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Most Americans today do not live in discrete cities and towns, but rather in an aggregation of cities and suburbs that forms one basic economic, multi-cultural, environmental and civic entity. These “regional cities” have the potential to significantly improve the quality of our lives—to provide interconnected and diverse economic centers, transportation choices, and a variety of human-scale communities. In The Regional City, two of the most innovative thinkers in the field of land use planning and design offer a detailed look at this new metropolitan form and explain how regional-scale planning and design can help direct growth wisely and reverse current trends in land use. The authors: discuss the nature and underpinnings of this new metropolitan form present their view of the policies and physical design principles required for metropolitan areas to transform themselves into regional cities document the combination of physical design and social and economic policies that are being used across the country consider the main factors that are shaping metropolitan regions today, including the maturation of sprawling suburbs and the renewal of urban neighborhoods
Featuring full-color graphics and in-depth case studies, The Regional City offers a thorough examination of the concept of regional planning along with examples of successful initiatives from around the country. It will be must reading for planners, architects, landscape architects, local officials, real estate developers, community development professionals, and for students in architecture, urban planning, and policy.
LIVING IN THE REGIONAL WORLD
Only a century ago, the archetypal American community was a small city—often a factory town or a farm market town—so self-contained that its residents rarely had to leave its boundaries to obtain their daily needs. So small was Gopher Prairie, the locale of Sinclair Lewis's famous 1920 novel, Main Street, that in one thirty-two-minute walk his protagonist Carol Kennicott "had completely covered the town, east and west, north and south." Beyond Gopher Prairie's borders, as Carol quickly discovered, was nothing but "the grasping prairie on every side."
Almost a century later, Carol Kennicott could walk all day and probably never find the prairie. Today, more than half of all Americans live in metropolitan areas of a million people or more. Fully a third of the people in the country—approximately 90 million in all—live in the twenty or so largest metropolitan areas, according to the latest census figures. The urban space regularly traversed by the typical American is not really a "community" at all, but rather a series of connected urban and suburban districts that often stretch across a vast geographical space. Very few people in our country today can cover the entirety of their daily travels in a five- or ten-minute walk.
In other words, most Americans today do not live in towns—or even in cities—in the traditional sense that we think of those terms. Instead, most of us are citizens of a region—a large and multifaceted metropolitan area encompassing hundreds of places that we would traditionally think of as distinct and separate "communities."
Of course, most of us do not think of ourselves as living in a region. Strolling in our neighborhood or visiting our local shopping center, we still tend to think of ourselves as inhabitants of Gopher Prairie. But the patterns of our daily existence belie a different reality. Most of us commute from one metropolitan town to another for work, for shopping, and for many other daily activities. The businesses for which we work are typically bound up in a series of economic relationships with vendors and customers that are concentrated on a regional or metropolitan scale.
And, even if we do live and work in one small town in the best Gopher Prairie tradition, the ecological fallout of our day-to-day patterns will be felt upstream or downstream throughout the region.
The notion of a Regional City is not a new one. Indeed, even as Sinclair Lewis was writing Main Street eighty years ago, the small, one-dimensional community that it depicted was vanishing from the American scene. The idea of a "metropolis"—a large and multifaceted urban environment—dates back at least a century, when New York, Chicago, and other cities grew to abnormal size as burgeoning centers of the industrial economy.
Not surprisingly, the idea of planning and designing regions as a unit is a century old as well. It was just before the turn of the twentieth century that Ebenezer Howard created the vision of the Garden City as a way to decentralize urban populations and restore the balance between urban and rural life. In the 1920s, when Sinclair Lewis's depiction of small-town American life was at its peak, visionaries such as Lewis Mumford, Clarence Stein, and Benton MacKaye began to advocate a similar, carefully designed approach to American regions. The first great proposal to design a region was issued by New York's Regional Plan Association more than seventy years ago.
Ever since then, our metropolitan areas have grown consistently larger, our urban areas have fluctuated between robust health and mortal decay, and our suburbs have flung themselves farther and farther afield. Despite the consistency of these patterns, regionalism has gone in and out of fashion ever since—always a factor in the back of everyone's mind but rarely viewed as a driving force in our urban growth.
In the past decade, however, the concept of the region as a fundamental concept has gained new currency. Planners, economists, environmentalists, and others who for decades ignored the metropolitan region now acknowledge that the region is, indeed, a basic driver of American growth patterns. Metropolitan life throughout the nation now rests on a new foundation of economic, ecological, and social patterns, all of which operate in unprecedented fashion at a regional scale. As planner and economist Michael Storper has put it, all of us now live in a "regional world."
