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Regional Approaches to Planning

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What does “regionalism” have to do with you as a planning commissioner? Why not simply focus on the problems and needs of your particular community and let other communities do the same?

There are many issues that can only be addressed regionally.

The reason why a regional perspective is important is that many quality of life and planning issues transcend individual jurisdictional boundaries. While most regions are fragmented into multiple local jurisdictions including counties, cities, villages, and townships, each of which have their own local planning autonomy, there are many issues that can only be addressed regionally. For example, air quality, traffic, storm water management, water quality, and natural environmental systems recognize no man-made political boundaries.

While most elected and appointed officials act responsibly and do their best to deal with planning issues, local jurisdictions tend to act in what they perceive to be their own best interest. Often lost sight of is how local decisions fit into the regional picture or affect other communities.

Current efforts to plan regionally fall into four broad categories:

1. Regional Government. There are a number of instances around the country where cities and counties have consolidated to create a unified approach to governance, including planning. For example, Lexington-Fayette County (Kentucky), Indianapolis-Marion County (Indiana), and Nashville-Davidson County (Tennessee) are examples of city/county consolidations which have enabled these areas to approach planning issues from a more regional perspective. Of course, this assumes that regions can be equated with counties, which is not necessarily true.

2. Regional Planning Agencies. There are a wide range of multi-purpose, multi-jurisdictional regional planning agencies. In many places they are called regional councils of government, in others, regional planning (or planning and development) commissions. Typically, these bodies act in an advisory capacity and do not have land use decision-making authority. Regional planning agencies are usually comprised of members appointed by their respective local governing bodies, and are supported by a mix of technical and citizen committees and by staff.

3. Specialized Functional Agencies. There are many regional agencies that have functional responsibilities related to specific aspects of regional planning and development. Most frequently, these agencies deal with regional infrastructure, such as highways, parks and open space, sanitary sewers, storm water management, and water systems. For example, the East Bay Regional Park District (covering the east side of San Francisco Bay) and the Metropolitan Sewer District in Cincinnati respectively provide park and sewer planning on a regional basis.

4. “Ad Hoc” Regional Organizations. A growing number of regional initiatives have occurred through a diverse mix of public, quasi-public, and private organizations led by individuals or groups seeking to fill what they perceive to be gaps in government-led efforts. Some of these organizations focus primarily on growth and economic development issues, while others are oriented towards natural resource and quality of life issues. …

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… article continues with sections on: Concerns about Regionalism; and Learning from Las Vegas.

photo of Greg DaleC. Gregory Dale, FAICP, is a founding Principal with McBride Dale Clarion, the Cincinnati affiliate office of Clarion Associates. He has managed planning projects throughout the country, and is also a frequent speaker at planning and zoning workshops and conferences.

Between 1991 and 2009, Dale authored 31 articles for the Planning Commissioners Journal, including 21 for our Ethics & the Planning Commission series, and others on a variety of transportation and zoning topics. Dale is also a co-author of The Planning Commissioners Guide (American Planning Association, 2013).

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