There is a great article on Good.is about “Identity theft for Cities” that I’ve been waiting to talk about (after my last debacle post about race and regionalism. Maybe this time- we can keep the comments on subject.)
If you look on a map of the globe- we’ll be lucky to see Dayton with a dot if we don’t get our act together as a region soon. As it is, no matter how much people in Kettering think their independent 911 system was a good idea, they won’t be on any map- if Dayton continues its slide.
The reality is, as the United States begins to realize that we can’t depend on the internal combustion engine as a key part of our economy, and as oil prices climb back up as they will- the ability to live close to work will increase in value. As will the ability to bring things to your community via cost-effective transportation (rail, ship). It’s no different than life before the car- cities popped up by rivers and later by railroads because of the efficiencies involved.
With global populations climbing, people will gravitate to the areas that are most dense. In fact, Stewart Brand (of the “Whole Earth Catalog” fame) has now started to believe that not only are cities the fundamentally the smartest thing we’ve done as a civilization- but, he sees a future in squatter cities (which may make even more sense than tearing down homes in Dayton).
We have to grow, but grow compactly, in order to be competitive. Regionalism is just one part of this equation:
Regionalism makes complete sense conceptually. Our economies, our natural systems, and our transportation systems are, indeed, regional and require a regional approach.
Regionalism can be relatively easy to impose in regions with big, dominant core cities, such as New York and Chicago. In those regions, everyone knows what’s powering the economic engine, and no one can risk killing it off. The dominant city is favored, as it should be, in regional decisions because it’s in everyone’s clear interest to do so.
(Of course, I’ve made it sound easier than it is. Inevitably, there are petty conflicts and a protection of narrow interests in most such negotiations.)
But in those regions with cities of equal size or with a weak central city, the conflicts are writ large. The conflicts are even sharper in regions with a history of racial and economic segregation. That’s challenge enough. The real problem comes when, in the name of regionalism, decision makers become place agnostic. In other words, they can’t favor any one place in the region for fear of offending every other place in the region. That translates into development anywhere in the region being labeled as good development. If a road is built in one part of the region, it must be equalized with a road in another part of the region. If a cultural facility is awarded to one place, the next sports facility should surely be built elsewhere.
If you’ve noticed something about everything we’ve done in the name of regionalism- how we seem to have to focus on equality. Somehow, we’ve gotten the mistaken idea that things have to balance- suburban vs. urban, rich vs. poor- when the real equation is the region vs. the world.
We’re not going to get to regionalism until someone has the balls to stand up to all the economic development types- all the small-thinking mayors, all the “regional development” people and say- the only thing that counts is “Dayton” – big picture- the dot on the globe, not the city of. And for that to happen, we’re going to have to start eliminating fiefdoms and work for a kingdom.
It’s not about being fair- it’s about being relevant. We’ll have to put away our pettiness for this to happen.