Wherever professionals gather to discuss the future of America's cities, they spend most of their time talking about the need to accept the need to do away with--or at least minimize--the use of antiquated interior jurisdictional boundaries and parochialism, and accept the need to make metropolitan areas work as much as possible as a single entity. Some cities have changed their local governmental responsibilities so that they expand to include their suburbs. Some states provide incentives for their metro areas to unify. Some government programs recognize and reward the use of regional authorities. But the transition to this new "jurisdiction of choice" for the 21st Century is by no means a fully accepted eventuality. This section will provide information and argumentation consistent with movements towards this alternative for our nation's capital, and for other metro areas around the US as well. This includes

o 1998 Board of Trade Testimony on the desirability of embracing regionalism;

o NARPAC, Inc.'s Definition of Regionalism developed for discussions with the DC Bar Association;

o A summary of the 1996 President's Council on Sustainable Development which stresses the importance of regionalism in community development;

o A set of proposed initiatives developed by NARPAC, Inc. for the OMB to further the progress of regionalism.

o Other opportunities that arise as time goes on are listed;

o A recent (fall, 1999) roundtable discussion of the American Society of Political Scientists brought out a series of different views and some interesting recommendations for the appropriate federal roles in encouraging regionalism;

o A summary of the recommendations of the Williams transition team on regionalism--as well as NARPAC's commentary on its shortcomings;

o Recognition of the growing suburban resistance to "sprawl" which may provide an important impetus for greater regionalism;

o A detailed analysis of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) which has been since 1957 the designated organization to foster regional plans and programs--with limited success;

o The results of a recent NARPAC, Inc. survey of ten key figures in the Washington metro area closely associated with the COG indicating that DC can get more help from its suburbs--if it cooperates with them to get it;

o A brief summary of a bill recently introduced in the Congress to adopt a regional approach to the Washington area's growing transportation problems.

o An extensive summary of the recently published book from the National Research Council entitled Governance and Opportunity in Metropolitan America, which confirms many of the analyses NARPAC has drawn from other sources and generated itself. It offers possible solutions which NARPAC finds somewhat limited.

o More recently, (mid-'99), the US Mayors Conference spoke out on the need for "Linking Cities and Their Suburbs", and their resolution is included verbatim.

o And in May, 2000, the Brookings Institution's Bruce Katz published a new monograph entitled Reflections on Regionalism, which provides some interesting new information as well asa summaries of past experience with attempts to "regionalize" metro areas. Still missing from this dialogue, however, are a) how fresh federal policies could impact on metro area development, and b) how regional administrative functions could save local jurisdictional expenses.


Possibly the greatest voice for regionalism in the metro area is the Greater Washington Board of Trade, (BoT). Its realism is reflected in recent (January, 1998) Congressional testimony. Hearings were held "to examine the importance of regionalism and the need for regional approaches to issues facing the National Capital Region". This NCR is governed, according to the BoT, "by state legislatures in Annapolis (MD) and Richmond (VA), the government of the District and its Control Board, the federal government, and 128 local jurisdictions represented by the Metropolitan Council of Governments, all within 4000 square miles". As a gimmick, the BoT likes to refer to this area as the "State of Potomac", though this should not be confused with the "State of New Columbia" proffered by statehood enthusiasts. BoT presents statistics for this NCR region containing 4.5 million residents, employment for 2.4 million and a "gross regional product" of $159B. As a state, it would rank:

  • first in median income
  • first in population with college degrees
  • first in per capita federal spending
  • sixth on total federal spending
  • fourteenth in gross state economic product, and
  • 23rd in population

Based on research done at the region's George Mason University, "we know that the region's economy in interconnected" and that "for every dollar of enhancement to the District's economy, the suburban economies are enhanced by $1.50".

The BoT's "Potomac Conference" and "Greater Washington Initiative" have long recognized that "new efforts were needed to improve regional governance and cooperation; that the future health of the region and the city are linked and must be solved before the region can become a world- class metropolis, and that a regional approach to marketing and strategic development were needed to maintain and enhance economic competitiveness, growth and equity." Nevertheless, they acknowledge that regional decision- making has been limited to a few examples (such as Metrorail, Metro Airport Authority, and Water/Sewer Authority), and make the point that "success at overcoming political barriers has been attained [only] with significant federal leadership, a substantial federal contribution, or to deal with an impending crisis." The region's current inability to deal collectively with the need to replace the major bridge connecting Maryland and Virginia outside the District is a case in point of how difficult these decisions remain.

In summary, BoT reiterates that "unfortunately, political jurisdictions in our region seem only to be able to work together in the face of an immediate crisis or when federal funding is at stake, and only when the federal government has taken a leadership role." NARPAC accepts this conclusion, and submits that it provides a proper role for our federal government--rather than amateur usurpation of DC city manager functions.

The testimony concludes with potential areas for collaboration in the NCR (which look very much like NARPAC, Inc. suggestions in defining regionalism). These include "shared resources to enhance educational opportunities across jurisdictional boundaries; development of a skilled workforce to meet the growing demands of our technology-based economy; a joint response on public safety; a strategy for taking advantage of the increasing ethnic diversity of this region; a shared vision and implementation of a regional economic development initiative; and an effort to achieve improved forms of regional government".

Board of Trade's Potomac Conference Outlines Future Vision for Regional Business Development:
(summarized from BoT News)

130 of the region's top elected officials and business executives met for the 12th two-day meeting of the Board of Trade's elite Potomac Conference in early 1999. Their full reports are available at BoT's web site. Working in four "business clusters" which represent the region's 'primary economic drivers', they established their Visions for the Region, and priorities in achieving them:

o Region is recognized internationally as a leading bioscience center;
o Cluster should triple in size (employment, revenues, etc.) in 5 years
o Create relevant education and training;
o Increase capital formation;
o Raise public awareness and support for these businesses;

Information/Communications (NARPAC's favorite)
o World's leading information/communications center;
o Strong regional identity; (see NARPAC correspondence
o Recognized model in using info technology--and for local issues;
o Regional leadership in public awareness and political engagement;
o Develop a skilled work force;
o Include regional transportation;

Global Business, Finance, Professional Services:
o Become national model for regional cooperation and governance;
o Get international renown as global business powerhouse;
o Achieve greater political clout;
o Invest in public infrastructure (schools, roads, etc.);
o Design a true regional governance structure;
o Increased philanthropic/civic investment by technology sectors;
o Regional transportation entity with tax authority;
o Introduce major league baseball to DC;

Cultural Institutions and Hospitality:
o Become No.1 cultural, family, educational, sports, convention place;
o Leverage cultural/intellectual history to distribute benefits regionwide;
o Create a regional brand/identity;
o Improve infrastructure, especially transportation;
o Connect people to attractions 'beyond the mall';

Of great interest to NARPAC, Inc., the growing importance of regionalism was also noted by DC's short-lived Chief Management Officer. An article written by ex-CMO Camille Barnett and Francis Luloffs some time ago states that "Cities and regions are growing in power, as countries all over the world decentralize to the local level. Metropolitan regions are becoming the key unit in the global economy. Cities are not just cities any more. What we call a city is actually a metropolitan region made up of cities, suburbs, and other governmental jurisdictions. The boundaries of the 'citistate' vary with the dynamics of its social, economic, and environmental systems.".

CMO Barnett is proving to be a tireless and optimistic advocate for making DC a "model city and metro area" for the next millennium. She emphasizes that "getting by" is not enough; that DC must adopt the best available urban management practices from across the US; and that the citizenry must "think differently about DC's role in the metro area, and recognize that it is part of a region".

Additional support comes from any number of authors listed under "suggested reading". Probably more important, however, is that DC's lone and politically limited representative to the Congress, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton also recognizes the need to benefit from the DC region's extensive talent pool. In her recent Memo to the President of April, 1998, she makes an explicit recommendation to make greater use of non-governmental and non-DC resources. In particular she suggests:

The regional congressional Members, county executives, and other officials in the region as well as the Council of Governments all could help identify structures and programs that could be transferred and tailored for District purposes.  The region has many effective government structures and programs.  Particularly given the relatively brief period of time the control board has to accomplish much of its work, the board needs to find short cuts rather than to attempt to reinvent the wheel for every needed reform.  It will require some effort to capture these resources, but the benefit to the District should make that effort well worth it.

