Book Talk typography

Community Charms and Challenges

by Christine Fennessy
Hyperlocal: Place Governance in a Fragmented World book cover
We all have our favorite sections of our city or town. Like that neighborhood where flower arrangements erupt from brightly painted planters, quaint lightposts line the roadside and seemingly every shop is marked by a colorful “Open” flag. An area that encourages you to walk slower, linger longer — and buy more.

These idyllic streetscapes could be an authentic representation of community pride, but the emergence of place-based groups — like a Main Street organization or business improvement district — could also be behind the curation of the look and feel that draws you in and, ultimately, helps those working and living in that area thrive.

“These groups can be both efficient and effective at tackling place-based challenges and promoting economic development in urban, rural and even suburban areas,” says Jennifer Smolko Vey ’93, a senior fellow and director of the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking at the Brookings Institution. “But for as many benefits as these organizations provide, they can also be controversial: Some believe they can exacerbate disparities between communities.”

Addressing these opportunities and tensions is the subject of a new book, Hyperlocal: Place Governance in a Fragmented World, that Vey co-edited with Nate Storring, co-executive director of Project for Public Spaces. It attempts to define and understand the importance of place governance — the collaboration of local stakeholders to shape the economic, physical and social dynamics of a particular place — and how it can be done better, especially when it comes to who is able to take part in the decision- making, and who is held accountable. For instance, she says, one criticism of these hyperlocal organizations is that they contribute to the decline of the public sector by doing the work of city agencies. And by having property owners make decisions on behalf of all others working or living in an area, they are in a sense privatizing public space.

“In a country challenged by very uneven patterns of economic growth and development, we need to support new and improved governance models that work for more people in more places.”
Jennifer Smolko Vey ’93
Critics also say these organizations can worsen inequality. Places that are well organized receive more investment and can become even more prosperous. They are also often able to thwart investments current neighborhood residents don’t want but which their city or town may need (for example, in affordable housing). Meanwhile, people and communities with fewer resources continue to be left behind.

“So within these hyperlocal, place- conscious groups, who has a voice, and who doesn’t?” Vey asks. “Where are these organizations thriving, where are they missing and how do we build the capacity of people to organize themselves in places that are low resourced?”

Vey says the book is the first of its kind to look at these organizations in a holistic way — from their history to their varying structures and financing models to the activities they undertake — and address what they might look like in the future. Her hope is that the book will help drive innovation in the structure of these groups, how they are funded and sustained, and the strategies they employ to create more connected, vibrant and inclusive communities.

“Thousands of place-governance organizations are working to make their neighborhoods more welcoming, beautiful and meaningful by investing in efforts ranging from park maintenance to small business assistance,” she says. “But in a country challenged by very uneven patterns of economic growth and development, we need to support new and improved governance models that work for more people in more places.”

Hyperlocal: Place Governance in a Fragmented World, Jennifer S. Vey ’93 and Nate Storring. Brookings Institution Press, 2022.

Alumni Books

Harold Schobert ’65
Rethinking Coal: Chemicals and Carbon-based Materials in the 21st Century
(Oxford University Press, 2022)
What is the future of coal? In his new book, Schobert discusses the remarkable changes affecting coal use over the past decade and provides examples for new directions in coal usage. Schobert, a professor emeritus of the fuel science program at Penn State University who studied chemistry at Bucknell, examines aspects of the composition and properties of coal that are important in its current and possible future applications. Rethinking Coal presents the environmental, technical and economic advantages and disadvantages of various applications of coal without disparaging or supporting its use.

Barbara Klinger ’73
Immortal Films: ‘Casablanca’ and the Afterlife of a Hollywood Classic
(University of California Press, 2022)
Casablanca is one of the most celebrated Hollywood films of all time. Drawing from archival materials, industry trade journals and cultural commentary, Klinger explores the history of Casablanca’s circulation in the United States from the early 1940s to the present by examining its exhibition via radio, repertory houses, television and video. “I was inspired to write the book by the common wisdom that classics are ‘timeless’ and somehow transcend time because of their sterling merits and universal qualities,” says Klinger, who studied English at Bucknell. “Instead, by focusing on one film’s exhibition from 1942 to 2022, I wanted to challenge this wisdom by studying how dramatically the classic’s meaning and significance change over decades of its circulation through forces that range from developments in the film industry to shifts in U.S. culture.” Klinger is provost and professor emerita of cinema and media studies at the Media School at Indiana University – Bloomington.

Amanda Lock Swarr ’95
Envisioning African Intersex: Challenging Colonial and Racist Legacies in South American Medicine
(Duke University Press, 2023)
In her new book, Swarr debunks the centuries-old claim that “hermaphroditism” and intersex are disproportionately common among Black South Africans. Swarr, an associate professor of gender, women and sexuality studies at the University of Washington, documents the colonial roots of intersex diagnosis and treatment protocols and traces the history of racialized research. Swarr, who majored in women’s studies and minored in Africana studies at Bucknell, shares how intersex South Africans are actively disrupting medical violence, decolonizing gender binaries and inciting policy changes. Swarr is donating all royalties from the sale of the book to Intersex South Africa.