economies is at the heart of the NARSC. Executive Director Dr Neil Reid highlights their activities and suggests that the fallout from the great recession of 2007-09 will make regional science even more critical in the years to come
Could you begin by offering an overview of the North American Regional Science Council (NARSC)? What are its main objectives?
NARSC is an international scientific organisation that focuses on regional analysis, ranging from urban and spatial economic theories to applied problems and public policies in regional development, sustainability, environmental management, transportation, land use and many other contemporary issues of our societies. We are an interdisciplinary association representing members in fields as diverse as economics, agricultural economics, public policy, urban planning, civil engineering, geography, finance and demography.
Representing regional science in North America and our allied regional organisations, NARSC provides opportunities for local participation. These organisations represent Canada, the northeast, southern, midcontinent and western regions of the US. In our work we aim to advance our theoretical understanding of how regional economies function and improve upon existing methods of regional analysis or develop new ones. We also provide advice to policy makers and others who are interested in understanding and improving the functioning and performance of their own economies.
What kinds of urban and regional phenomena do NARSC’s activities cover?
Regional scientists study a wide range of topics and issues that are relevant to understanding the functioning and performance of regional economies. For example, recent topics that have featured in special issues of various regional science journals include commercialisation of knowledge and regional development, productivity and financing of regional transport infrastructure, the role of innovation and creativity in regional and local development policy, the impact of immigration on urban and regional economies, shale energy development and regional economic growth, and changes in Canadian retail practices. Research conducted by regional scientists can be theoretical, methodological or applied. The fact that regional scientists are increasingly engaging in research that is of an applied nature is reflected in the fact that the Regional Science Association International (RSAI) launched a new journal in 2008 called Regional Science Policy and Practice.
Within the field, what are the greatest challenges in North America at present? By what means are you helping to address these?
In my opinion, the greatest challenges currently facing North America are those associated with our emergence from the great recession of 2007-09. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) the most recent recession officially ended in the US in June 2009. However, it is clear that we are still very much feeling the impacts of this event. Indeed, the urban theorist, Richard Florida, has gone so far as to suggest that the great recession will “permanently and profoundly alter the country’s economic landscape” and will “accelerate the rise and fall of specific places within the US – and reverse the fortunes of other cities and regions”. If Florida’s prophecy is correct then the coming decade should be an exciting time for regional scientists. It will give us a great opportunity to be at the forefront of engaging in research that informs both academics and policy makers about the processes underlying these changes, and also their differential impact on North America, as well as how cities and regional areas might respond to the challenges and opportunities with which they will undoubtedly be being presented.
NARSC prides itself on being an interdisciplinary organisation. Which different fields do you bring together, and what are the benefits of this approach?
The great strength of NARSC is the diversity of perspectives that it brings to understanding the functioning and performance of regional economies. Our annual conference provides a forum for scientists from a variety of scholarly disciplines to come together to share the findings and insights from their most recent research. The academic fields that you will find represented at the NARSC annual conference include economics, agricultural economics, public policy, urban planning, civil engineering, geography, finance and demography.
The challenges faced by regional economies are complex. No single disciplinary perspective can understand this complexity, nor hope to start to provide insights as to how these challenges might be most effectively addressed. Our annual conference also attracts a number of policy makers and economic development practitioners from organisations such as the Federal Reserve Bank and this meshing of ideas and insights from academia and the world of policy and practice definitely enhances our understanding of regional economies.
There are several different regional organisations under the NARSC umbrella. What is the purpose of these groups, and how does NARSC support them?
We have five regional organisations that support the work of regional scientists throughout North America. The specific geographies that are represented by these regional organisations are the western, northeast, southern, and mid-continental US and Canada. These groups exist to provide a voice for regional science within their respective regions. They achieve this in a number of ways including the hosting of annual regional conferences and the publishing of regional journals. Each of the regions also takes a turn to host the annual NARSC conference that is held each November.
Along with the European Regional Science Association (ESRA) and the Pacific Regional Science Conference Organization (PRSCO), NARSC is part of the Regional Science Association International (RSAI). What does this membership entail? To what extent does NARSC collaborate with ESRA and PRSCO?