NARPAC, Inc.'s analysis of the Metro Washington Council of Governments is included below.

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A gradual process of transferring local jurisdictional authorities to metro-wide authorities wherever it can improve common long-term equality of life. Need has arisen from urban "sprawl" spilling over outdated fixed boundaries.


Virtually all urban authorities (Rusk, Peirce, Orfield, O'Cleireacain, Rivlin, Borut, Cisneros, BoT, etc.) agree that inner cities cannot compete with suburbs unless they are obliged to work together. This American Planning Association quote is typical of what the experts say:

"Washington will not survive unless its region, with its incomparable intellectual, managerial, and financial resources, can be made one with the city and the federal establishment."

Perhaps more to the point, here is what DC's new Chief Management Officer says:

"Washington is also part of the metropolitan region. People live in this region, they work in this region, they act regionally, but they don't think regionally. You can't have an effective region with a central core that has a problem. Regions rise and fall together; as an economic system, a social system, and environmental system, it's all connected". (Washington Post, 12/26/97)

In short, it is essential that American metro areas:

o avoid "class struggle" of inner city Have Nots v suburban Haves,
o share the wealth of the taxpayers for common area needs
o even the burden of paying for the "tax-receivers" wherever they are
o level the playing field so where you live can't limit how you live
o avoid unintended segregation based on differing local standards
o achieve "economy of scale" for common regional costs


Pass relevant legislation: policy/incentives to level the playing field at federal level; binding compacts at state level; solution-implementation at local/regional level:

At the Federal Level, Congress should:

o award certain relevant grants/payments only to regional authorities
o make sure DC fully represented in inter-state compacts
o oblige states to accept DC as "virtual absentee voters"
o re-apportion state congressional districts to encompass DC wards(?)
o replace Congressional oversight with regional oversight

At the State Level, Maryland and Virginia should:

o develop series of compacts for sharing authority with regional bodies
o gradually transfer tax-setting authority to these ad hoc regional bodies
o accept obligation to shares costs of maintaining core magnetism
o find creative ways to fairly represent DC residents as "absentee voters"
o accept role in willingly sharing expertise/oversight across jurisdictions

At the Local Level, the DC Council should negotiate specific areas and standards for common pursuits such as:

o teacher standards
o student tests
o vocational schools
o college entrance
o police practices
o rescue services
o welfare payments
o hospital services
o coroner's services
o low-cost housing
o rent controls
o drunk driving rules
o gun controls
o sentencing rules
o public transportation
o water/sewer
o procurement
o civil service system
o business regulations
o inspector services
o professional licenses
o business taxes/zoning
o non-profits urban contributions
o tourism
o etc. etc .etc.


Start in time to demonstrate real assured progress by the end of Congressionally legislated Bicentennial Celebration Year: Yr2000. Complete by Yr2010.

NARC Identifies Regional Councils Activities

In a 1992 report, the National Association of Regional Councils (see NARC) summarized the efforts of various regional councils across the US. Among the most original of their accomplishments: Muscle Shoals gives technical assistance to their member governments; Sacramento provides multi- jurisdictional manpower training, and joint equipment maintenance; Los Angeles provides joint hazardous waste management; Denver gives area-wide training for government employees; Brunswick County, GA provides storm preparedness/evacuation planning; Omaha provides area- wide assistance in federal grant proposals and project management; North Carolina's Mid-East Commission provides data on small business loan availability; the Central Oklahoma COG is working to preserve their major aquifer (underground water source); Lubbock, Texas provides an export assistance program, and an alternative dispute resolution system; while Brazo Valley provides regional law enforcement training, and Arlington has standardized construction codes and public works specifications; and Bennington County, Vermont worked jointly to restore historic properties, while St. Johnsbury built a joint industrial park.

Regionalism Elsewhere

Clearly, regionalism is not a concept limited to the United States. A recent treatise entitled The Regional Imperative, British author Urlan Wannop concludes that:

regional planning and governance has become a recurrent part of the mainstream of public affairs in most advanced countries. It has often been highly influential and appreciably successful, even in such countries as the UK where it has been irregularly conceived.....By defining regional planning as being most commonly a process arising from tensions and gaps within systems of governance, it will always be with us. So much of regional planning arises because of cross-boundary issues and tensions inevitable with any pattern of governance, regardless of whether or not it matches geographic regions. There is a regional imperative.

Nearer by, The Baltimore Regional Council of Governments was replaced by a Baltimore Metropolitan Council to "promote cooperation among local governments in the Baltimore area to share information, collect data, and solve common problems. It also anticipates future needs in infrastructure, the environment, and economic development. Under formal agreements with its members, the Council provides regional planning for solid waste management and transportation."

Chicago Begins to Move Towards Regionalism
(condensed from a Neal Peirce article in the Washington Post)

According to a December, 1998 article by Neal Peirce (see Citistates) entitled "Chicago Regional Initiatives--a National Model in the Making", Chicago is moving from the back to the front rank of U.S. citistates thinking seriously about their 21st century future. With a Metropolitan Mayors Caucus started last December, the 269 municipalities of the six-county region are finally meeting to search out common approaches. The mayors have zeroed in on an issue none of them can cope with alone: how the region complies with the Clean Air Act, avoiding potential bans on new industry or development because the area has a federal "non-attainment" status. The Mayors Caucus is testing possible means of getting Clean Air Act credits in a cooperative experiment with the federal and state environmental protection agencies.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Metropolitan Planning Council, a private business-civic group that has long advocated regionwide cooperation, has launched a Campaign for Sensible Growth to develop an incentive-based approach that rewards compact and clustered development and saves farmland on the Chicagoland fringe, following the "smart growth" model invented by Maryland Gov. Glendening. The Council has commissioned the American Planning Assn to draw up a smart growth legislative package, tailored to Illinois law. Illinois' new governor claims his goal is to" support and revitalize existing communities, and to focus on redevelopment rather than new development."

In addition, a new report--initiated by the Commercial Club of top business leaders and hammered out by business committees with top academic and municipal government experts--asserts that it is imperative to transform the "rules of the game" to unleash the Chicago region's full creative capacity and excel in the global economy. That means changing important parts of the government structure, taxing authority and land use practices that today hobble inner cities, older suburbs, minorities and the poor. The plan proposes a Regional Coordinating Council that would look for ways to moderate fiscal differences among communities -- siphoning funds from the very wealthiest (cities flush with mega-mall sales tax revenue, for example) to help many of the very poorest.

The Council would work chiefly through incentives, using fresh revenues (based perhaps on auto registration surcharges) to finance bonds targeted to compact development and redevelopment in existing communities. There is apparently remarkable business community enthusiasm for the report. According to Peirce, "local jealousies, inertia, politics-as-usual are still alive and well, but not since the early the century have so many reform forces shown such strength -- and savvy".

Regionalism as a Threat

For many city dwellers, however, the concept of 'regionalism' had a starkly different meaning. As noted in Tamar Jacoby's new book Someone Else's House, black power activists who were wresting political control of many of America's inner cities considered attempts to form regional governments--such as Detroit's stillborn SEMCOG (Southeast Michigan Council of Governments)--as totally unacceptable. Rather than mechanisms to "level the playing field" they saw regionalism as a blatant attempt by mostly white suburbs to recapture control of mostly black inner cities.


In a report first published in February, 1996, the President's Council on Sustainable Development presented a comprehensive approach based on:

"Our vision of a life-sustaining Earth. We are committed to the achievement of a dignified, peaceful, and equitable existence. A sustainable United States will have a growing economy that provides equitable opportunities for satisfying livelihoods and a safe, healthy, high quality of life for current and future generations. Our nation will protect its environment, its natural resource base, and the functions and viability of natural systems on which all life depends."

Defining "sustainable development" as the ability "to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs", the report presents nine chapters encompassing: national goals towards sustainable growth; building a new framework for a new century; providing information and education; strengthening communities; assuring natural resources stewardship; relating US population and sustainability; and demonstrating international leadership.

