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Archive: Bill Dodge

The Good News About Detroit

Bill Dodge / Sep 27 2013

For Release Friday, September 27, 2013

Bill DodgeIt’s time for an article that focuses on the good news about the City of Detroit and its surrounding communities in the greater Detroit region.

Thanks to the dedicated efforts of regional citizens – individuals from all sectors who think regionally and act cooperatively – a growing array of recent initiatives are addressing some of the Detroit region’s most pressing challenges.

The relatively new Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority is refurbishing Cobo Hall, the convention center, and using a regional hotel tax to keep it competitive in the future. Similarly, voters in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties passed two 10-year property tax levies, one in 2008 to keep the Detroit Zoo open and one last year to keep the world-renowned Detroit Institute of the Arts open.

A Regional Transit Authority has been created to coordinate and expand the region’s bus and transit services. It has the power to merge services and put a regional tax on the ballot to stabilize support for those critical services. Discussions are underway to lease the city’s Belle Isle Park to the state of Michigan to make critical improvements in this beloved facility.

None of those efforts has been easy, and all have seen setbacks along the way. However, they have saved regional assets that were helping stretch the City of Detroit’s financial capacity to the breaking point.
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How the Seasoned ’60s Can Assist Today’s Talented ’10s

Bill Dodge / Aug 29 2013

For Release Thursday, August 29, 2013

Bill DodgeAs one who came of age in the early 1960s, I have compared my generational peers to each new group of emerging adults over a half century. Given the propensity to believe one’s own experience is special, I’ve often been unduly critical of the younger generations.

But the decades have now provided me a bit of perspective, to counter my lack of humility. It is the times that shape those coming come of age. I don’t have a crystal ball, but the scar tissue from my own coming-of-age experience is beginning to “itch” again. Just maybe the talented ’10s can be the new ’60s. And if that’s the case, my generation might be able to help them as they enter adulthood.

Then, as now, we faced issues that seemed too big to address – institutionalized discrimination against racial minorities, the unseen plight of the poor, an omnipresent threat of nuclear annihilation and a seemingly never-ending War in Vietnam. Then, as now, we had seasoned elders, even modern prophets, who trained and inspired us to address these challenges.

Most important, we had the confidence that we could tackle those issues and make a difference. We didn’t change the world, but we made addressing tough issues into a high priority on local, regional, state, national and even global agendas and so helped end a destructive war.
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A Bay Area Grand Bargain; A Model for Future Regional Governance?

Bill Dodge / Apr 06 2013

For Release Saturday, April 6, 2013

Bill DodgeNationally, the failure of Congress and White House to negotiate a grand bargain has undermined the federal government’s ability to invest in rebuilding the economy or the middle class. As a result, it lurches from fiscal crisis to crisis.

Similarly, in the Bay Area, the inability of local governments, along with state and federal governments and others, to govern together undermines the region’s ability to compete globally and thrive locally. As a result it risks falling behind other regions in providing quality services such as transit, resolving pressing challenges such as rising sea levels, and investing in underused assets such as struggling families and businesses in distressed neighborhoods.

Joint Venture Silicon Valley drew a similar conclusion in its recent State of the Region Report. Silicon Valley is adding jobs, but income growth is uneven, youth disengagement is growing and all are concerned about the region’s capacity to maintain its reputation globally. In an analysis for the report, Egon Terplan concluded that “weak or ineffective regional governance” undermines the Bay Area’s ability to address crosscutting challenges that threaten its economic competitiveness.
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Amid Disturbing Holiday Messages, Finding Rays of New Year’s Hope

Bill Dodge / Jan 24 2013

For Release Friday, September 28, 2012

Bill Dodge“You and I as citizens have the power to set this country’s course.”
-President Obama’s Second Inaugural Speech, Jan. 21, 2013

The recent holiday season was filled with strong messages for the New Year.

