Rationale for Regionalism

by Carolyn Chase


Proposals to evolve and resolve some better way of handling regional issues is at the forefront of politics in San Diego today. Does "Smart Growth" require regionalism? How can regionalism be structured to maximize our chances for dealing with growth in ways that will not see a continuation of increasing taxes and decreasing quality-of-life?

Under the name of regionalism, State Senator Steve Peace has proposed that several local agencies dealing with regional infrastructure issues should be consolidated. The list includes: SANDAG, The Port of San Diego, the Air Pollution Control District, North County Transit District and the Metropolitan Transit Development Board. The new agency would be called RITA, for Regional Infrastructure Transportation Authority.

Should San Diegans jump aboard this "Peace train?" Many indicators are pointing in that direction. But what does regionalism really mean? Is it just another way for the powers-that-be to sight bad projects faster? Will regionalism really mean smarter growth?

The San Diego region is facing a projected population growth of one million people over the next 20 years. What effect will this have on the quality of life we have often taken for granted? Can we afford to maintain the status quo? Prevailing assumptions and policies seem to encourage the balkanization of land use decisions. There is a serious lag in housing production in relation to job creation. Traffic and taxes increase with no relief in sight. Poverty increases side-by-side with new prosperity. The deficit in basic public facilities in our urban neighborhoods continues to grow.

It has become increasingly apparent that success in balancing economic growth with quality of life and environmental protections will require many shifts in our perspectives and policies. A new vision must be defined that addresses growth with equity and quality of life as connected, critical rationale for changes in regional governance.

Myron Orfield, a Minnesota state representative, adjunct professor of law at the University of Minnesota and author of "Metropolitics: A Regional Agenda for Community and Stability," will appear at San Diego State University on April 24th at 7pm (Hardy Tower, Room 140). Metropolitics describes his efforts - privately and politically - to address the challenges of growth and regionalism in the Minneapolis /St. Paul area. Hosted by the Graduate Program in City Planning, School of Public Administration and Urban Studies, Orfield is known as one of the most revolutionary politicians in urban America and as a full-time champion of regionalism that works to resolve urban and suburban polarization.

Mr. Orfield has direct experience with the issues and politics of establishing regional government to better deal with growth, quality of life and equity. He has completed, or is in the process of completing, studies of regional disparity and inefficient, sprawling land use in eighteen of the twenty-five largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., including San Diego.

Orfield identifies the substantial challenges of regionalism:

  • To unite the central cities with voters in declining and low-property tax value suburbs;
  • To show that tax-base sharing lowers taxes and improves local services, particularly schools; and
  • To convince the electorate that fair housing will stabilize residential change in communities and limit taxpayer commitments to poor citizens to manageable regional standards.

Orfield has noted, "In the process of reenergizing regionalism and the wide-ranging metropolitan issues on our negotiating table, we have discovered that our problems are not unique and that the suburban monolith, thought to prevent all progress on regional issues, is a myth. Every metropolitan region in the United States faces the same problems. Coalition-building efforts that emphasize the links between core cities and suburbs can bring about reforms to increase equity for an entire region.

"When regionalism becomes a suburban issue, it becomes possible. As long as regionalism is portrayed as a conflict between city and suburbs, the debate is over before it starts. Essential to this discussion is the realization that our metropolitan areas are suffering from a set of problems too massive for an individual city to confront alone-the same problems that have caused the decline and death of some of our largest urban centers. Unless we concentrate on finding new solutions, we can expect no better outcome in the future."

Attend this event to learn about regionalism at its best from the most recognized national expert in the area of regional metropolitan planning and policy making. In this special San Diego talk, entitled "We Are All Affected: the Patterns of Social Separation and Sprawl," he will discuss the rising rationale for regionalism and his recent work on some specific issues that San Diego faces.