LEFT BEHIND IN THE RUST BELT

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A writer from another Rust Belt alt-weekly, Buffalo's Art Voice, reports that in some parts of the country, regionalism is more than just a buzz word.

At a think-tank forum in Washington last week, a California bureaucrat described how a couple dozen local governments in his state have figured out how to control local property taxes, grow their economies, reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, stop wasting federal highway funds, and do it all without downsizing a town board or merging one government into another. …

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Here’s the formula, as described by the guy from the Sacramento Council of Governments. Instead of letting highway engineers do all the thinking and planning for the region, Sacramento-area elected officials got together. They started opening the highway planning meetings to citizens as well as to the housing people, the budget people, and the people who do water, sewers, parks, and other infrastructure. The Sacramento Council of Governments includes 22 cities and six counties. (Their poor executive director has a 31-member board.) Neither merger, consolidation, nor downsizing of city councils is at issue there—but they figured out that by talking to each other, they got what he calls his “business-oriented and developer-oriented political constituency” to create a functional regional plan. The result: They are collectively saving hundreds of millions of dollars by shutting down sprawl. They’re saving agricultural land. They’re saving water, which is a huge issue in California. They’re doing so by preventing sprawl, redeveloping older city centers and old suburbs, and re-directing developers to where they can make money and bring new product on-line but do so without making the region unsustainable.

One doubts that such a policy innovation is a unique act of genius, because similar acts of genius seem to be happening in Minneapolis, which is a pretty liberal area, and in Salt Lake City, too, which certainly is not. What the three regions have in common, besides genuinely empowered Metropolitan Planning Organizations, is an ability to count up the costs of doing things the way Rust Belt towns do things—and then saying no.

Not so curiously, no speaker at the Brookings Institution forum hailed from Cleveland, Buffalo, Rochester, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, or any of the other freshwater metros that is sprawling, losing population, and yet still spending many hundreds of millions of dollars of federal stimulus money on old, greenhouse-gas-creating, sprawl-inducing projects.

Read the rest here.

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