Within the category of Strengthening Communities, a series of nine recommendations are given. Recommendation #2 deals with the need for collaborative regional planning to "encourage communities in a region to work together to deal with issues that transcend jurisdictional and other boundaries". They go on to propose three specific actions:

"Action 1: States, counties, and communities should cooperate to create a system of regional accounts that measures the costs and benefits of local land use, development, and economic trends on a region's economy, environment, distribution of benefits, and quality of life. States and regions can consider the use of collaborative benchmarking, such as those used in Oregon and Minnesota, to look at a broad range of social, environmental, and economic measures. The federal government should work with state and local governments to ensure that federal statistical resources are available and used appropriately to support state and local governments in measuring benefits and costs.

"Action 2: Federal and state governments should encourage cooperation among communities by providing incentives for regional collaboration on issues, such as transportation, affordable housing, economic development, air and water quality, and land use, that transcend political jurisdictions. In encouraging such cooperation, they should look to the example of the federal Empowerment Zone/Enterprise Community Program, which required communities to draft funding proposals using a collaborative strategic planning process......

"Action 3: Local and county governments can pool resources from local property taxes to increase equity in public services, improve the quality of education, break the exacerbating regional mismatch between social needs and tax resources, reduce local fiscal incentives for sprawl, and end competition for the tax base within the metropolitan area. Local and county actions to accomplish this should receive federal and state incentives."

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In response to a rhetorical question from the Director of the OMB to a luncheon audience under the auspices of the Urban Land Institute, NARPAC, Inc. prepared the following "talking points" directed towards increasing emphasis on regionalism:

a) increase local governmental cost efficiency by encouraging:

o expanded common metro area services beyond transportation, power, water/-sewer, to include procurement/contracting; data bases; health care; special, vocational, & higher education; emergency services, licensing/inspections; etc.

b) level the 'socioeconomic' playing field between interdependent jurisdictions:

o common metro area standards for personnel performance; welfare benefits; environmental, rent, DWI; and gun controls; civil fines and penalties; etc.

o common metro area revenue sources for evenly sharing the costs and benefits of each region's major attractions and reasons for being

c) redefine the role of central cities and of urban neighborhoods by conceptualizing:

o business/entertainment community complexes obliged to fulfill civic services for non-profits, local sports, day-care, vocational training, homeless shelters, etc.

o multiple "downtown" nodes centered on public transportation facilities zoned for business, government, and/or high-density residential uses;

o guidelines for enhancing urban neighborhood governance functions and civic responsibilities with clear representation at higher (city/county/regional) levels;

o incentives and devices to facilitate simplifying intra-metro area jurisdictional boundaries (by annexation, consolidation, retrocession, etc);

d) "normalize" the quality of life throughout each metro area by developing;

o regional "superfund" authorities to a) clean up the "toxic wastes" implicit in major slums and blighted areas and b) "recycle" their disadvantaged residents;

o neighborhood-sponsored civic service centers for public/subsidized housing, re-education centers, half-way houses, health-/day-care centers, government-subsidized work sites, skill training, entry-level/handicapped industries, etc.;

e) assure balanced Congressional representation for US metro areas by pressing for:

o major national redistricting effort to reflect importance of metro areas (independent of states--and accommodate DC thereby);

o Congressional committee re-alignments to provide single focus on metro-area problems (HUD, HHS, etc.)--and relegate DC oversight to it;

f) develop government and private sector incentives to favor regional bodies:

o award preferential grants, tax breaks, seed money etc. through regionally-oriented organizations, rather than just to state/county/city governments


DC/Prince George's County Police Cooperation

Effective regional cooperation need not involve all of the surrounding jurisdictions. In some cases, simple arrangements with a single neighboring jurisdiction may be enough. As a case in point, there has long been a high level of crime near DC's eastern borders with Prince George's County--with criminals jumping the border to thwart police pursuit. For the last two years, the PG police chief has been trying in vain get the DC police chief to hold develop joint plans to defeat this practice.

Finally, in October of 1998, a joint plan was announced. Under a federally funded plan 30 police officers will be deputized as federal law enforcement officers, allowing them to disregard the local jurisdictional boundaries in pursuit of lawbreakers. It seems ludicrous, however, that as these joint operations begin, there is no way for the two police forces to communicate by radio. Achieving regional solutions never appears to be easy, and federal involvement often appears necessary, if not sufficient! (In a related aside, NARPAC, Inc. has also been told informally, that 80% of the inmates in Arlington County jails are also refugees from DC).

Regional Police Academy

Police Chief Ramsey recently (Feb, 1999) expressed a desire to reopen the DC Police Academy. In a recent letter to the chief NARPAC, Inc. suggested that a far better solution would be to press for a regional Police academy. Beyond the obvious economies of scale and use of common teaching tools, many other advantages in personnel acquaintances, equipment/doctriner interoperability, shared special operaitons, and regional operational support could eventually result.

DC School System Cooperation with Maryland

An important first small step was taken in November to increase cooperation between DC's troubled public school system and its far more successful neighbors. The State of Maryland has agreed to provide administrative judges to help evaluate the DC backlog of some 2500 kids seeking special education status. It is clear that Maryland and Virginia could provide a great deal more much-needed assistance, if DC's School Superintendent were to ask for it.

Regionalizing Unions?

In yet another small step towards regionalization, the DC chapter of the AFL-CIO's American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (Council 20) has decided to dissolve, with the eight health care locals going in one direction, and sixteen others joining Maryland's Council 67. The objective is to effectuate a stronger organization and leadership--in part to avoid what the union perceives as arbitrary rulings levied against DC government employees by the Congress.

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In September, 1999, a roundtable discussion was held at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in Atlanta, GA on Regional Connections and Federal Urban Policy. There was general agreement that after some 30 years of relative indifference, the federal role is beginning to grow again.

Vincent Marando of the University of Maryland believes that the dynamics of urban growth resulting in urban decay, sprawl, and racial segregation are national issues, even if the solutions are more likely found at the state and local level, and that these patterns of urbanization are quite uniform across the US. He notes that President Clinton's recent Executive Order (#12132) on Federalism (August ?,'99) underscores "the need for a national role in an intergovernmental system that applies to regional issues, when dealing with problems of national significance." He believes that "a federal regional initiative thus has the potential to compensate and complement the major shift in aid from places to people by encouraging states and localities to address urban problems that do not respect local jurisdiction boundaries".

Roger Parks of Indiana University suggests that it isn't productive for the federal government "to identify 'the problem' and proffer 'the solution'", and that "sweeping claims about urban sprawl and its dreadful consequences, and therefore a need to adopt growth management in all metro areas, need to be questioned. He finds that different metro areas have different problems, and federal roles should be to help provide information on various solutions to the problems, and to sponsor research on metropolitan structure, governance, and their consequences. He notes that there are already myriad cases of interjurisdictional cooperation across the US, as well as many other regional, sub-regional, and other cross-cutting arrangements.

Patricia Atkins of the National Assn of Regional Councils described the results of a recent NAPA/NARC report showing that the US already "has a significant underlay of regional governance organizations, averaging a minimum of 13 regional organizations per region. The most active one-quarter of the regional organizations identified through the survey collectively employed 30,000 people and had budgets that totaled $3.5 billion." Half of these were private-sector organizations, non-profits, or public-private partnerships, while the other half were public agencies--and their numbers have grown about 20-50% over the past five years. The report suggested three directions for future action: a) fresh thinking and regional information exchange; b) development of a national constituency for regional action; and c) more research on, and a census of, existing regional organizations.

Ulf Zimmermann of Kennesaw State University, GA, takes a blunter approach. Claiming that the federal policies of the '50s concerning highways and housing helped create the current metro areas--and the resulting uneven (white) 'sprawl'--he sees no reason why new federal policies should not solve the new urban problems. He concludes that "just as it took federal disincentives to prompt the creation of the GRTA" (the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority--when EPA cut off federal funding for transportation projects due to nonattainment of air quality goals), "so it will take federal incentives to accomplish the greater roles of regionalism and to rectify the federal legacy". His proposed federal roles include research on cleaner cars and fuels; more subsidies for bus systems and other steps to "enhance individual mobility to move people to places that promise prosperity"; greater federal efforts to make single-family suburban housing accessible for lower- income, particularly minority families region-wide so that they can become increasingly mainstreamed; and more research on mixed income housing ("a la Montgomery County") to overcome the jobs/housing mismatch.

Zimmerman makes the interesting point that "separate neighborhoods are inherently unequal" so that "it is a matter of civil rights" for the federal government to assume a role in providing "truly equal access to economic and other opportunities". He urges "making real at last" Section 205 of the Metropolitan Development Act of 1966 (see Walker below).

Susan Baer of Indiana University expressed views almost diametrically opposite to Zimmermann's. She argues that increased use of differentiated city sub-districts, (i.e. neighborhoods) can help reduce flight to the suburbs. She cites the rapidly growing Business Improvement Districts (BIDs--as in DC) and Community Benefits Districts (CBDs--as in Baltimore) in which levies are imposed to receive supplemental services such as safety, sanitation, and economic development. She makes three arguments for emphasizing neighborhoods: a) that cities have difficulty in responding to the diverse needs of neighborhoods, "thus helping to explain the high costs and poor (inefficient) service quality frequently observed in central cities"; b) that the monopolist municipality inhibits the development of a more "economically differentiated and stable central city economy"; and c) that suburban communities (incorporated within counties) maintain more direct control over a portion of their tax revenues for local use.

To avoid "balkanization of neighborhoods, separating the city by class or race", Ms. Baer suggests using sub-districts large enough (100-block?) to encompass diverse residential areas. She concludes that what is needed is a "set of principles for designing the institutions of local governance" to give locally defined communities the ability to self-govern...within a limited sphere". The most detailed position was presented by David Walker of the University of Connecticut (Storrs). He acknowledges that the regional impetus of the '60s and '70s under President Johnson's "Creative Federalism" agenda was mainly shut down under the Reagan administration, and has only begun to resurface through the 1990 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA--now called TEA-21). The major remnants of the earlier period are the 600 surviving Councils of Government (COGs). But this focus on collaborative regional planning efforts was not sufficiently authoritative to implement their plans. However, the federal government cannot require states to adopt any particular form of regional governance, though it can provide grant incentives with federal funds.

Walker believes that past experience indicates that regional organizations will not work unless appropriately empowered--and funded--for some specific purpose; that they are needed to help manage urban growth; and that intergovernmental transfers can provide the key federal leverage. Walker offers six "modest" recommendations for bolstering the level of federal concern and involvement:

1. Reinstate Census Bureau authority and capabilities to provide complete, accurate, and timely information on all public and quasi-public aerate bodies and intergovenrmental financing and program data;

2. Reexamine Section 205 of the Metropolitan Development Act of 1966, which is still on the books but never funded: it authorized the granting of federal bonuses to programs that urban localities agreed to 'regionalize'; 3. Authorize HUD to fund in-depth studies of reformed metro governments to gauge their effectiveness and acceptability;

4. Assess the propriety of rescinding Reagan's Executive Order 12372 which delegated the monitoring of the "review and comment" function spelled out in the OMB implementing Circular A-95 to the states--in the hopes of reviving many of the nation's COGs;

5. Consider the possibility of using TEA-21 as a catalyst to further various regional governance goals in interested metro areas, piggybacking on the multi-modal transportation concerns;

6. Convene a federal interagency task force (or equivalent) to explore whether the national government might take on a facilitator role in our nation's interstate metro areas.

NARPAC Commentary

NARPAC readily associates itself with several of the major points made by these experts:

1. The patterns of urbanization are indeed quite uniform across the US;

2. The resulting socioeconomic inequities should be a matter of national concern, even though neither the causes nor the solutions may be common in either nature or magnitude;

3. To the extent that the uneven metro area playing field denies mobility or access to employment, federal concern is surely warranted, whether or not prior federal policies have contributed to the "jobs/housing mismatch";

4. While NARPAC doubts that the existence of "separate neighborhoods" is either inherently unfair or inherently more efficient in the delivery of local services, the perpetuation and enhancement of neighborhood identity seems to be an eminently sensible counterbalance to the increasing anonymity resulting from larger, more populous, jurisdictional entities. Moreover, the distinctive character of these neighborhoods will almost certainly continue to differentiate both urban and suburban communities and drawn distinctive residents;

5. The need for the development of a national constituency for regional action to level the metro area playing field seems undeniable, and the ability of the federal government to provide suitable incentives indisputable. The desirability of using current instruments (TEA-21, grant bonuses, etc.) seems obvious, and the development of better mechanisms, obligatory;

6. NARPAC strongly believes that the best way to provide such a permanent national focus is through the establishment of a Joint Committee of the Congress for Metro Areas--which would then be eminently qualified to perform impartial, high-level oversight for the District of Columbia as well.

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Williams Transition Team Report--Albeit Incomplete--Urges Greater Regional Cooperation

One of the more creative transition reports presents well thought out arguments for increasing metro area cooperation. It describes the state of the regional economy (with DC lagging); the current major regional players; existing regional efforts for growth, jobs, and development; and finally, these 20 options for the Mayor and DC:

A. General Regional Engagement

  • 1. Establish Relations with Key Leaders Whose Decisions Affect Metropolitan Washington;
  • 2. Establish a Caucus of Elected Officials in the Region
  • 3. Appoint a Regional Liaison
  • 4. Partner with the Federal Government on Regional Issues
  • 5. Create a Local "Kitchen Cabinet" on Regional Affairs
  • 6. Connect the Regional Conversation on Congestion, Smart Growth and Workforce Development
  • 7. Co-Host a Regional Summit in 1999
  • 8. Convene a Series of Public Regional Forums
  • 9. Compile and Monitor Regional Trends
  • 10. Help Create a Regional Information Clearinghouse
B. Transportation/Smart Growth
  • 11. Develop a Coordinated Strategy for Regional Governing Bodies
  • 12. Examine New Forms of Regional Governance
  • 13. Encourage a Regional Alliance for Affordable Housing
C. Workforce Development
  • 14. Help Fill Transportation Gaps in Neighborhoods and the Region
  • 15. Create Regional Skills Alliances
  • 16. Coordinate Regional Employment and Training Systems
  • 17. Identify and Eliminate Regulatory Barriers to Regional Workforce Mobility
    D. Economic Development
  • 18. Help Create Regional Business Improvement Districts
  • 19. Help Create Regional Trade Alliance
  • 20. Help Create Regional Database for Business Locations

While NARPAC finds little to fault in these recommendations (and even less reason to quibble), we do believe that one fundamental area for regional cooperation has been overlooked. Had we been asked, we would have included a set of additional options to "level the playing field" in local governance:

E. Local Governments Effectiveness and Efficiency

  • 21. Establish Forums for Government Agencies to Learn from and Reinforce Each Other (Education, Health & Human Services, Public Works, etc.) ;
  • 22. Seek Common Professional, Business standards/regulations;
  • 23. Work Towards Common Regional Welfare Rates, Benefits;
  • 23. Establish Common Training Centers for Special Government Skills;
  • 24. Create Common Procurement and Contracting Centers;
  • 25. Create Registries of Certified Private Service Providers;
  • 26. Develop Common Equipment Maintenance/Repair Facilities and Services;
  • 27. Explore Common Inspection Services for Regulated Businesses;
  • 28. Explore Common Facilities for Special Education, Health Services;
  • 29. Empasize Areas Where Common Planning/Action Essential (e.g., environment, hazardous waste disposal, emergency planning, etc.)
  • 30. Generate Ad Hoc Advisory Groups in Areas Needing Special Attention, such as the DC School System;
  • etc.

Unfortunately, the subject of regionalization does not appear in any of the other ten transition reports. Clearly, the enthusiasts for this approach still do not populate the other agency functions like schools and health services. On the other hand, the new Mayor seems to be ahead of his bureaucracy (and most pundits). In the first month of his new administration, he has invited more "outsiders"--both regionally and nationally known officials--to help him energize and streamline his workkforce. He has also addressed a group of 500 business leaders in wealthy nearby Fairfax County, asserting the need for DC and its suburbs "to become partners so that both may prosper". Stay tuned.

