Urban-rural interactions and interdependencies are becoming increasingly prevalent as growth pressures and population increases drive urban expansion farther into rural areas. Emerging trends in regional economic clusters, environmental stewardship, and infrastructure development transcend the traditional political boundaries between rural communities and urban centres. Interdependency presents difficult challenges for communities and governments calls out for innovative responses and collaborative cultures and practices. Building on the results of the Flagstaff Country Urban-Rural Interdependencies Pilot project, CRSC conducted a literature review, interviews, and an online survey in three contrasting regions of the province (Alberta Southwest Regional Alliance, Northeast ALberta Information HUB Ltd., and Calgary Regional Partnership, to explore how partnerships can be used to meet local and regional challenges and opportunities.
This research aimed to investigate the connections between partnership and social, economic, and environmental considerations, as well as the conditions under which partnerships arise, factors that affect the success or failure of collaboration, and future trends in the development of urban-rural partnerships.
Key project objectives were:
- To shed light on the narrative of partnering and urban-rural interdependency as they are currently evolving in three regions of Alberta
- To explore the ways in which social, economic, and environmental factors support or hider the development of partnership amongst local government, communities, and businesses
- To expand upon research results and offering principles which aspire to assist in the development of collaborative strategies through an engaged and contextually informed research process.
A central lesson drawn from this research is the importance of partnerships and collaboration across government and community actors in meeting shared challenges of development and sustainability. Findings posed three primary challenges for urban and rural communities as they develop collaboration and come to understand interdependency:
The research discussed in this report uncovered widespread enthusiasm for partnering and an increasingly wide range of experience in partnership activities. Yet challenges do exist, and are often realized in the process of translating enthusiasm and in-principle agreement into on-the-ground action. The challenge for communities i developing effective partnerships is developing non-traditional problem-solving skills, bridging different scales, communities, and interests. Managing conflicts between urban and rural needs, identities, and resources is essential to developing effective collaboration.
Due to differences in scales and interests, governance relations are extended across geographical areas, contributing to the creation of new regions. Partnership necessarily involve novel configurations of space and time, and raise issues about identities and futures. Indeed, concerns about the loss of community identity are common sources of uncertainty and conflict in partnerships. Similarly, the complex issue around which partnerships form, including urban growth, watershed management, and regional economic development, post substantial challenges for the communities involved. Thus, regionalism is not simply the outcome of new ways of thinking about planning and governance, but a response to the changing circumstances and relations shaping life in Alberta today, and into the future.
The challenge for communities is to recognize the value of practice as a means of learning and capacity building. Learning should be a clearly defined goal of any partnership relationship. This may involve reflecting on the successes and failures of the process, but also include focused attention on the processes and social relations contributing to these outcomes. Communities face a difficult challenge in ensuring that they are able to develop the capacities and skills needed to respond to regional challenges. Capturing the experience of practice is an essential component of this process.
Partnerships are not a panacea for contending with pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges. However, through shared experience, the development of collaborative skills, and the recognition of those spaces and contexts where new cultures and practices of governance can be fostered, partnerships can provide potential benefits for Albertan communities, showing each partner that they are not alone in facing the challenges of planning and sustainability.
Project funders included Alberta Municipal Affairs, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, and Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. CRSC also relied on the support and participation many government and community stakeholders in the three case communities.
Partnerships: Responding to the Changing Dynamics of Urban-Rural Interdependency – Final Report
Partnerships: Responding to the Changing Dynamics of Urban-Rural Interdependency – Executive Summary
Partnerships: Responding to the Changing Dynamics of Urban-Rural Interdependency – Informational Brochure
Regional Economic and Social Profiles: