Redefining “Local” Government
Lionel Van Deerlin Professor of Communications and Public Policy, San Diego State University
Posted: 04/ 7/11 03:41
The new global knowledge based economy, not to mention our current fiscal crisis, demands that government rethink how to organize itself to be most competitive. That might mean cutting out a city council or two, a few mayors of other top administrative posts in the name of efficiency.
The idea of stimulating economic prosperity by reorganizing government, as Neil Pierce syndicated columnist has been writing for years, is that regions, or “citistates” as he calls them, should be looking to develop synergies with nearby cities or counties. “Cities and towns that have a shared identification,” he argues, “function as a single zone for trade commerce and communication and are characterized by social, economic and environmental inter-dependence.”
Most people already live in one jurisdiction, work in other, and play or dine in a third. They have no idea that this is so and that the cost to them is enormous because of the duplication and waste. Moreover, they do not realize that the new creative economy demands consolidation to save money of course. But more is at stake than simply, dollars, or even turf or power.
According to Bruce Katz, a founding director of the Metropolitan Economy Initiative at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C., “There is a fundamental disconnect between how we live and work in large portions all over America and how we govern.”
“The mismatch between governments and the economy undermines the competitiveness of places by raising the costs of doing business, exacerbating strong development trends, squandering urban assets and deepening racial and class separation.”
The Obama Administration hopes to reverse decades of neglect of our cities by stimulating economic prosperity in “metropolitan regions ” where, according to Brookings, “the top 100 metropolitan areas covers about two thirds of the nation’s population and an even larger share of the nation’s gross domestic product.
As Katz argues, “whereas markets — and more important, people’s lives — operate in a metropolitan context, our government structures and programs clearly do not. They cling to boundaries more suited to an 18th century township than to a 21st century metropolis.” And as David Kocieniewski pointed out in The New York Times, “The crazy quilt of municipal governments that ring the metropolitan area (usually) grew for an assortment of personal, cultural, economic and political reasons most having little to do with the best use of tax dollars or the reality of services.”
Not surprisingly, these fragmented governments struggle to provide even the most basic services. Larger cities are experiencing the same problems, but the real loss is not simply municipal deficits, it is the loss of the metropolitan region to brand itself and develop a forward thinking economic development strategy.
It is these regional economies that foster quality places — vibrant down-towns, attractive town centers and historic, older suburbs — that feed the development and acquisition of human capital, financial capital and contribute to resource efficient, sustainable growth.
Not merging our municipalities puts our prowess in an economy looking for creativity and innovation at risk.