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For years, urbanites have recognized that their enemy is "blight"--a disease of slums and abandoned public housing that gradually spreads across the city, driving its residents towards the suburbs. At last, suburbanites may have found their equivalent bete noire in the form of "sprawl":

o In a 1998 year-end "Report Card on Architecture" by The Post's respected architectural consultant, Roger Lewis from the University of Maryland, he summarizes a "national phenomenon of 1998" that deserves attention:

Across the country, the November elections signaled awakening and growing public interest in managing urban development, protecting the environment, and curtailing undesirable suburban sprawl. In many jurisdictions, people voted to adopt and finance land conservation initiatives. However, the American dream, to own a detached house on a lot in a subdivision far from the city, persists. Thus it remains to be seen how far voters will go to achieve these ultimately contradictory goals.

Two weeks later, Lewis returns to this subject in yet another column wherin he concludes that there is no way that local governments can control sprawl by buying up all the remaining open spaces. In fact, he says, citizens are going to have to learn to curb their own appetities.

o At about the same time, Geneva Overholser summarized the latest views of well- known urbanologist, Myron Orfield in the Post. Excerpts follow:

America's suburbs are not what we think they are -- which may be the salvation of our cities.

Just ask Myron Orfield. A Minnesota state representative from Minneapolis, Orfield is doing some interesting thinking on metropolitan politics today. Having looked at various cities beginning with his own, he recently turned his gaze to the nation's capital.

"People believe poverty and social instability stop at suburban borders," says Orfield. But, in mapping social and economic trends throughout the Washington area, Orfield has found that false. Here as elsewhere, the problems in the older, inner ring of suburbs look much like the city's problems: increasing numbers of poor children, crumbling infrastructure, declining tax base. In fact, said Orfield, some areas of Prince George's and Montgomery counties are becoming poor faster than the poor neighborhoods in the District. And the effects of poverty on suburban areas may be even harsher because, as he put it: "Cities have residual strengths that suburbs rarely have."

All of this spells hope for cities and for regionalism. The fact that suburbs are feeling some of the pains of growth and change opens up the possibility that they will be more enthusiastic about metrowide cooperation -- which would be a change....Over the years, economists and urban planners have piled up evidence that sprawl is more than a matter of Americans chasing their dreams. It's also government policies beckoning them to the suburbs, through tax breaks, highway funding and other programs.

Now that suburbs also are finding themselves the victims of sprawl, the moment may have arrived for metropolitan areas to see their fates whole. Orfield believes we may now see progress toward fiscal equity -- easing disparities of income and expenditure among jurisdictions. And toward land-use planning that looks at growth with a realistic eye for infrastructure needs. And, finally, progress toward governance that emphasizes making life throughout the region better.

As outer-suburb voters sound alarms about growth, inner suburbs such as Bethesda and Silver Spring are transforming themselves into commercial, entertainment and employment centers -- encouraged by Maryland's "smart growth policy," which emphasizes redevelopment of older communities. Some of the new transportation spending recently approved by Congress will be administered by a metropolitan transportation planning body, compelling cities and suburbs to plan as one.

The public and the business community are increasingly seeing the region as one...With cities and suburbs finding common ground, we may be able to behave more rationally about the care and tending of America's urban areas.

o Also in January, Vice President Al Gore announced that President Clinton's budget will include a new $10 billion bond program to make communities more livable, setting a clear theme for his impending presidential campaign, according to Post writer Neal Peirce.

The several initiatives aim at helping public and civic collaborations achieve a higher quality of life in our 21st century cities and towns, and add up to about $1 billion in fresh federal money in the coming fiscal year. Gore claims this is "the largest investment in smart growth and community planning in the nation's history".

Gore asserts that the time has come for Washington to become a firm ally of the citizens and growing alliances of local officials who are pressing for regional "smart growth" approaches, for easing traffic congestion, for preserving greenspace and creating livable communities.

New "Better America Bonds" could be used to restore urban parks, preserve suburban greenspaces, protect threatened farmlands or wetlands, or clean up urban brownfields. Gore said the Environmental Protection Agency, in awarding bond allocations, would give preference to regional proposals--those showing collaborative planning by neighboring communities, especially among cities, suburbs and rural areas.

Another Gore proposal would provide $50 million for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to kick off a "regional connections" program. It would be a competitive program, inviting applications from alliances of local governments. Sample goals: achieving compact development, encouraging reinvestment in older communities.

Among the smallest but most appealing of the new budget programs is a $10 million plan to encourage a bigger voice for citizens in the planning and design of new schools. As the nation prepares to build 5,000 schools to meet the demands of the baby boom "echo" modernize old structures, getting citizens involved could introduce fresh creativity. More schools could again become more of an anchor for civic life in their community.

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The official regional body for the Greater Washington Metro Area is its Council of Governments. On the plus side, a well-established and well-staffed organization exists for the development of regional solutions to regional problems. On the negative side, its accomplishments have been very limited--compared to what they might be--and that appears to be just what their political leadership has wanted. According to their official literature:

COG is the Washington area's regional organization of local governments.

COG is composed of 18 local governments surrounding our nation's Capital, plus area members of the Maryland and Virginia legislatures, the US Senate and the US House of Representatives.

COG provides a focus for action and develops sound regional responses to such issues as the environment; affordable housing; economic development; health and family concerns, human relations; population growth, public safety, and transportation.

Founded in 1957, COG is an independent, nonprofit association. COG is supported by financial contributions from its participating local governments, federal and state grants and contracts, and donations from foundations and the private sector.

Policies are set by the full membership acting through its board of directors, which meet monthly to discuss area issues.

The jurisdictions include DC, the counties of Frederick, Montgomery, and Prince George's in Maryland; the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudon, and Prince William in Virginia; plus the Maryland Cities of Bowie, College Park, Frederick, Gaithersburg, Greenbelt, Rockville, and Takoma Park; and the Virginia Cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, and Falls Church. The membership population in 1996 was 3,912,000, and the area remains 3011 square miles.

There is a 28-member Board of Directors--the more populous jurisdictions having additional representation (DC (+3), Fairfax (+3) , Montgomery (+2) , and Prince George's (+1); plus a representative from the Maryland and Virginia State Legislatures. Chairmanship rotates between DC, MD, and VA. Members are elected by their respective elective bodies. The Board Chairman in 1998 is DC Council Member Charlene Drew Jarvis. Vice Chairs hail from Loudon and Prince George's County.

There are also four corporate officers elected by the full COG membership to one- year terms: a president, two vice-presidents, and a secretary-treasurer. One vice president is currently Council Member Carol Schwartz, with other officers from Rockville (president), Prince William, and Falls Church.

The internal organization, including some 120 full time personnel, is run by a Director and an Executive Assistant through seven directorates, three substantive (environment, Human Services and Safety, and Transportation), and four functional (counsel, administration, personnel, and public affairs). But this director does not instigate projects of her own or from her staff.

Program Output

These extensive program activities are generally authorized by any of 33 technical committees (!), under the guidance of four policy committees (noise abatement, environment and public works, human services and public safety, metropolitan development); two special committees (Washington area housing, alternate fuels); and two independent committees (air quality, and transportation). Of these, the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board probably has the largest set of teeth. Topics apparently need impact on some--but by no means all-- participating jurisdictions, but those impacted need to agree that the subject is appropriate. In short, no help is given where it is not wanted. On the other hand, some very useful standards for the area are being set. The most recent of these is an agreed proposal for an area-wide DWI intoxication level.