First, the Congress running lemming-like toward the fiscal cliff reminded us that political polarization continues to block our addressing the issues threatening the country’s future. Second, the mass slaying of school children and teachers in Newtown reminded us of the all-too-easy access to all-too-many semi-automatic weapons with high-capacity magazines.

Third, the New York Times’ “United States of Subsidies” series on state and local government squandering more than $80 billion annually on business incentives reminded us that those offering these bribes are also cutting the classrooms, public services and infrastructure projects that make us globally competitive.

Fourth, the billions spent trying to buy the recent elections reminded us that some of the rich are more interested in preserving their own interests than saving the middle class, much less responding to the traditional holiday message to protect “the least of these, my brothers.”
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Plant an Intergovernmental Reform Garden Now: A Modest Proposal for Public Interest Groups and Their Friends

Bill Dodge / Sep 28 2012

For Release Friday, September 28, 2012

Bill DodgeThe National Academy of Public Administration is preparing a memo to national leaders, calling for a new, intergovernmental policy council to help restore the health of our ailing federal/state/local government system.

This council would advance governance reforms in hopes of making the system more effective in providing the services and infrastructure needed to restore our equally ailing economy.

Initial topics that have been suggested for the council’s agenda: adopting a Value Added Tax (VAT) shared by all levels of governments, and empowering innovative mechanisms, such as for-benefit organizations, to bring old stakeholders together in new ways.

Syndicated columnist Neal Peirce argues that the “unkempt (intergovernmental system) garden needs a plan,” and NAPA’s proposed intergovernmental policy council could prepare and pursue it, given support from all levels of government, starting with the White House and the Congress.

All well and good.

But what will give this new council any better chance at success than its predecessor, the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (ACIR)?

My fellow recovering regionalists still look reverently upon ACIR’s efforts to design, test and promote new regional governance models. However, they are also haunted by ACIR’s inability to engage key government partners in controversial discussions – and all discussions of intergovernmental reform are controversial. They are haunted, too, by ACIR’s tragic demise in the polarized politics of the new century.
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Why Nations (and Regions) Fail

Bill Dodge / Apr 29 2012

For Release Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bill DodgeAsk why nations succeed or fail and a group of likely suspects are offered. Natural resources are too scarce, human capital isn’t developed, the geography is unfavorable (there’s a long list of possible explanations). But there’s another perhaps more critical factor, highlighted by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in their provocative new book: Why Nations Fail (Crown Business, 2012). Nations fail, they argue, because of extractive economic and political institutions that cement the power of narrow elites — as opposed to “inclusive” systems that centralize power to assure some degree of law, but share their power in a wise, pluralistic manner, offering opportunities for new entrepreneurs.

Could it be that regions within nations or states succeed or fail for the same reason?

The book cites numerous cases from the earliest city states to contemporary nation states to suggest regions thrive or falter for similar reasons. For example, they compare the sister cities of Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, citing the extraordinary gaps in income, education, infrastructure, and quality of life across two sides of a common boundary — with the clear advantage on the United States of America side.

The difference lies in history and custom, it’s suggested. The United States is seen as a nation that expanded opportunities from its founding onwards, from the first landholders, then to slaves, then to women. The process wasn’t perfect: Native Americans were persecuted early on and a brutal war had to be fought to free the slaves. And to this day there are hard issues of disparities of wealth between rich and poor, corporate dominance of election financing, and push back against new immigrants… Read More »

Regional Governance: Chinese Style

Bill Dodge / Feb 19 2012

For Release Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bill DodgeWhat does the “New China” have to tell us, not just about economics and society but models of regional governance?

On a recent trip — my first since just after the Cultural Revolution — I concluded that although China displays painful characteristics of unfettered capitalism, the results are impressive. Ancient cities of neighborhood mazes have been converted into 21st century metropoli of high rise corridors. Development sites in Beijing and Shanghai are filled with dozens of tall cranes. New cities are housing hundreds of thousands of residents, often located in depressed regions. Stores are packed with shoppers, especially buying products with English names, such as Happiness toilet paper.

