following material is excerpted with written permission from How Smart
Growth Can Stop Sprawl, a briefing guide for funders by David Bollier.
(Washington, D.C.: Essential Books), 1998.
If there is one common endpoint toward which the various smart growth advocates are headed, it is toward regionalism. When local jurisdictions compete against each other, adopting beggar-thy-neighbor "solutions," the common good invariably suffers. Smart growth seeks to reverse this dynamic. Much of the problem stems from a void in governance. There is simply no appropriately sized governmental body to address such "public good" issues as the environment, open spaces, traffic congestion and racial equity. These problems are typically too big for localities to solve alone, but too small for the federal or state governments to manage directly.
Although many metro areas do have regional planning bodies, these entities often have very limited authority for specific functions (transportation, sewers, etc.), or their authority is purely advisory and not legally binding and accountable to voters. The nub of the problem is, sprawl and urban disinvestment problems are regional in scope -- but modes of governance are not. Because governance powers (and political constituencies) are not matched to the scale of the problem, most policy solutions prove to be highly cumbersome or ineffectual.
Three of the leading political analysts of regionalism are Myron Orfield, author of Metropolitics (1997), David Rusk, author of Cities without Suburbs (1993 and 1995), and Joel Rogers, author of Metro Futures (1995). All three provide masterly overviews (with different emphases) of how sprawl occurs and is aggravated by splintered political jurisdictions. They all advocate more muscular forms of regional planning and governance.
Perhaps the most celebrated example of regional governance is Metro Portland in Portland, Oregon. Portland showcases the clear advantages of regionalism and its ability to preempt wasteful, zero-sum competitions among local governments. Regionalism allows local jurisdictions to avoid redundant and expensive infrastructure investments. Towns can coordinate zoning codes and transit initiatives to take account of common regional needs. Affordable housing can be dispersed throughout a metro region, preventing dense concentrations of poverty, crime and racial segregation. The tax base can be shared among towns in a region, reducing gross revenue inequities and the associated social problems that result.