One major output of these technical groups is publications. Of the 27 listed reports for 1997, 12 dealt with all aspects of transportation, 6 with pollution reduction and air quality, and one or two (max) in census, economy, family issues, population growth, housing, public safety, and substance abuse. NARPAC, Inc. cannot refrain from reporting that a $30 COG report is now available on " Final State Implementation Plan Revision (SIP), Phase I Attainment Plan, and Revision to the SIP to Achieve a 15% Reduction in Volatile Organic Compound Emissions, and Revision to the 1990 Base Year Emissions Inventory for Stationary Anthropogenic, Biogenic Sources and Highway Vehicle Emissions of Ozone Precursors for the Washington DC-MD-VA Metropolitan Statistical Nonattainment Area." other titles available on request. More recently, some centers of excellence are beginning to emerge in which one jurisdiction has a clear lead, for one reason or another, and provides that expertise to others. Apparently, Montgomery County is so far ahead in addressing Y2000 government computer problems that all other jurisdictions will likely follow its lead.

Its brochures and web site state that "COG's overall mission is to develop regional solutions to issues affecting the Washington metropolitan area. At the same time, COG is a dynamic organization with diverse functions:

o COG acts as a forum for solving problems that transcend jurisdictional boundaries;

o COG serves as a think-tank for local governments, enabling them to analyze issues and identify opportunities when regional cooperation is necessary;

o COG is designated by the federal government as the regional planning organization for metropolitan Washington;

o COG acts as an advocate for its members at the local, state, and federal levels;

o COG serves as an expert technical consultant; and

o COG is a regional information source.

NARPAC, Inc. Preliminary Appraisal"

Based on preliminary assessment of these and other inputs, NARPAC, Inc. concludes that the COG is doing exactly what its political leaders want it to do, with very little leeway in leading, rather than following what its Board either initiates or approves. One interesting ongoing effort, however, addresses the future impact of electric utility deregulation, a seemingly esoteric, but clearly common concern for all jurisdictions, and at a very low level of political volatility. Moreover, the need to transfer scarce funding from one jurisdiction to another is minuscule. There are also a few informal indications that some jurisdictions are more willing to provide technical assistance and cooperation than the potential recipients are to receive it.

At a far more visible level is the growing concern for traffic congestion throughout the region--coupled with a recognition that only a set of regional solutions will be adequate. It is not surprising then, that transportation is attracting the most attention, and might conceivably result in some sort of pooling of financial resources, or even of revenue generation. Most sage observers agree that even the future funding for the current Metrorail system could become an acceptable subject for COG deliberations before long.

In between, there are a large number of issues, particularly but not solely, of interest to the District, which are clearly off the table--either because the District does not want to be seen as a dependent beneficiary, or because the potential costs to the benefactors could exceed current limited political appeal. Some of these appear to include: (a preliminary listing, to be sure)

o COG has no committee structure dealing with public--or higher level-- education, and no apparent interest in, say, regional adult and/or work force re-education and vocational training;

o COG (not surprisingly) has stayed away from considerations of regional revenue raising or redistribution. The idea of a "commuter tax" is apparently unacceptable to all jurisdictions but DC;

o COG does not appear to have any project structure for matters of health care, from hospitals and special treatment centers, to Medicare/Medicaid issues, emergency services, or even joint morgue efforts;

o Although COG has a commendable program in joint procurements (which DC apparently chooses not to participate in), there are no evident programs in developing joint equipment maintenance capabilities--another area where DC could sorely use some help;

o There is no visible COG emphasis on the cooperative advancement of public administration or application of new technology to raise government productivity;

o There are no COG efforts to move in the direction of regional licensing and inspection services, although there have been some efforts to develop regional standards (such as for legal intoxication, mentioned earlier);

o Although there seem to be COG committees for police chiefs and fire chiefs, there do not appear to be any trends towards joint public safety facilities (to achieve economies of scale) , ranging from regional criminal data banks , say, to regional local jails; and

o COG appears to do little in the realm of regional economic development (perhaps because it is highly competitive), and seems to have little if any contact with the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

It is by no means evident to NARPAC, Inc. just what would be needed to substantially increase efforts towards more meaningful "regionalization" of the capital metro area's common problems--and solutions. However, five elements are probably part of any major revitalization of COG:

1) Some modest share of COG's funding and personnel resources should be earmarked for use at the "director's discretion" so that the expertise of the staff can be used to explore more far-reaching concepts than are acceptable at first blush to conservative politicians. "Lab Director's funds" have long been used in federal government research centers (Defense, NASA, AEC, etc.) to stimulate the creative initiatives of expert staff personnel, and to pursue novel ideas until their merits (if any) become more demonstrable and palatable;

2) More emphasis needs to be placed by COG on showing the benefits of regional economies of scale, in which larger common facilities replace small local jurisdiction centers or local branches of state functions (ranging from equipment maintenance and vocational training to jails and specialized medical centers);

3) It seems absolutely essential that the COG membership (particularly from the major jurisdictions) emphasize individuals with a strong orientation toward the future and an understanding of the increasing centrality of metro area regionalism. Negative leadership and ill-founded fears of "governments"seriously damage the usefulness of off-line, consensus organizations like COG;

4) Surely the federal government can help incentivize the shifts towards a regional approach by: a) relatively small, well-directed grants to the regional councils themselves to explore the advantages of regionalization; b) awarding federal grants not always to state authorities, but in appropriate cases to regional authorities; c) providing more practical information to local legislatures on the successes (and failures) of regional efforts elsewhere. This is a national issue, not a "save DC" expedient.

5) Although the decisions over the level of cooperation to be sought between neighboring jurisdictions are ultimately political/legislative ones, the determinations of what areas could provide the most effective financial benefits are most likely made by managers on the executive side of the ledger. Some mechanism to get the managers together is almost certainly in order.


During the summer of 1998, NARPAC, Inc. interviewed ten senior officials thoroughly familiar with the Greater Washington Council of Governments (COG). These included the Chair of the DC Council; the Chair of the COG Board of Directors; DC's past Chief Administrative Officer--and current COG Director; a Representative from Congress from each Maryland and Virginia; and a current member of the COG Board from each Prince George's, Montgomery, Fairfax, and Arlington Counties.

We had suspected it would be difficult to expand COG efforts on DC's behalf because the suburbs were probably a) happy with the status quo, and b) reluctant to help DC more for fear of catching--or losing--something. But our interviews make clear that:

1. All parties agree that further shifts towards regionalism are the wave of the future:

  • this metro area must cooperate internally to compete with other metro areas:

  • the surrounding counties understand the suburbs must do more to help DC solve its systemic problems, and claim there is no foot-dragging at the state level either. Both seem to realize they cannot be successful if the central city is not;

  • However, those interviewed had few suggestions for important new initiatives specifically to rejuvenate DC, although they reacted with open minds to some NARPAC straw men in areas such as health care and public education.

2. While some DC officials have felt rebuffed by the suburbs, the suburbs feel strongly that the District itself has not sought help from them:
  • DC has presented a clear image that their representatives to the COG committees are either not being appointed, not interested, not attending, or not contributing, and are mainly seeking opportunities to "grandstand".

  • DC has failed to avail itself of COG opportunities such as common procurement.

  • There will have to be a substantial new commitment from DC to cooperate more with the COG, in order to get more benefits in return. Other jurisdictions will not force themselves on the DC if their assistance is not sought.

  • Mindsets that view cooperation with COG as eroding home rule rather than bettering local government effectiveness are outdated and counterproductive.

3. The COG itself has several problems:

  • For Board members, serving on the COG is job #3and of least immediate return. These locally elected officials often have full-time private sector jobs in addition to serving their county/city councils. They are unlikely to press for major new initiatives, or "get out ahead" of their constituents--or state governments.

  • "Too busy" was a phrase used by COG Board interviewees (--and by those who declined!). Suggested remedies included limiting Board activities to policy issues or area strategic planning, and extending some Board assignments to two years.

  • The COG's past executive director seems to have had little incentive to "get out ahead of the Board" with new initiatives. Some feel its large permanent staff could benefit from more dynamic leadership and encouragement from the Board.

  • No one indicated that COG staff funding was a limiting factor: grants and assessments have been forthcoming for worthwhile programs.

  • Some supported NARPAC's concern that COG may be over- managed by political officials overly concerned with jurisdictional "turf", and under-represented by executives simply seeking greater operating efficiencies.

