Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Start Thinking and Acting Like a Region

The recent passage by Congress of the transportation funding bill, called TEA-LU, again brings to mind the need for metropolitan areas like ours to start thinking and acting like a region.

TEA-LU requires MPOs (like Wasatch Front Regional Council and Mountainlands Association of Governments) to take into consideration land use patterns of the region as they develop their long range transportation plans.

WFRC and MAG have embarked on an extensive process to do this in their next round of updates to the Long Range Transportation Plan, starting with Wasatch Vision 2040, being conducted by Envision Utah.

The start of a new state administration by Gov. Huntsman should also be giving us an opportunity to approach some key issues -- transportation and economic development -- on a regional basis. Alas, at the state level this seems to be a slow take. All the more disappointing, since John Huntsman, Jr. was at one time the chair of Envision Utah.

A few years ago, I penned several essays on regionalism and the need for a new approach in Utah. Here are some quotes:

"The Wasatch Front is truly functioning now as a single region, and must begin acting like a region to solve some of its most vexing problems. Anthony Downs, a Senior Fellow with the Brookings Institute who studied cities around the nation, wrote recently, '...no locality can effectively isolate itself from the rest of its metropolitan region, because its destiny is inexorably bound up with what is happening there.'

"Downs continues, 'yet the structure of governance within metropolitan areas almost never reflects these regional realities. Except for a few regional transporation and sewer-and-water authorities, almost all governmental powers affecting the above problems are divided among individual localities, most of which are too small to encompass any large fraction of those problems."

Think water treatment plants, sewage treatment plants, economic development programs, etc.!

"We must be willing to coordinate and cooperate. Sounds simple enough, but it just doesn't seem to come easily. Once a city or county is established with its own set of ordinances and powers, it just doesn't want to give any of that up. Anthony Downs notes, '...objections (to cooperation) are primarily motivated by the unwillingness of most local officials and many citizens to yield any of their existing powers, even though those powers are failing to solve many crucial social problems."

So what's the solution? Stay tuned, we'll discuss some ideas in future blogs.

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