Monday, June 16, 2008

Regional Planning, Mired In Yesteryear, Does Not Include Re-Thinking The Language, Either

In an op-ed published June 8th in the Journal Sentinel's Crossroads section, I proposed that Milwaukee, either city or county, or both, use procedures in state law to pull out of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission and to establish a separate commission patterned the regional planning structure for Madison and Dane County.

And I argued that kind of new arrangement would enhance regional cooperation around here by putting Milwaukee on a par with the other counties' populations.

Right now, the City of Milwaukee has no seats on the SEWRPC 21-member commission even though its 600,000+ residents exceed the total population combined in four of the seven SEWRPC counties.

A new commission could be a more equal partner in regional discussion and action, and address several levels of discrimination at SEWRPC.

I thought it was a good idea.

Others said it would cause the sky to fall.

Some defenders of the status quo, less disturbed by a commission where the city has no vote, are also having their way with the regional cooperation language, too.

They suggest that any change in how regionalism is defined, and implemented, are negatives.

A letter to the editor in today's Journal Sentinel from Julia Taylor, the executive director of the Great Milwaukee Committee, accuses me of undermining regional cooperation.

Said Taylor:

"However, the tired "city vs. suburbs" argument helps no one. Detraction that discourages regional growth, a larger view and collaboration is a backward step. We all must work together for Milwaukee and the region to grow and prosper."

So a new format for regionalism or a template for regional discussion is backward?

And a new commission comprised of one county and/or one large city working with a SEWRPC that is minus one county and city couldn't be collaborative?

Why not?

An editorial in yesterday's Journal Sentinel calls Milwaukee's "succession" from SEWRPC a "nuclear option."

That's overstating what I said, and what would occur, if a second planning body were created in this region.

The inclusion of seven counties in SEWRPC when it was created in 1960 was arbitrary.

There could have been any number of these counties roped into a planning commission: seven was no more a magic number than three or five or eight.

I'd argue that placing Walworth and some of the other heavily-rural counties in SEWRPC are only there so they can access regional services made more affordable by Milwaukee County's big annual property tax transfer.

Every year, Milwaukee County pays the largest share of SEWRPC's counties'-supported operating budget.

A new regional planning commission arrangement along the lines I suggested would put Milwaukee County and City on a more equal plane with the other counties in the SEWRPC region.

It would also allow this most-urban county in the region to focus on transportation and other relationships in northern Illinois and Chicago, rather than having its planning funds plan interstate highway ramps to the shopping mall at Pabst Farms, or 120 new freeway lanes throughout the region as currently defined.

I'd argue that genuine regional planning would constantly include studying and embracing changes in the very definition of "region," and "regionalism" and "regional planning" by the regional planners and their existing agency themselves.

The SEWRPC model does not work well in an artificially-designated region where the largest city, with the largest number of low-income residents, doesn't have a seat at a table managed by representatives of the more upper-income suburban and exurban counties.

A new structure - - with two parallel commissions and no net increase in spending - - could make Milwaukee a true regional partner, and as I argued in my op-ed, make the city, the county and the region(s) stronger.

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