Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, July 15, 2011

States as anachronisms

A couple weeks ago there was an op-ed in the Washington Post about how, if DC residents want representation in Congress, we should just retrocede all but the federal interest area (the area of the Capitol and the White House, connected by the National Mall) to Maryland (Alexandria/Arlington was retroceded back to Virginia in 1846, mostly so slave sales could continue in this area). See “To gain representation, D.C. should join Maryland."

I have written about this idea from time to time because for the most part, I don't agree, because DC has it reasonably well compared to every other city in the United States, except for representation in Congress.

Unlike every other city, DC controls all of its tax and other revenue streams, including an income tax, which most cities can't impose. Most cities in the U.S. are constantly desperate for money, especially because ultimately they don't control most of the tax revenues generated within their boundaries. DC doesn't have that problem, although we have our issues with desperation.

By retroceding to Maryland, DC would get a lot of state representatives in the House and Senate, a Congressional seat, and the residents would then also have the two Senators.

But DC would be competing with Baltimore for resources in terms of the state political and revenue structure. DC would lose its control over income taxes, property assessment, and other key functions. (On the other hand, being subject to certain state laws would lead to improvements, ideally, in solid waste, park, and planning policies.)

As far as local government is concerned, I'd rather not have Senators and keep the dough. Although one could argue that with a greater variety of political positions available, the pool of quality candidates and officials would improve--although that's not necessarily the case given the state of local government politics everywhere else, in states.

Anyway, Urbanophile has a magisterial entry on states no longer being relevant political entities, and counter-productive especially as it concerns center city and metropolitan policies.

His points:

1. States do not represent communities of interest.

2. Arbitrary state lines encourage senseless border wars. (This is a big issue in the DC region, with cherrypicking of business across the three jurisdictions.)

3. Many state capitals are small, isolated, and cut off from knowledge about the global 21st century economy. (Frankly I think the real issue is that politicians are pretty much disconnected and isolated from the things that really matter, especially in terms of the global economy and exchange of ideas, knowledge, innovation, industry, etc.)

4. Metro areas are the engines of the modern economy, but the rules for municipal and regional governance are set by states, and often in a manner that is directly contrary to urban interests. (This is very much true, as many state policies are dominated by rural interests.)

5. States can’t to much to help, but they can do a lot to hurt.

Aaron's entry is based in part on the arguments of Richard Longworth, policy analyst, blogger, and author of the book Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism. We need to read that book.

In the case of DC, we need to lay a case forward for a "city-state." By having excellent local government and world class vision and execution, we could set a new way forward, rather than continuing to look backward for solutions in structures and systems that are much less relevant to today's society and economy.

More towards the "Metropolitics" arguments of Orfield and Rusk.

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