Regionalism and metropolitan government are urban planning orthodoxy. The idea is that we need to have region-wide planning to meet the actual regional needs, which transcend boundaries. And also to have an equitable financing structure.
So entities like Portland’s Metro (a directly elected layer of regional government on the Oregon side of that metro area) and the Twin Cities’ Metropolitan Council and region-wide tax sharing system are lauded.
Because these regions have been fairly successful and seem to function well, their regional government structures are seen as beneficial.
However, there’s a much stronger case of metropolitan government that shows the other side of the coin: Providence, Rhode Island.
Providence is a metro area of 1.6 million people, of which a million live in the state of Rhode Island and the remainder in Massachusetts.
Because all of Rhode Island is part of the metro area, the state of Rhode Island itself is a functional metropolitan government layer for Providence, similar to Portland’s Metro.
The difference is that Rhode Island is a state, making it a sovereign entity. It has unlimited taxing and legislating power, making it not only a metropolitan regional government, but also the ultimate case of local control in a metro area context.
Now Rhode Island does still have 39 cities and towns. (Counties exist as lines on a map but don’t have governments). However, this is not unlike the other examples I have. Portland’s Metro covers 24 cities and three counties. It appears that the Twin Cities’ Met Council sits over 187 municipalities.
So Providence has a comparable regional government but one with all the powers accruing to a state. This should in theory be an even better case for regional governance, right?
Also, no. There are a lot of good things about Providence, but good governance isn’t one of them. Quite the opposite in fact. The state is famous for corruption, fragmentation, high taxes, concentrated poverty, and fiscal distress.
In other states, urban core dwellers love to rail at the state legislature. In Providence, they love to do the same.
That’s not to say there are no positives. Uber is regulated at the state level, and so was permitted to operate statewide with a single regulatory scheme. This wasn’t a case of local pre-emption, but how things were set up originally. It’s similar with the statewide transit system RIPTA.
But on the whole, being “the city-state” hasn’t seemed to have had much benefit to Providence, although it’s the holy grail for many “if mayors ruled the world” types.
One might argue that a true regional government would consolidate all municipalities. That hasn’t been viewed as a panacea for Toronto. In fact, many blame amalgamation there for the rise of Rob Ford. (In the long run, we’ll see. NYC’s five borough consolidation turned out all right).
I’m not arguing that Providence’s government structure made things worse. But it does indicate that lines on a map and forms of governance may be less influential than we think. You can’t solve political divisions or social and economic changes with just new org charts. You actually have to do the hard work of dealing with them.
Rod Stevens says
We need some kind of national metric for comparing the cost of public services in one place for another. This would have to allow for differences in the scope of services that a given municipality provides, i.e. libraries, parks, garbage pick up, police, fire, etc.
Chris Barnett says
National associations and advocacy organizations for each municipal specialty tend to publish their own indices that compare municipalities’ budgets for (say) parks, public safety, etc. Perhaps our intrepid host or his institute might try to assemble such data for the biggest 25 or 50 cities.
But that doesn’t address metros. Suburbs often free-ride (in the economic sense) on large investments by municipalities in streets/roads, sewage and water treatment, and regional entertainment facilities such as parks and stadia. Also, suburbs benefit from the presence of regional non-profits such as colleges/universities, medical centers, Red Cross, YMCA, and housing authorities, whose real-estate tax exemption is covered by other taxpayers in the city, but not the suburbs. It would get really sticky really fast to calculate all this for metros.
Aaron M. Renn says
I don’t buy the regional amenity argument. Cities love to argue that they are paying the freight on this stuff. But look at their reaction when the suburbs invest in similar items. Carmel called Indy’s bluff on this when it built the Palladium (a $175 million performing arts center) and a new home for the Indianapolis Civic Theater. Was Indy thankful that a suburb had stepped up to shoulder the regional burden of supporting non-profits? Of course not. They saw it as a hostile act. That shows the truth of the matter. Urban amenities and such have huge benefits to the core municipality, and draw from a patron and financial base of a larger region to finance them and make them viable.
Chris Barnett says
I was thinking less of the arts/cultural amenities like concert halls and theaters and museums and more of the overbuilt infrastructure that accommodates suburbanites: streets and roads, regional medical centers (such as the IUHealth, St. Vincent, Community, and St. Francis campuses in Marion County, all nonprofit and property-tax exempt), Central Library, and major regional parks like Ft. Harrison and White River (State) Parks and Eagle Creek (City) Park.
No one in Marion County is really squawking about libraries, hospitals, parks, and roads being built in the Indy suburbs.
Chris Barnett says
The size of the legislative body probably matters. Rhode Island state House members and Providence city council members each represent fewer than 15,000 citizens.
By contrast, Chicago’s 50 aldermen each represent more than 50,000 and Indianapolis’ 25 city-county council members each represent a little under 40,000, while Columbus, Ohio council members each represent more than 100,000 people.
