Buffalo Law Review

First Page


Document Type

Symposium Essay


This Essay examines several possibilities for improving our thinking about the vexing, multifaceted problem of revitalizing languishing regions of the United States. Its jumping-off point is an important work of socio-economiclegal history: While Waiting for Rain: Community, Economy, and Law in a Time of Change, by John Henry Schlegel. The book seeks to understand the steady decline of US regional economies, particularly Buffalo, following a period of relatively high prosperity from World War II through the 1950s; its tandem question is how those economies might be revived. Based on a very full and rich exposition, Schlegel argues that, like farmers who are unable to command rain, human collectivities are unable to take specific actions that will bring about economic development. At best, they can try to minimize three ‘transactions of decline’ defined by Jane Jacobs and be prepared to take advantage of rain, should it come. I argue that Schlegel under-develops the implications of several of his own insights, particularly regarding the roles of economic dependency, political fragmentation, and local culture in inhibiting development. I then discuss possible ways of using those insights to ‘prepare the soil for rain’ and raise the possibility of folding the idea of economic development into that of resilience. I conclude by discussing how and whether these suggestions could be further developed in social practice.