A worrisome trope in DC: as the city grows in population, local government will have to get bigger (the implication being significantly)
DC's major economic development priority is to add population. When DC's population was under 580,000 at the start of the Williams Administration, the Mayor expressed a goal to add 100,000 people to the city's population. I wrote about it at DC Watch and reprinted it a couple years ago.
It's only been the last few years where the city has hit critical mass in terms of adding population, mostly in multiunit buildings, and our previous Mayor, Vincent Gray, set an even more ambitious goal, to achieve a population of up to 850,000--about the same population as San Francisco.
Although with the reduction in local federal spending, last year the population addition dropped a couple thousand compared to 1,000 new residents per month for a couple years.
Columbia Heights, DC.
However, while today's population is about 650,000, DC had a population of almost 900,000 in 1946 according to Census estimates, although the highest population officially was 802,500 as of the 1950 Census.
As a result, for the most part, the city is already built out and organized to provide services to about 850,000 people, which is the flip side of the problem in cities like Detroit, which built out the capacity to serve 1.8 million residents and now has fewer than 700,000 residents.
At the same time, commensurate with a population increase, government officials are arguing that the city government will have to grow its staff significantly. I was at a presentation about a DC-related issue earlier in the week (more about that next week), and as an aside, one of the speakers made the point (relevant to the presentation) that as the city grows in population, it will have to add more staff and equipment etc. to service more residents.
I've been hearing this more and more.
Another example is a recent email by a community gadfly who repeatedly runs for various City Council positions discussed this. Among other things he said we needed to hire 15,000 more teachers (that would support a new student population of almost 300,000 students!), and thousands more fire fighters and police officers.
As crime has dropped, the police force has stayed big. This idea that the number of DC government employees will have to grow started in 2013 with the Chief of Police, Cathy Lanier, saying that the city will need to add more police officers as the city grows in population, in the belief that more population will trigger more demand for their services. I responded, "DC already has the most police per capita of any city in the US: should we hire more police officers, rashly, without a plan? (I say no.)."
The reality is that the city's crime rate has dropped significantly from the 1990s, but the size of the police force has remained the same. Note that I do think we could focus police resources better than we do, to address what are called "pattern crimes." See "Crime time revisited" and "Night-time safety: rethinking lighting in the context of a walking community." And it is not out of the question that we'll need some more officers, but I don't think so.
As it happens, DC has 80% more police officers than Boston--not even counting the various federal police agencies operating in the city, like the US Park Police and the US Capitol Police--and the cities have roughly the same population.
Demographic trends that influence DC's budget and operations. The great thing about adding young and high income earning adults as residents is that they don't consume much in the way of city services. They generate positive revenue cash flow to the city. This is especially important as demographically speaking, the population of the city's existing residents gets older.
For all the talk of keeping families in the city, educating children is very expensive. The average cost for the DC Public Schools system is $11,000 per student, while special services (not special education) can push the average up to $19,000. Extending pre-K services to 3- and 4- year olds, while desirable from a policy perspective, add two years of expensive education and child care to the city's budget for each child that participates.
Most households with children consume far more in public services than they pay for in income, property, and sales taxes.
As the population gets older, they consume different services, needing more transit (WMATA's budget is being crushed in part by the increased demand for paratransit services), shopping less (therefore reducing support for local businesses and generating less sales tax revenues) and senior care.
At the same time, "aging in place" initiatives promote "overconsumption of housing" or "overhousing." Initiatives to exclude seniors completely from property taxes will make neighborhoods more static and overhousing will persist and increase.
It was the aging of neighborhoods and the minimal inmigration of new resident and younger households which contributed to neighborhood and commercial district decline and stagnation in the city in the 1980s and 1990s.
This accentuates the cost of the loss in income tax revenue from senior households as people retire and the increased cost of services (although the federal government pays for a significant proportion of services to aging populations).
Taxation: DC is North American's only city-state. Regardless of the argument for statehood, DC functions as a city-state already, and unlike any other city in the United States, it retains 100% of income, sales, and property taxes collected within the city's borders.
