Thursday, November 27, 2008

Also a WBFO-FM commentary 11/25/08

Artvoice v7n48, week of Thursday November 27 » back issues


The Urban President

Obama’s metro focus long overdue

There’s a new advocate for regionalism in America. His name is President-elect Barack Obama.

It didn’t get much attention during the campaign season, but our next president has put forward a very detailed agenda to renew America’s cities and metropolitan regions. He is committed to creating a brand-new White House office of urban policy.

Go to our new president’s Web site and see for yourself. There you will see how serious he is about fixing cities, but also about fixing regions, including older suburbs that in too many cases are facing the same problems as our troubled older cities. The president-elect says, “many federal programs inadvertently undermine cities and regions by encouraging inefficient and costly patterns of development and local competition.”

That’s a genuine regionalist talking.

I, for one, am delighted. For all the years we worked on regionalism in county government—drafting a law to merge Buffalo and Erie County; building a computer system that could handle all the back-office operations of all the cities and towns and villages; building the public safety campus to handle all the e-911 calls from Cattaraugus Creek to Tonawanda Creek—we still had a big problem called federal policy. The federal government and the state government still treat city governments and town governments and county governments as if they can all go it alone, as if they were on separate planets rather than side by side in the same metro region.

For example, when it comes to Homeland Security funding, the federal government hands out money jurisdiction by jurisdiction, as if a terrorism threat, or a snowstorm for that matter, would start or end at a municipal boundary.

The same with sewers. Federal project money comes not to regional watersheds but to individual districts.

The good news is that we now have a president who gets it—that we are a nation of metropolitan regions. Our metropolitan economies cross municipal boundaries. Our wastewater needs and our public transit needs do, too, and so do our problems of crime, poverty, and land-use. They all happen to regions, not just individual municipalities.

Let’s be clear. The White House has a lot of power, but old habits and old local laws have a lot of power, too. Old boundaries won’t just fade away.

And don’t hold your breath waiting for some federal laws to fade away, either. Those terrible 1970s Supreme Court decisions that mandated desegregation within the narrow old boundaries of cities—they won’t suddenly be overturned.

Home rule will still rule.

And here in New York State, if we want regionalism, it’s not going to take a village or a town or a county or a city. Even if we have the president, it’ll still take a governor.

Because state law is where regionalism either happens or doesn’t.

Governor David Paterson has a fiscal crisis on his hands. I say, let’s not waste the crisis—let’s put consolidation and merger and regionalism on the table when the three kings of Albany meet in their closed room. Why should Albany stick us with control boards that won’t force regional management of basic services? Why should our president say “metro” and our governor say “retro”?

We’ll see about Paterson come his budget next April. But in the meantime, on January 20, we’re going to have the Obama White House and its new office of urban policy.

The days of cities pitted against suburbs for road funds and sewer funds and police funds could be numbered, and I’m excited.

Imagine—a policy office that is driven by the mentality that cities and suburbs are in it together.

Wow. We voted for change. Apparently, we’re going to get it.

bruce fisher

Reader Comments

Frederick Harriman
26 Nov 2008, 19:59
My handy copy of the NATIONAL RESPONSE FRAMEWORK issued by the Department of Homeland Security this January states in it's Introduction on page 10 that "Effective UNIFIED COMMAND is indispensable to response activities and requires a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities of each participating organization. Success requires a UNITY OF EFFORT, which respects the chain of command of each participating organization while harnessing seamless coordination across jurisdictions in support of common objectives." So there it is. Even the "real Americans" who did not vote for our President Elect are being told by the current Administration of "real Americans" to coordinate across jurisdictions when it comes to Homeland Security. Let's hope that the wisdom of this concept for Homeland Security can be also translated by all Americans, real or ... unreal...(?) into a Regionalism for a resilient economy (aka "common objectives") as well.

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