State of the Cities in 2011: A New Era of Regional Collaboration

No comments

This is the sixth in a seven-part series about mayors’ 2011 State of the City speeches.

Mayor John Monaco of Mesquite, Texas quoted late President Ronald Reagan in his 2011 State of the City speech when he said, “A recession is when your neighbor loses his job…a depression is when you lose yours.”  While neighboring cities’ property tax rates have seen increases of up to 10%, Mesquite’s holds steady.  While neighboring cities are laying off dozens of employees and cutting services, Mesquite is avoiding closures, and even opening a new city hall.  When its success is measured relative to its neighboring cities, Mesquite is sailing along nicely.

A certain degree of local competition is healthy, but Mayor Heather McTeer Hudson of Greenville, Miss., would disagree with both President Reagan and Mayor Monaco.  In her State of the City speech, she called for a new era of regional collaboration.  “Though we come from a background of taking care of ‘my four and no more,’ we must progress to the understanding that a rising tide lifts all ships,” she said.

The issues highlighted in mayors’ 2011 State of the Cities speeches certainly don’t obey jurisdictional boundaries.  Residents cross local and even state boundaries on a daily basis as they travel from home to work, school, shopping and entertainment.  Transportation infrastructure cannot dump passengers out as they leave the city, forcing them to relocate to another system.  Public services cannot leave citizens underserved and unprotected as they cross into a neighboring jurisdiction.  And economic growth in one city most certainly affects growth in neighboring cities.

Cities must work together to serve their citizens, and this ultimately increases their attractiveness and strengthens their economies.  In Columbia, S.C., for example, Mayor Steve Benjamin expects inter-modal regional transportation hubs to serve as centers of activity and provide new outlets for small business development.  And he believes projects that require this type of cross-jurisdictional cooperation result in improved city services and reduced taxpayer burden.

Many mayors agree that local success means success for the region.  In Cleveland, Tenn., growth needs over the next 25 years are being assessed at the county level, and the 4.2% increase in jobs this year was reported across the eastern part of the state.  Mayor Tom Rowland knows that Volkswagen’s decision to locate a new plant in nearby Chattanooga will not compete with Cleveland’s economy.  Rather, he is in full support of this success for its spillover effects in new jobs, revenue and growth in Cleveland and other cities.

Mayors are not only looking across jurisdictional borders, they are reaching across party lines to serve their communities.  Mayors like Ardell Brede of Rochester, Minn., are cooperating with one another through non-partisan regional councils.  Mayor Virg Bernero of Lansing, Mich., who also has joined a Blue Ribbon panel of regional leaders in Michigan, is striving to “…set aside turf and political fiefdoms, to embrace new ideas and new ways of collaborating, and then to take action.”

Cities’ cooperation elicits old fashioned sentiments of small town neighborliness.  When your neighbor succeeds, he invites you to share in his successes.  When your neighbor struggles, you are not immune to his hardship.  Most importantly, cooperation builds strength and fosters innovation.  Cities operate in much the same way.  This new era of regional collaboration borrows from these traditional neighborhood sentiments, yet it primes cities to become part of powerful and successful regions in the future.

Read about this project in more detail in The State of the Cities in 2011 and the most recent installment on city infrastructure on CitiesSpeak.  Don’t forget to check back on March 23rd for the final post in this series, which takes a look at prioritizing public safety in the face of potential budget cuts.