On the other hand, the city is forbidden from taxing non-resident wage earners. Note that the percentage of jobs based in DC and held by DC residents is increasing. For years only 30% of the jobs were held by DC residents. Now it is 45%, which improves the "yield" of income tax revenue within the city.
The city-county-state argument and the size of government. On the one hand, defenders of the growth of the city's government argue that as a "state" compared to a typical "city" it has to provide more functions and meet various requirements of the federal government (such as a plan for transportation) that cities don't normally operate, or the public health function, which is typically provided by counties, etc.
On the other hand, you can argue that integrating city, county, and state functions in one entity can generate efficiencies, and while the overall employment for these functions is somewhat higher "for the city," overall the number of employees is less compared to the city-county-state alternative. I'm inclined to support this interpretation, although the city hasn't demonstrated it is particularly innovative in providing such efficiencies.
"Smart growth" as a principle ought to be applied to local government too. My point in the piece about the police department is that we need to think intelligently about city functioning and being smart AND PLANNING when it comes to questions concerning growing the government in extendable to the other agencies in the city.
Note that this is an issue that comes up from time to time during recessions, and the impact on government from reductions in revenues. My first experience with this was a program to reduce the number of academic programs at the University of Michigan in 1982, when the then president introduced an initiative he called "smaller but better."
Reinventing government/Business Process Redesign. And I remember a book on cost containment in the human services published by Jossey-Bass, which I can't ever seem to find, which was my first introduction to what was later called "re-engineering" or "business process redesign."
Being introduced to writings by Thomas Davenport, in particular Process Innovation: Reengineering Work Through Information Technology was especially important as he made the point that organizations had the opportunity to redesign their processes for new efficiencies, in association with the introduction of information technology, rather than merely convert existing processes without change.
Process redesign remains at the heart of my approach to analyzing the function of organizations and places. I now call my approach "action planning" which integrates program delivery and branding with planning.
Also see "All the talk of e-government, digital government, and open source government is really about employing the design method" and "Social Marketing the Arlington (and Tower Hamlets and Baltimore) way."
So while the demand for some services and infrastructure support will increase, the ability to consume more services will be constrained by the city's size.
Use of publicly controlled land and buildings. Rather than each agency doing its own thing, agencies ought to be required to co-locate facilities and be more efficient in delivery of programs and services. See "Public assets: public school buildings used for more than school" as an example.
As the population increases, the number of commissioners and ANCs will increase unless the population number per single member district is changed.
Building regulation. We will need more personnel and improvements in processes and procedures, although process redesign is already underway.
Business regulation. We will probably need some more personnel.
EMS. We probably will need more EMS personnel, but they could be better deployed and managed. To achieve such an outcome, we'll need to remove EMS from the purview of the Fire Department.
Fire fighters. We probably won't need more fire fighters. The number of fires is pretty insignificant. See "Rationalizing fire and emergency services." Work schedule changes could provide more work hours for about the same amount of money.
Hospitals, health care and wellness. The trend is to move away from inpatient services, and because DC is the center city, we have more hospitals and inpatient beds per capita than the surrounding jurisdictions.
We're probably ok, although judicious redesign and creation of an actual integrated public health and wellness focused system along the lines of Denver ("Revisiting an example of a real need for regional planning: hospital and wellness services") and the St. Anthony Hospital in Chicago is necessary. Also see "Disruptive innovation once again."
This course of action could result in reduced expenditures and better health outcomes.
Human/Senior/Social Welfare services. Presumably, as the average income of households increases, the demand for social welfare services will decrease. At the same time, equity concerns and advocacy will increase demand for such services for those populations, such as for "solving the homeless crisis" (which is insolvable because the population in need of housing is not static).
Senior service demands will increase as residents age and live longer.
However, gains from service integration and innovation are possible, although only over long periods of time. My concept for a "Marshall Plan for East of the River," which would focus on poverty alleviation and economic development in Wards 7 and 8, with a focus on breaking the cycle of poverty is a way to move forward. This would cost more in the short and intermediate term, and reduce costs and increase revenues in the long term.
