The Citistates Group presents

Thank you for reading Citiwire.net. This website is no longer being updated, as of October 2013. We invite you to visit our new site at Citiscope.org.

Studying Regionalism on a Palatial Estate

Ian Scott / Dec 17 2011

For Release Saturday, December 17, 2011
Citiwire.net

What can you learn in two days and two nights at a palatial estate in the Hudson Valley with a room full of smart, experienced regionalists? I’m sure glad I’m in a position to answer.

In late October I participated in a symposium on states and regions organized by the Citistates Group. The event was generously hosted by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and supported by the Carnegie Corporation and the William Penn Foundation. Citistates founders Neal Peirce, Curtis Johnson and Farley Peters pulled together this “meeting of the regional minds” to address one central challenge: metropolitan regions are the geography of the economy but not the geography of government.

Along with a couple of chamber leaders, I was joined by representatives from MPOs, COGs, universities, foundations, think tanks, and several former big city mayors. To articulate the professional accomplishments and accolades of this distinguished group of veteran practitioners and thinkers would easily run two hours or more. And it did. Thirty minutes into the introductions my suspicions were confirmed; I was the low man on the totem pole in both credentials and class. I just hoped a few of the collected IQ points might rub off on me.

From Wednesday evening through midday Friday we discussed and debated. What is the best structure to organize regional stakeholders? Can state governments help, or do they need to just get out of the way? Can you expect regional cooperation without a galvanizing crisis? Does the “ism” in regionalism turn people off? Can the Cardinals really come back with 2 outs and 2 strikes in the bottom of the ninth?

Scattered amid the discussion were some fantastic success stories from leaders in the field: Atlanta’s regional regulatory and infrastructure action to quickly solve an acute water crisis, Seattle’s alignment of two major ports and dozens of distinct municipalities to speak with a unified voice on international trade and investment recruitment. Plus Southern California’s multimodal logistics solution to moving goods in and out of the L.A. and Long Beach ports.

At the end of the day I left with renewed confidence in some core convictions about regional cooperation:

  • Business leadership is essential to regional action. Business groups are the only entities with political leverage across the multiple jurisdictions that comprise a region.
  • The outcome of regional action is far more important than the structure or governance of regional organization. As the Atlanta Chamber’s Sam Williams said, “Results and outcomes equal power and influence.”
  • Someone has to provide neutral turf to get suspicious stakeholders together. Whether COG, MPO or chamber, the regional convener role is vital.

The symposium also clarified some new concepts for me:

  • Economic competitiveness can be the great unifier for regions. The downturn has compounded our challenges but it has also provided a rallying point for individuals with different political affiliations and groups with different agendas. We will disagree about a lot, but I think we can all agree that jobs, trade and investment are key priorities.
  • We’re all the same, but we’re not. There is plenty of head-nodding and “me too” expressions when someone describes the challenges facing her region, but the context is always unique. Orlando is not Cleveland is not San Diego, but they can learn a lot from each other’s experience. That’s why I think detailed stories of success and failure are as important (if not more important) than conceptual models.
  • Business can’t do it alone; it needs a strong public sector partner. I’m not talking about public/private partnerships, I mean a visionary elected or appointed public sector leader willing to cross political divides and work with non-traditional allies for the common good. Almost every success story cited mentioned dynamic individual players from the public and private sectors.

I’m not sure I picked up any IQ points from all the big brains in the room, but I did leave the Citistates symposium with a renewed conviction in the important role chambers of commerce must play as regional leaders and conveners.


Ian Scott is vice president for communications and networks of the American Chamber of Commerce Executives.

Views expressed are not necessarily those of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, its staff or trustees.

Citiwire.net columns are not copyrighted and may be reproduced in print or electronically; please show authorship, credit Citiwire.net and send an electronic copy of usage to webmaster@citiwire.net.

