Southern twist on regional planning

Last week, I attended the launching meeting of a major long-term regional planning project. It was inspiring!
Here are some key points from the main speakers.
“First, economic growth within the region is vital for our success and the quality of life we lead.
“Imagine if just 10 percent of new investment in our region were siphoned off to other regions in our country, or to Singapore, or London, or wherever.
“The region would be faced with higher unemployment, less investment in public infrastructure, and more money spent on welfare. It would become a less desirable place to live and work.
“We cannot let that happen.
“The second theme is that this region is a highly interdependent social, environmental, and economic entity. But the institutions designed to deal with this interdependence are weak or don’t exist. As well, many incentive or disincentive systems retard efforts to find solutions to regional problems.
“The third theme–jobs, education, housing, transportation, and other amenities that characterize our region must be available to everyone. A civilized society provides access and opportunity to all of its members.
•a region that can’t find jobs for all of its citizens will be plagued with social problems;
•a region that geographically isolates the under-educated and the under-employed will fail;
•a region that cannot educate and retain potential employees won’t be attractive to employers; and
•a region that ignores its social problems will not be attractive to investors.
“In the end, all the citizens of the region will pay the price for failing to attend to the issues of any one aspect or segment of our society.
“Obviously these three themes open up a vast array of issues and opportunities for action. We are looking to the members of this group to refine an agenda that will position our region as a highly desirable place to live from now to 2020.”
Do you agree so far? Does it sound good in theory but you’d like to see action?
Here is the group’s start towards that:
1. A “commercial compact” is being formed. Major employers in the region will be asked to sign on for “sensible and equitable growth.”
In locating or financing new ventures, they will consider the commitment of local governments to sensible housing, land use, infrastructure, transportation policies, and more.
2. A transportation committee will study and lobby legislative policy for effective mass transit and travel options.
3. A “regional learning” initiative will cover a range of educational, informational, and research activities. This will include communications technologies.
As well, it will inform citizens of what the regional planning group is doing, and it will continually solicit citizen input into the planning process.
In case you thought this might all be idle talk, let me tell you that this planning group already has raised $4 million for the project from the private sector.
That information, unfortunately, also is your clue that this is not happening in Northwestern Ontario although it should!
This is happening in Chicago. The planning group will work to make Metropolitan Chicago a strong, healthy, vibrant region; not an area of inner city slums and suburban sprawl.
It is exciting to be associated as a consultant with such an imaginative, far-reaching project. But it would be much more rewarding to participate in such an initiative for our own region.
May it come to that.

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