  • There is some concern that the tight reins held by Virginia's statehouse under "Dillon's Rule" will make it difficult for local Virginia jurisdictions to cooperate more closely with either Maryland or the District.

4. Clearly, the COG is not the only approach to regional cooperation:

  • The Greater Washington Board of Trade is seen to be more pro-active than COG in pursuing its narrower range of (generally commercial) interests.

  • Many joint programs can be carried out by coalitions of the willing without involving the full 18 regional jurisdictions, or with various federal agencies.

  • Respondents agreed the federal government can provide key incentives to pursuing regional solutions. Several encouraged NARPAC, Inc. to focus on this.

  • Several respondents saw merit in seeking landmark improvements in regional cooperation in time for DC's forthcoming bicentennial, including new legislation.

(These are NARPAC recommendations, not necessarily endorsed by the interviewees)

  • The next DC Council and Mayor must make a serious in-depth commitment to regional cooperation, and staff DC's leadership/committee assignments with persons dedicated to making the COG a productive, cooperative body.

  • It might be wise to involve the Control Board in key DC assignments to the COG to make sure that the persons assigned have both the time, the competence, and the bent to be fully productive participants.

  • COG's Executive Director should seek (or exercise) additional freedom to explore creative initiatives prior to Board approval. The COG staff needs to pursue novel ideas from internal or outside sources without Board constraints.

  • Key COG Board assignments should be extended to two years. The Board should avoid delving into extraneous details at the expense of focusing on major policy issues impacting the region's balanced future.

  • The COG might well undertake a special ad hoc bicentennial program to develop major new regional initiatives that could be kicked off (almost certainly not completed) by the end of Yr2000, perhaps in conjunction with next item:

  • A concerned (joint?) Congressional committee should stimulate broader-ranging regional efforts. Special hearings, commissions, grants, and landmark new legislation could set the ground work for greatly expanded regional cooperation.

  • The COG should help Congress develop federal incentives to increase area emphasis on regional authorities. Directing grants (with local matching funds?) to regional authorities could ease the transition to regionally-funded programs.

  • In conjunction with the COG, the Federal DC Task Force could become another instrument to foster regional-based solutions. For instance

    • the EPA could help the COG to constitute a regional team to perform a massive high-profile clean-up of the Anacostia River;

    • HHS could encourage the evolution through COG of regional facilities for treating certain costly mental or physical illnesses; and

    • The Dept of Education could invite COG to develop regional standards and integrated facilities to meet the demands for special education.


Success in efforts towards regionalism can be enhanced by Congressional stimulus. One of the most likely areas for areawide cooperation is in transportation, and an important new bill has been introduced by a local legislator.

With several co-sponsors, Congressman James P. Moran of Virginia's 8th District introduced a major bill to address regionally the growing problems of transportation in the capital metro area. Responding to reports that this area now has the second longest commuting time in the USA, it provides a framework under which regional transportation needs can be addressed and more important, "provides a mechanism, or vessel, through which the local jurisdictions could coordinate and commit future revenues to fiance the construction of specific transportation projects that otherwise will not get built--or built anytime soon." His proposal is accompanied by letters of support from the county chairs and mayors of all eight Northern Virginia jurisdictions in the COG metro area. The legislation, crafted with the help of the Metro Washington COG has five key elements:

1. it provides a new option to help the metropolitan Washington region more effectively address its transportation needs;

2. it empowers the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board to consult with the metropolitan Washington region jurisdictions and the public to achieve consensus on a list of critical transportation projects and a funding mechanism that are needed to address the growing congestion crisis in the region, but cannot be funded within the current and forecasted federal, state and local funding levels for such projects;

3. it establishes a Corporation with the power to accept revenue and issue debt to provide short-term funding for projects that have been agreed to by the region;

4. it grants consent to the metropolitan Washington region jurisdictions to enter into an interstate compact or agreement that would help meet the region's long- term transportation needs; and

5. it provides $60 million in matching federal grants as an incentive to encourage the creation of the federal corporation.

This type of legislation is, in the view of NARPAC, Inc., precisely what is needed to help evolve the nation's finest metropolitan area. We cannot help but visualize this same legislative summary with the word 'transportation' replaced by the words 'education', 'health', 'environment', or 'housing', among others, as the metro area undertakes regional solutions to regional problems across the board--and across the metro playing field.

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A new book has just been published by the National Research Council (NRC) through the National Academy Press dealing with the growing "disparities" between central cities and their prospering suburbs. It is the work of the Committee on Improving the Future of US Cities Through Improved Metropolitan Area Governance, sponsored by the NRC. Part 1 of the book presents a long, informative executive summary, while the second half provides in-depth perspectives on the impact of zoning, spatial stratification, variations in economic and social opportunity, intra-metropolitan disparities, and the success to date of regionalism in transportation and air quality issues.

In NARPAC Inc.'s view, the most important summary statements are that:

a) Socioeconomic inequality--of income, wealth, and opportunity--in the United States is high compared with other developed countries, and it appears to be growing; and

b) The costs associated with extreme disparity threaten the future well-being of society.

The report asserts that high unemployment rates and low incomes resulting from unequal opportunity also impose greater public costs on all levels of government through higher public expenditures on welfare, medical care, food stamps, social services, housing assistance, police protection, prisons, and at-risk kids. NARPAC's own analysis of the high costs of poverty, quantifies these costs for DC--and includes the higher costs of education as well. This report does note that there is "little correlation between school spending and educational outcomes when more powerful determinants--such as family background and peer influence--are held constant".

The report also points out the vicious cycle resulting from the fact that jurisdictions with lower than average tax bases (viz. DC) must impose higher tax rates or provide lower levels of public service than their more affluent neighbors--again covered in this web site's analysis of the impact of income mix.

The report acknowledges there are many areas in which further research is required, included better assessment of the effectiveness of many of the steps now underway to reduce these inequities. Of the utmost importance, the committee feels, is to "document the role that current patterns of metropolitan governance play in exacerbating socioeconomic inequality and in restricting the range of potentially effective ameliorative public policies". Then they believe that concerned policy makers "must begin to identify and evaluate the state-level policies that aim to undermine the forces of inequality".


The report documents in scholarly fashion the extent of central-city/suburban disparities, and the fact that they tend to hit harder the older cities of the Northeast and Midwest, as well as the deepening disparities as the better-off migrate to the suburbs, and the lower-skilled, lower-income stay-behinds become worse off. It notes the continuing disparities among racial and ethnic groups remaining in the cities, and notes the impact of the loss of well-paid, low-skill jobs in manufacturing and other sectors from most cities. It restates the high level of racial segregation in most metro areas, and the inescapable fact that "poor black people are much more concentrated in high-poverty areas than poor white people are".

The report also stresses the impact of the social isolation of poor people, particularly blacks, in high-poverty neighborhoods, and related "neighborhood effects" of higher crime, lower public services, the greater influence of self- destructive and anti-social behavior, the lack of proper role models for youth and their adoption of values poorly related to workplace success. They note that these youth often know few people who work, and are not exposed to modeling about appropriate job behavior.

From NARPAC's standpoint, one of the most interesting chapters deals with the various options in moving from a large number of completely independent jurisdictions within a metro area (fragmentation) towards fewer, more encompassing political entities (consolidation). In general, the report discourages attempts to replace local governments with regional ones for a variety of real-world political reasons. It highlights the impact of the 1965 Voting Rights Act which forbids political redistricting that would deny or abridge voting rights on account of race or ethnicity. As a case in point, the proposed consolidation of Augusta, Georgia with Richmond County was blocked by the Department of Justice in 1988 because the resulting "dilution of black voting strength (would be) discriminatory". In essence, this legislation can prevent the formation of fiscally self-sufficient jurisdictions by encompassing an area with a larger number of wealthier suburban whites relative to the number of poorer urban blacks and other minorities.