And some nonprofits and local and state governments are innovating service delivery for impoverished populations in welfare and health care.
Libraries. We're probably ok. Although as I have written we need to reposition libraries as community cultural and civic assets, which would expand their programming and slightly increase personnel demands.
Parking/enforcement. For example, the city will have the same number of streets and probably the same, or fewer in fact, parking spaces, so we won't need more parking control officers or more vehicles for the parking control officers. So we won't need more space and parking for more vehicles. (Although if parking control officers were given additional duties, comparable to the "neighborhood wardens" in the UK, that could change.)
Similarly, adopting more modern parking management systems could reduce the number of personnel needed because the system would know which spaces are expired.
The city could shift more parking control officers to electric bikes and smaller vehicles, reducing the size of the current vehicle fleet.
However, probably there will need to be better planning, engaging the private sector as well, and maybe the city will need to build/fund some parking structures here and there. However, developing "transportation management districts," and better coordinating mobility within activity centers could reduce motor vehicle traffic and the demand for parking.
Parks and recreation. We will need some more staff, although if we moved to a partial citizens as service delivers model and engaged citizens as service providers (Baltimore County does this), staff needs will decline.
Smart investment in existing facilities can increase their load without requiring more personnel or more or new space.
A few more facilities and park spaces will be needed, although part of it could be accomplished by better coordinating access and provision of services across city, federal, and other institutional facilities and spaces in the city. Some is investing in facilities we already have.
Planning. I'd say we need some more heft in planning. As importantly, a Planning and Transportation Commission, comparable in scale to the Zoning Commission, should have oversight over planning functions for other DC Government agencies, and the planning office should be more involved in those efforts.
Police. See above.
Public housing. Tough issue. We'll need to finance and build more. But the city has already allocated lots of money to do this.
Transit. We will need more and better transit services.
That means more buses, more streetcars, and more Metrorail, upgrading Union Station, and maybe adding more railroad stations to other places in DC.
It also means working more closely with Montgomery and Prince George's County especially to develop better cross-border services with the aim of reducing motor vehicle traffic.
That will cost a lot more money to build, to acquire, maintain, and replace transit vehicles, and personnel will have to be hired and trained.
How to do it--should DC operate it?, would WMATA operate it? is an open question.
Transportation. The road network is built out, although it does need to be maintained. But this doesn't require more staff. Maybe we need a few more people and vehicles to perform other functions. But some processes could be better automated which would allow personnel to accomplish more tasks in the same amount of time.
To achieve DC's Sustainability Plan goal of 75% trips via sustainable means, we'll have to invest in more transit as discussed above. We'll also have to invest in the expansion of the bikeway network and significant improvement and expansion of bike parking and related support services.
Trash collection. DC only provides trash collection to buildings with three or fewer units. For the most part, that number of buildings is fixed, unless there is a concerted program to add accessory dwelling units. Which would end up requiring a few more trucks and people, but not large numbers.
Plus, for the most part, the new sections of the city that add single family houses, like the Comstock project on New Hampshire Avenue NE or the Chancellor's Row rowhouses in Brookland, are required to set up HOAs, and pay for their own trash collection which is not provided by the city.
However, at least in the outer city, by improving recycling recovery rates (which would increase the need for recycling collection) and yard and food waste diversion on site, the average amount of "trash" generated by households could drop by 90%, allowing trash collection to shift from once/week to twice/month, cutting significantly the demand for trucks and personnel, and reducing tipping fees.
Portland shifted to once every two weeks "trash" collection in 2011. (DC's rowhouse neighborhoods have trash pick ups twice/week--they are given small trash cans, because of limited space to store trash. Areas in the outer city, usually bigger lots and detached houses, get trash picked up once/week.)
Water and sewer infrastructure. The infrastructure will need to be expanded somewhat, which will be costly. However, advances in reduction of water consumption such as in Germany ("Too Much Water Doesn't Damp Germans' Thrifty Habits," Wall Street Journal) demonstrate that per capita usage of water could be significantly reduced even with an increase with population.
