COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | JOHN EGER

San Diego, the region-state

Last month, five cities in North County made a rather startling announcement. They are coming together to create a new, more powerful economic region.

In the new global economy, such regions are the new centers of commerce. Now more than ever, cities and counties within regions must work together to do joint governmental planning and development, and provide not only police, fire and safety services, but also land use, transportation and telecommunications systems as well.

It is cheaper, sure, but the real reason is to stimulate economic prosperity. By reorganizing, as syndicated columnist Neal Peirce has pointed out, these new "city-states," as he calls them, “have a shared identification, [and] function as a single zone for trade commerce and communication.”

Most people already live in one jurisdiction, work in other, and play or dine in a third. They have no idea that the cost to them is enormous because of the duplication and waste. Moreover, they do not realize that the new creative economy demands consolidation to save money.

Crime reduction, energy consumption, water use, waste and toxic emissions are not the concerns of individual cities but the whole region. Indeed, whole metropolitan regions should be aggregating demand for such services and striking agreements with one another and then with one of several providers to better serve the citizens of the entire region.

Geographic information systems allowing the establishment of so-called enterprise systems may also be an option. Again, by consolidating operations and data mining, the region can streamline all departmental operations, allow new ways of doing peoples’ business and get more services online, thus eliminating anyone from physically getting in line again.

By pushing the limits of electronic government, the government lays the foundation for a more robust private sector. And embracing green initiatives sets the stage for more sustainable community-wide services.

The new global knowledge economy, not to mention our current fiscal crisis, demands that government rethink how to organize itself to be most competitive. That might mean cutting out a city council or two or other top administrative posts in the name of efficiency. At minimum, it means cities within a region (including the counties) ought to be jointly pursuing opportunities to operate services together.

"There is a fundamental disconnect between how we live and work in large portions all over America and how we govern," according to Bruce Katz, a founding director of the Metropolitan Economy Initiative at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. "The mismatch between governments and the economy undermines the competitiveness of places by raising the costs of doing business, exacerbating strong development trends, squandering urban assets, and deepening racial and class separation."

The Obama administration hopes to reverse decades of neglect of our cities by stimulating economic prosperity in metropolitan regions. According to Brookings, "the top 100 metropolitan areas cover about two-thirds of the nation's population and an even larger share of the nation's gross domestic product."

It is these regional economies that foster vibrant downtowns, attractive town centers and historic, older suburbs that feed the development and acquisition of human capital, financial capital and contribute to resource-efficient, sustainable growth. Not merging municipalities or at least jointly providing basic services puts the prowess of a region at risk.

Eger, a telecommunications lawyer, is the Lionel Van Deerlin Endowed Professor of Communications and Public Policy at San Diego State University, and executive director of SDSU's International Center for Communications.

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