The report suggests that there are two practical alternatives to disrupting existing political jurisdictions, however outdated their boundaries may be. The first is to consolidate specific governmental functions as NARPAC proposes in its discussion of the Metro Washington Council of Governments. The second is to agree to establish special single- purpose districts to provide a specific regional service as has been proposed in the Metro Washington Regional Transportation Act. In fact, the report indicates that there is a steady national growth in such regional specialty operations. However, the report notes that experts warn that as long as such regional efforts deal primarily with infrastructure capacity (viz., transportation) and federal or state regulatory mandates (viz., clean water), they will contribute little to the growing problems of regional inequities (viz., poverty-sharing).

Policy Options

The Committee presents only two policy options for governmental actions to rectify these intra-regional disparities:

The first is a change in government structure than would reduce reliance on small-scale local governments and move to a system of more consolidated government (at the metro- or state-level). (NARPAC notes that "local governments", in this context, might be DC or Montgomery County)

The second--and the committee's preference--would largely retain the existing system of "nested local governments" (i.e., smaller units of local government overlain by larger ones that provide broader functions) but would increase the critical role of state governments in reducing barriers to equal access and opportunities in metropolitan areas.

The arguments for this course are quite clear. The committee finds that the "fragmented" system of local government has many positive features--involving efficiency, choice, and grass-roots accountability--that might be lost in a more consolidated system. It notes that although some local governments may accentuate tendencies toward segregation and fiscal disparities, "even the least fragmented urban areas display high levels of segregation and inequality". Research reportedly indicates that local governments provide local services more efficiently, particularly those that are more labor-intensive, whereas broader governments are more efficient for more capital-intensive services. (NARPAC would add to this the important caveat of "all other things being equal"--see below).

The committee therefore recommends a "restructuring of metropolitan governance focusing on the critical role of state government". It believes that more aggressive state government action is fundamental to reducing inequality and racial/economic stratification in metropolitan areas. The report correctly points out that the state is, after all, the locus of constitutional authority with respect to the framework of laws and regulations within which local governments operate. At a minimum, the committee points out, state governments can stop being agents for discriminatory action and a barrier to equal opportunity by exercising oversight of their constitutional authorities with respect to local land use controls, largely devolved to local governments. States routinely override local zoning for other reasons--from locating power plants to preventing developer violation of environmental laws. Surely, then, they can prevent exclusionary zoning behavior discriminating against low- and moderate-income households.

This major recommendation flows from the committee's conclusion that:

"the spatial distribution of population that isolates poor people in central cities and stratifies the suburbs by income is not simply the inevitable result of the interaction between individual choice, market forces, and technology: it also reflects the impact of public policies, broadly construed to include choices about the structure of political institutions.

The policies that have given rise to this pattern are state deference to local governments with regard to land-use, state laws permitting easy incorporation of municipalities, and a fiscal system that requires municipal governments to finance most services from their own tax base. Land use regulation and municipal incorporation efforts have been driven to a substantial extent by exclusionary impulses. And the system of local self-reliance has provided localities with a powerful fiscal incentive--over and above patterns of discrimination and preferences--to exclude low- and moderate-income households, which typically consume public services costing a good deal more than they contribute in local taxes.

The report notes that one important motive for incorporation is to exercise land use controls at the local level so as "to exert control over the local setting, allowing those with sufficient resources to influence who their neighbors are".

A final single paragraph recommends that "attention should also be given to the potential for breaking the link between place, income, and quality of life outcomes. Three areas of particular importance are education improvement, providing access to suburban jobs, and reducing fiscal disparities."

NARPAC Commentary

NARPAC has long maintained that the basic problems in DC are little different than those in other major metropolitan areas (apparently mainly in the NE and Midwest). It welcomes this latest work that confirms that the current status, problems, and continuing unfavorable trends are a national rather than local phenomenon. In fact, NARPAC had hoped to encourage the committee to include DC in their considerations--quite obviously unsuccessfully.

The implicit assumption that local governments of jurisdictions with very high internal disparities operate as efficiently as those with very high internal homogeneity and lower demands on public services is simply not born out by simple government workforce comparisons within the Washington metro area. There is no question in NARPAC's mind that a proportionally-represented metro government would be more productive in the delivery of most public services;

There seems to be little empirical evidence in the Washington metro area (and presumably elsewhere) that states are free from various land use pressures and impulses. The evident struggles between Baltimore and Annapolis, and between Northern Virginia and Richmond would not suggest that statehouses are removed far enough from local interests to be bastions of impartiality;

The notion that states would accept cross-border socioeconomic leveling as part of their constitutional authorities--or obligations--is certainly not borne out in the Washington area, or, NARPAC suspects, in other multi-state metro areas as well. The history of DC's unsuccessful efforts to get a commuter tax is noted in this book;

The in-depth chapter on zoning argues that metro area disparities are in fact caused in large measure by the attenuation of market forces by local land use regulation seeking to preserve the status quo, and that development-minded landowners are prevented from developing their land at densities and for uses considered normal by metropolitan area-wide standards. It concludes that the better way to open up the suburbs is not to have an additional layer of government, but to improve the rights of landowners. This does not appear to NARPAC to be consistent with the return of land use control to state authorities;

The implicit suggestion that state governments would overturn local municipal incorporations and their extant land use policies boggles NARPAC's mind;

The total absence in this report of any federal role in solving the problems of levelling the metro area socioeconomic playing field, or explaining why it should have no such role, appears to NARPAC to be a major oversight in this report. Virtually every major step in racial integration, safety nets, minimum wages, public school policies, public housing, health coverage, and so forth has emanated from the federal government for seemingly obvious reasons: the buck stops either in the US Congress or the US Supreme Court--not in city councils or state houses. NARPAC remains convinced that the federal government has yet to step up to its inevitable role in ameliorating the metro area disparities which, this report confirms, are still emerging and growing less tenable.

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Among the Resolutions Adopted at the 67th Annual Conference of Mayors, New Orleans, Louisiana, June 11-15, 1999 dealing with URBAN ECONOMIC POLICY and available on their extensive web site is this one on metro area issues:


WHEREAS, many outstanding leaders in both the Democratic and Republican parties have recognized that our central cities and nearby suburban areas are essential to the quality of life and success of our nation's metropolitan regions; and

WHEREAS, our central cities possess tremendous assets as centers of art and culture and education and commerce, as places to live and work and engage in recreational activities, and as the centerpiece to any regional strategy for efficient and affordable growth; and

WHEREAS, nearly 80% of our country's population live in metropolitan areas and, in many of these regions, the majority of the population live in centrally located urban and older suburban areas; and

WHEREAS, our central cities and inner-ring suburbs share common priorities, such as public safety, good schools, the promotion of homeownership, accessible transportation, and linking job seekers with the workforce needs of the private sector; and

WHEREAS, our central cities and older suburbs also share common challenges, including concentrations of poverty, a shrinking percentage of regional jobs and population, and loss of revenue to newer suburban communities; and

WHEREAS, promoting residential and business activity in our cities and centrally located suburban communities is essential to avoid unsustainable patterns of urban sprawl that increase traffic congestion and impose enormous costs on taxpayers through the unnecessary duplication of infrastructure such as schools, roads, streets lights and water and sewer lines; and

WHEREAS, many federal polices in the areas of housing, tax, transportation spending, and regulatory requirements discourage investment in our older communities and subsidize the outmigration of people and businesses to the exurban fringes of our metropolitan areas; and

WHEREAS, these federal policies and practices have a negative and unfair impact on residents of urban and older neighborhoods and result in the inefficient and counterproductive use of public dollars, and

WHEREAS, it is in the best interest of our metropolitan economies and our nation to utilize the existing assets and infrastructure in our centrally-located communities and to provide the residents of these communities with a fair opportunity to succeed,

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that The U.S. Conference of Mayors urges the presidential candidates, and the chairs and leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties to endorse a more comprehensive and vigorous strategy for our nation's cities that includes increased public investment in housing, transportation, economic development, and jobs - and increased incentives for private investment - in our central cities and nearby suburban areas; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that The U.S. Conference of Mayors strongly urges the presidential candidates and the major national parties to endorse and actively support specific changes to federal tax, transportation and housing policies and to regulatory and administrative actions that discourage residential and business activity in our central cities and nearby suburban areas.

NARPAC, Inc. thoroughly endorses this resolution.

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This page was updated on June 5, 2000



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