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.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Annexation as a strategy for saving counties money: Cook County, Illinois

I write a bunch about how economic circumstances are encouraging communities to consolidate services, such as fire and emergency services, policing, library services, etc.  You see a lot of this in Michigan and New Jersey, and California.

Traditionally, counties control land and provide services to areas that are "unincorporated" or not otherwise part of "incorporated" cities and towns within the county.

Cook County is pushing the idea that the 62 square miles of the 945 square mile county that are unincorporated be annexed (consolidated) into the abutting city or town, and thereby shifting the cost of providing services to that land off the county and onto the city or town.  See "Residents torn over Preckwinkle's push to end Cook County's unincorporated areas: Some fear taxes, regulations will rise after annexation; others hope for better policing and services" from the Chicago Tribune.

Separately, for years Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have kicked around the idea of merging, spurred in part by a Brookings Institution study back in 2004 ("Pittsburgh: The Road to Reform).

I used to be pretty favorable towards this idea, because it broadens the tax base available to cities.  I happened to be in Louisville in 2004, around when consolidation with Jefferson County was occurring, and the planning function of Nashville-Davidson County in Tennessee is amazing.  And the City of Memphis just did an amazing push back onto Shelby County, not of the city functions, but of the school district.  They voted to disband the school district, forcing a merger with the separate county school district.

A middle road is that originated by Tom Murphy, later Mayor of Pittsburgh, but then a state legislator.  He created the legislation that enabled the creation of the "Regional Asset District," that regionalized the financing of some assets, particularly cultural assets like zoos and museums, that historically had been created and funded and managed by the City of Pittsburgh but used by the entire region.

In other jurisdictions there are similar efforts to fund hospital services.

But now I am more sanguine about it, even though at the time that I produced commercial district revitalization framework plans for Brunswick Georgia (part of Glynn County) and Cambridge Maryland (part of Dorchester County) I thought that the city and county should merge (in Brunswick they did merge the sanitation service around the time I was there).

Given voting results in Toronto and London, where conservative "suburban" voters outvoted the inner-city "progressive" voters in the most recent mayoral elections, I worry about these mergers being a force for conservatism in terms of pro-city policies, where instead the urban agenda becomes subordinate to the suburban majority, e.g., in Toronto Mayor Ford is primarily concerned with aiding commuters in getting quickly to and from their jobs in the city core, not improving the quality of life and competitive advantage of "the city."

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