Special innovation in government operation here and elsewhere
In her inaugural speech, new Mayor Bowser has promised DC government will be "creative, risk taking, and innovative," but those aren't characteristics that have typified her performance as City Councilmember. She is renewing focus on the city's Citistat/metrics program, which is modeled after what Baltimore did under Mayor O'Malley (cf. "Show us the data").
DC's water department and transportation agency have done some good branding. DC Water does innovative programming promoting tap water consumption as opposed to buying bottled water. DC Water also recently installed equipment that better utilizes waste in the water treatment system to generate one-third of the electricity required to operate the waste treatment plant and has significantly reduced the production of left over solids (directed to composting).
Montgomery County appointed community activist Dan Hoffman as the county's "chief innovation officer," and he moves a variety of innovation efforts forward.
Similarly, Los Angeles hired as Deputy Mayor Rick Cole ("Cole: Successful Placemaking Arises From Dynamic Pedestrian Environments, Not 'Starchitecture'," Planning Report), who has extensive experience throughout California as an elected official and city manager, to push innovation and better government performance.
Austin has been a leader in management by metrics and putting data of significance for all to see.
Other cities like New York ("What a Hundred Million Calls to 311 Reveal About New York City," Wired) seem to do a better job with 311 services as a way to identify systemic problems and the data is used to direct activities towards process redesign.
Governments such as Allegheny County, Pennsylvania are creating integrated records and service delivery systems to provide services to clients needing social and human services across multiple agencies.
And Arlington County's Mobility Lab pushes innovation forward in the transportation sphere, already having "spun out" at least one digital transit information company.
Oakland County Michigan's award-winning IT department provides contracted services to local governments across the U.S.
Helsinki's information technology operation, Forum Virium Helsinki, is run as a business unit which does innovative projects for the public and private sector.
Similarly, Helsinki's municipal research office, called Helsinki Urban Facts, is incredibly wide ranging in their analysis of city government. Vienna's housing department has a best practice research unit as well, that produces internationally significant work.
Helsinki's public library system is also responsible for running libraries in local schools.
Liverpool and Vienna have refashioned their economic development units as development organizations with highly developed branding and identity systems, run on business plans that are rigorous, transparent, and accountable. Vienna also positioned its support of the creative industries in a similar fashion (although I am told the latest government has de-emphasized this agency and its operation). Liverpool is working to organize its culture functions along comparable lines.
Some jurisdictions do a great job with co-location of facilities, which is something I've written about for years. Arlington County is a good example with cultural facilities integrated with libraries or schools. Baltimore County does co-location too. For example, the Pikesville Library was built along with the Senior Center,
And Baltimore County's Parks and Recreation Department has had an MOU for more than 60 years with the School system to co-locate facilities. Recreation facilities are open past normal school hours, and schools may be constructed with various features, like auditoriums, that are bigger than the school would normally need, because the facilities also serve the broader community simultaneously through the management by the Parks Department.
Whereas in DC we have senior cities in every ward, so that's eight in total, the Ward 1 and Ward 4 senior centers are located within a couple miles of each other. The facilities are closed at night. If they were integrated with recreation centers, operation could be better maximized.
Austin has a big community facilities campus including a library and school in an impoverished area. Seattle co-locates libraries with other functions.
West Hollywood's library includes a cafe, bookstore, children's theater and the City Council chambers. Portland's Hollywood branch library has a coffee shop on the ground floor and affordable housing above. In Drumbrae, UK, the new library includes a day care facility and a teen center.
Portland works closely with various academic and research units of the College of Urban and Public Affairs at Portland State University to promote innovation and higher quality government outcomes.
Mostly out of budget concerns, more local governments are merging certain functions with others. That's harder for DC to do because we are separate from the States of Maryland and Virginia, but it is a trend, albeit mostly in places like Michigan or Ohio, which face shrinking populations and budgets.