8 Comments

  1. Posted December 17, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Many of the points mentioned, especially the key role of business in regional leadership and the significance of acting like regions, are elaborated upon in the Council on Competitiveness most recent regional innovation publication, COLLABORATE: Leading Regional Innovation Clusters available as a pdf at:
    http://www.compete.org/publications/detail/1384/leading-regional-innovation-clusters

  2. Posted December 18, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    The Council on Competitiveness’ publication Sam references is indeed one of the best on this topic and strongly informs the perspectives shared above. Anyone following this discussion thread who hasn’t read that piece should do themselves a favor. I’d also direct readers to the monograph series and other materials from the Alliance for Regional Stewardship, now a program of work for ACCE – http://www.acce.org/ars/ars-resources/

  3. Mayraj Fahim
    Posted December 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Soft form structures that you describe are more difficult to evolve. US remains at starting gate wwile others use regionalism to advance. If Americans did more foreign research they might understand where they stand. Meanwhile time is running out, it seems to me. America stands poised at the minority-majority era today ;while its fragmented system has economically segregated the future majority and kept it in its low income hole.

  4. Mayraj Fahim
    Posted December 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Soft form structures that you describe are more difficult to evolve. US remains at starting gate while others use regionalism to advance. If Americans did more foreign research they might understand where they stand. Meanwhile time is running out, it seems to me. America stands poised at the minority-majority era today ;while its fragmented system has economically segregated the future majority and kept it in its low income hole.

  5. Mayraj Fahim
    Posted December 18, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    On America’s northern border lie the regional municipalities of Ontario. These two tier structures have a proven record of economic development.The one in Niagara was covered by a Governing magazine article.
    http://www.governing.com/topics/economic-dev/How-Bureaucracy-and-Bickering.html
    And there is the Regional Municipality of Waterloo pointed to as the poster child by the Toronto Board of Trade:
    http://www.bot.com/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Growing_the_Economy&Template=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=4758

  6. Mayraj Fahim
    Posted December 19, 2011 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    I think a major reason why local governments need a structured system is because soft form systems are hard to establish and sustain. In California, cities announced regional cooperation in early 1990s, which doesn’t seem to have progressed as 2d article reveals.
    http://articles.latimes.com/1992-06-13/local/me-269_1_regional-government
    3 Cities Beat State to Punch, Launch Regional Coalition
    Now rather than for positive reasons they are integrating because of financial pressures.
    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2010/05/amid-recession-pasadena-glendale-burbank-consider-sharing-some-city-services-.html
    Amid recession, Pasadena, Glendale, Burbank consider sharing some city services
    http://articles.glendalenewspress.com/2010-05-15/news/gnp-cities051510_1_budget-gap-burbank-redevelopment-agency-budget-woes
    Local cities having to consolidate
    And companies leave areas the moment they get better tax breaks elsewhere.
    As a result in some areas there is even talking about communal ownership of businesses:
    http://blog.syracuse.com/opinion/2011/11/community-ownership_model_poss.html
    Community-ownership model possible solution
    Therefore it is hard to have what the RMs have enjoyed in Ontario.

  7. Nat Bottigheimer
    Posted December 19, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Currently visiting several European cities on a German Marshall Fund grant. It is quite interesting to see how, with respect to transit strategic planning, all four of the cities I’ve visited have regional authorities that, at a minimum, provide strategic planning analysis for mobility broadly defined and — with one exception — have strong funding and implementation authorities.

    Placement of these strategic mobility planning capabilities at a regional level — paired with other regional level concerns such as economic growth, access to employment, fiscal soundness etc. — makes a lot of sense from the point of view of linking investments in transportation to broader regional growth strategies.

    I’m curious what the transportation representation was at this gathering and, more particularly, the specific attendance? Also, will a report be prepared?

  8. Mayraj Fahim
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Nat -please note Europe has been decentralizing and regionalizing in a major way since the 1980s. They even have cross national border regions supported under INTER REG Program. The pioneer was a Dutch-German border region in 1950s. I hope you will use your visit to more broadly absorb what they are doing. Americans need to understand their being regionalism phobes weakens them.
    As a recent post on this site reveals even Moscow has understood benefits of regionalism. Perhaps this is because it already has a decentralized/regional system of a sort.