Jobs have been created for hundreds of millions of workers. Infrastructure projects are overwhelming; there are world class museums in major cities and endless transportation projects, often lined with well-manicured landscaping. A dozen transit lines already operate in Shanghai, with another half dozen under construction. And Shanghai’s Maglev that speeds one to or from the international airport at up to 430 kilometers/hour.

Not all is positive, however. The historic communist safety net that guaranteed jobs, rice, health care, and pensions has been torn apart. Great advances have been made in educating students and providing good jobs, as is evidenced in the rows of towering condos in major cities. But in rural areas, the “barefoot doctor” clinics have been abolished, requiring everyone to purchase health care. And the rural schools are woefully underfunded.
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Regional Governance: Thai Style

Bill Dodge / Dec 30 2011

For Release Friday, December 30, 2011

Bill DodgeThe Kingdom of Thailand practices governance with some unusual twists, some of which offer intriguing models for regional governance in America.

During my recent visit, Thailand was struggling with massive flooding. I monitored the interactions among national, provincial and local governments during the disaster. And I spent time with flood refugees in Pattaya, a city renown for sun and sex south of Bangkok.

Thailand is unique among its neighbors as having never been a European colony. It was ruled by an absolute monarchy until the 1930s and still has a strong royal presence in a constitutional monarchy. The national government structure has a prime minister, National Assembly with a House and Senate, and a complex judiciary — in all a blend of western laws and cultural practices that go back to the Khmer roots of the kingdom.

The Thai people have suffered through 16 constitutions, usually triggered by governance crises or military coups. Most of the constitutions make only small changes in the basic government structure. But each redistributes political and economic clout among the traditional powers — old families, the military, and the royal family — often with little consideration of citizen desires. Read More »

Time for New Charters: The Regional Future of Local Government

Bill Dodge / Jun 19 2010

For Release Sunday, June 20, 2010

Bill DodgeLocal governments have strengthened their capacities multifold during my professional life. I recall vividly working with some that once keep financial records by hand, depended on snail mail for communications, and only responded to their neighbors under court order. Conversely, I have seen local governments earn the respect, and accompanying tax dollars, to provide state-of-the-art roads and sewers, public safety and recreation programs, and even bus service and affordable housing.

Yet in spite of this increased competency, individual local governments have been losing the ability to address many of their toughest challenges — the ones that cut across jurisdictional boundaries — at an increasing pace since the turn of the century. If there has ever been a time for innovation in local government, it is now.

Crosscutting challenges are not new. Some were predetermined by our natural environment. For example, local governments realized that taking drinking water out upstream and dumping waste water downstream only worked for the jurisdiction at the headwaters. Everyone else was going to drink someone else’s pollution. The same was discovered when the jurisdictions drawing on a common aquifer exceeded its ability to replenish itself and had to keep digging deeper wells. Neighboring local governments realized that they needed to negotiate watershed plans to assure adequate and potable drinking water. Ditto for airshed plans to breathe clean air.

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Bridging the Urban-Rural Divide: Hope at Last?

Bill Dodge / Mar 05 2009

For Release Sunday, March 8, 2009

Bill DodgeThe bane of our polarized politics is nowhere more evident than in attempts to create effective partnerships among central cities (often politically blue), surrounding suburbs (variations of purple), and fringe rural areas (often red). Even when the logic of seizing common economic opportunities or thwarting common environmental threats is compelling, it’s difficult at best to reach agreements on how to deliver cost-effective services in such fields as roads, transit, sewer, water–indeed almost any critical service area. And when it comes to addressing such social challenges as fiscal inequities between rich and poor jurisdictions, the task borders on the impossible.

And that’s just in more urban regions. Pursuing partnerships between more urban regions (often blue) and more rural regions (often red) is usually deemed politically suicidal.

As President Obama strives to build bridges across the red-blue divide of our politics and society, a key pillar of that strategy needs to be regional cooperation. Read More »