Whether a body is dominated by one party, or is divided somewhat evenly, probably also matters. The RI House has a 64-11 split in favor of Democrats, and the Chicago city council is 49-1. It seems safe to suggest that a certain level of dysfunction might follow single-party control.
A nit to pick with regard to the Chicago alderman is their is a wide variance with regard to the aldermanic populations – several South Side alderman have as little as 50,000 whereas some North Side aldermen were mapped for 60,000. This probably reflects the effect of the exodus of Black residence of the south side and the federal civil rights strictures one must conduct reapportionment within. At that time, I would have argued that by keeping the requirement at 60,000 no exceptions, you could have reduced the Chicago City Council to 48 or even 46 alderman.
Istanbul is also a consolidated city-state, though it operates under a significantly different taxing and national governance system. It may be interesting to look at it (and actually all of the large Turkish cities – they are all city-states) for insight into regional governance. There are second level municipalities within the cities of Turkey(for example I live in Sisli, Istanbul), but mostly the larger Metropolitan Municipality (Buyuksehir Belediyesi in Turkish) controls things as far as I understand. There are two cities in the country where the city or city-region has spilled outside the city-state borders, Adana-Tarsus-Mersin, and Istanbul-Kocaeli. but still the vast majority of Istanbul is in Istanbul (15 million of the total 16 million) and Adana-Tarsus-Mersin is an odd place, its not that there’s suburbs, its just three large cities in close proximity that people commute between, Mersin and Tarsus are (in) Mersin, and Adana is next door.
Winston Stark says
Yes Turkey has 16 metropolitan municipalities. There was intention to expand the number to 29.
Four Turkish municipalities in top fastets growing city economies according to Brookings Monitor.
“Turkey Urbanization Review: Rise of the Anatolian Tigers highlights salient features of Turkey’s urbanization process with the aim of extracting lessons learned for other developing countries. Adoption of a metropolitan municipality law and regime in the mid-1980s was a prominent feature of Turkey’s emerging system of cities, facilitating the planning and management of cities in line with their economic footprint and across administrative boundaries.
Early investments in connective infrastructure and settlement planning facilitated commercial activity that provided life-blood to even remote areas of the country. Scaled-up housing supply through brokering of the private sector and the granting of amnesties to migrants in informal settlements provided the expanded housing stock and security of tenure for many low income households.
These and other measures contributed to the rise of the Anatolian Tigers – Turkey’s secondary cities that over the past decade have captured a larger share of newly established firms and urban population than the big three – Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.”
Rise of the Anatolian Tigers: Turkey Urbanization Review
Don’t mind the construction, Turkey’s growing cities are good for development
Brooking’s Global Metro Monitor
The World’s 10 Fastest Growing Metropolitan Areas
See page 29 of 2015 Brooking’s Global Metro Monitor , Turkish cities had 2,3,4, and 9th rank in top 10. All of them are metropolitan municipalities.
Article From 2012 provides the background:
Number of Turkey metropolitan municipalities to increase to 29
Rod Stevens says
Unfortunately, Providence has neither good job opportunities nor good public services. It would be interesting to note how the percentage of adults aged 20 to 40 in this city compares to other places. Yes, older newcomers can keep up the property values, but that doesn’t make for a balanced city, but you need younger people to keep the local economy strong.
Winston Stark says
Boston sucks up the energy in that region. Providence also has not had good governance; and RI has not had the quality governance it has needed.
Regional governance can be county level or multi county. I think that US being laggard leaves few options to face the dismal tax base decline future. It think either local governments will dissolve, or contract services to counties-where they are functional. Regardless, what they get will also decline in quality and services will not be as responsive..
Winston Stark says
More than one type of regional collaboration is possible within regional governance. Service sharing has commenced within one of the countries that are part of Twin Cities Metro Region. France is of course world leader in multiple forms of regional governance!. But then few, if any, countries have such a high degree of fragmented local governance.
Winston Stark says
There can be unsuccessful regional governance;but generally most are more productive than fragmented systems. OECD survey found economic growth is boosted by metropolitan regional governance. China has known that at least since the late 1970s. That is why oriented system towards urban regional governance. It has 100s of forms-over 500! France has had urban regional governance in urban areas since the 1950s. And it started service sharing in 1890. European countries have a variety of regional governance forms and urban forms have been rising,. Canada has had urban regional governance since the 1950s. As a result Canada does not a have a proliferation of special districts/public authorities.
In the US, special districts/public authorities have been default form regionalism and they have have issued an outside amount of debt. The status quo will be upended when boomers start to retire. Who will pay their debt and pay for the bloated local governance system boomers have created? People are also worrying about who will provide public services as boomers retire?
All boomers will be atleast 55 by 2020, and half will over 70 by 2025. Meanwhile only a third feel confident about retirement, and one does not know if they have funds to pay for long term care, or are expecting Medicaid to foot the bill? Medicare does not cover Medicare;and Pres Trump is slashing Medicaid just as the boomer Apocalypse is due to arise!