RSAI is our global umbrella organisation that has a worldwide membership of over 4,000 regional scientists. Its main objective is to represent the interest of regional science and its constituent organisations in the global arena. One of its major ongoing initiatives is to enhance the presence of regional science in those parts of the world where it has a fledging presence. In recent years these outreach efforts have been very successful in Latin America, particularly in Brazil and Chile. RSAI is currently working to establish an official presence in a number of countries, including China and Morocco. While NARSC is not directly involved in these efforts we are there to provide support whenever called upon by the RSAI leadership. I, along with two other members of RSAmericas, serve on the governing Council of RSAI.
In terms of our relationship with ERSA and PRSCO we do not engage in any formal joint initiatives. However, we do provide mutual support by promoting one another’s annual conferences. NARSC, ERSA and PRSCO conferences are very much international events and are represented by members of each organisation.
This November marks the 60th Annual North American Meeting of the RSAI. What do you hope will be the outcome of the meeting?
First and foremost my hope is that our annual meeting will be a forum where regional scientists from all over the world can come together and share their latest research findings and ideas. In particular, I would like to see as many young regional scientists (especially graduate students) as possible attend and present their work. Our annual conference provides a wonderful opportunity for those starting out on an academic career path to present and receive feedback on their research. As with most scientific conferences, however, the meetings that take place outside of the official scientific sessions are often just as important. These are the impromptu meetings of conference attendees that take place during coffee breaks, over a drink in the hotel bar, or perhaps over dinner. This is very often where the ‘real work’ is accomplished, where colleagues discuss common areas of research interest and sketch out future research collaborations.
Could you provide a summary of the awards and prizes that are given out by NARSC? What kinds of efforts do they acknowledge?
NARSC gives out numerous awards. First, is the Walter Isard Award for Scholarly Achievement. This award is named in honour of Professor Walter Isard, the father of regional science and founder of the Regional Science Association. This award pays tribute to regional scientists who have made significant theoretical and methodological contributions to the field. Second, is the David Boyce Award for Service to Regional Science. This award acknowledges the service contributions that members have made to regional science organisations. Third, is the Geoffrey J D Hewings Award which recognises distinguished contributions to regional science research by scholars who have recently completed doctoral studies. Fourth, is the William Alonso Memorial Prize for Innovative Work in Regional Science which recognises recent innovative research contributions of regional science scholars in the spirit of Dr William Alonso. In addition we also have a number of awards designated specifically for graduate students. First, is the Benjamin H Stevens Graduate Fellowship in Regional Science. This award provides a graduate student with a US $30,000 scholarship to support the writing of his or her thesis. Second, we award two ‘best paper’ prizes each year to graduate students who present their work at our annual conference.
NARSC is also a founding member of the Regional Association of the Americas. What are the aims of this organisation, and how is NARSC involved in its activities?
RSAI is a global organisation. However, while we have had a strong presence in North America, Europe and Asia, there are parts of the world where regional science is not well represented. In recent years RSAI has made strategic efforts to increase our presence in those places. Latin America is one of those regions where our outreach efforts have been particularly successful. As a result, RSAmericas was founded in 2008 as an umbrella organisation under which North and Latin American regional scientists can work together. Four North American regional scientists serve on the governing Council of RSAmericas. The 2011 NARSC conference in Miami, Florida was held in conjunction with the second conference of RSAmericas. The third RSAmericas conference will be held in Arica, Chile from 26-28 September 2013.
What are your hopes for NARSC in the future?
Going forward I would hope that NARSC will continue, through its annual conference, to provide a forum at which regional scientists can come together and share their current research findings. Like any organisation it is vital that we continue to bring younger scholars to the table, so ensuring that NARSC provides a welcoming and supportive venue for the next generation of regional scientists is critical. I believe that we already do a good job with respect to engaging the younger scholars but like any organisation we must not rest on our laurels and take the status quo for granted. It is also critical to make sure that younger scholars are actively engaged in the leadership of the organisation and so encouraging them to run for election to our governing Council is important. In recent decades the number of female regional scientists has also increased and this is a trend that I would like to see continue. Finally, I believe that we must maintain our disciplinary diversity and not become top heavy in terms of any single academic discipline dominating the membership.