Since the end of the Cold War, as the "globalization" of our economy has accelerated, the metropolitan region has come to be viewed as the basic building block of this new economic order. In today's global economy, it is regions, not nations, that vie for economic dominance throughout the world. In addition, our understanding of ecology has matured rapidly, as we have come to realize that the region is also the basic unit in environmental terms. Because of the interconnected nature of ecosystems, we are hooked together with our neighboring communities whether we like it or not.
Finally—and perhaps most important from our point of view—we are beginning to set aside our outdated view of independent towns and suburbs and coming to see that the region is also a cohesive social unit. In the postwar era, when the suburbs were affluent and older inner-city neighborhoods were in decline, this relationship was not always obvious. But now, many older suburbs are in transition as well—indeed, some are in steep decline—and so it is impossible to ignore the manner in which all our urban and suburban districts are interconnected socially. Old or young, rich or poor, the people of every metropolitan region are bound together in ways that greatly affect their daily lives.
THE ECONOMIC REGION
Almost every day, we hear news about the state of "the economy." Usually, this term is applied to the notion of our "national" economy—which is most often measured in terms of the gross national product or gross domestic product. The business pages are full of news about how the managers of our national economy, such as the Federal Reserve Bank and the Treasury Department, tweak the interest rate and the money supply to ensure that the U.S. economy remains healthy and robust.
Similarly, on the local level, we often operate on the assumption that each city or suburb also has its own economy. Local politicians compete with each other to attract new businesses inside their jurisdictional boundaries, often providing financial subsidies to specific businesses as part of the bait. And they tout statistical increases in their own tax revenue as proof that their policies are succeeding in improving a particular city's or suburb's economic health.
Whether national or local, these "economies" might be important to the politicians who preside over them, but it has become increasingly clear that they don't really exist. Economic activity does not come to a halt when it reaches a jurisdictional line, whether the jurisdiction is a local, state, or national government. Political boundaries are artificial—and they don't reflect the way the global economy operates.
Economic relationships have always slopped over political boundaries—local, state, and national—but, because of the increasing globalization of the economy, we have seen a dramatic transformation in the past decade. For the first time in centuries, metropolitan regions throughout the world, rather than nations, have emerged as cohesive economic units that operate as important players in the world economy.
Some economists now speak of "global" economies, which draw upon the labor pool, entrepreneurship, and cultural energy from a local region to create products and services that are sold worldwide. Business management guru Kenichi Ohmae, author of The End of the Nation-State, argues that "the real flows of financial and industrial activity" have essentially created a new map of the world—the economic world, at least—in which political boundaries barely matter at all. "Where prosperity exists," Ohmae writes, "it is region-based."
The global economy operates best at the regional scale for two reasons. First, much to everyone's surprise, despite our advances in telecommunications technology, proximity still matters a great deal. And, second, because of the decentralized nature of the economy, networking among a large number of highly specialized people and businesses matters more than ever.
The fact that proximity still matters has been something of a surprise in the past decade. At the dawn of the modem age in the 1980s, economists and urban planners predicted a great untethering of "work" from "workplace." The laptop, the fax machine, and the FedEx delivery truck would make it possible for anyone, anywhere, to participate in the global economy without being physically present in any particular urban or suburban location. Perhaps as much as a third of the workforce could operate from a rural mountaintop. And anyone who could do so would do so, because why deal with the hassles of metropolitan life if you don't have to?
Although a few executives do work on mountaintops, most choose instead to operate within the physical confines of a metropolitan economy. Take Silicon Valley in California—probably the hottest economy in the world. In the past decade, Silicon Valley has become both extremely crowded and extremely expensive, and many of the people who work there have become extremely rich. Yet most still choose to remain there. Why?
The reason is simple: technological advances, globalization, and the changing nature of work have transformed the form of our economy into what might be called a "network economy." Economic activity is volatile and unpredictable. It's impossible to predict what an entrepreneur, or a business, or even an employee might need from one day to the next in order to thrive.
Therefore, the single most important component of economic success, either for a business or for a worker, is access to networks of all kinds: job networks, money networks, idea networks, and networks of vendors and services. And the only sure way to operate successfully in the network economy is to be physically located in what might be called a "network metropolis"—a region where all these networks are located in close enough proximity that they can remain lively and active without a heavy investment in travel or long-distance telecommunications.
"What actually attracts business is the entire geographically based infrastructure of skills, markets, and expertise," the California economist Manuel Pastor and his colleagues recently wrote in their new book Regions That Work: How Cities and Suburbs Can Grow Together. "These are the assets that make it worthwhile for businesses to accept higher labor standards in return for access to an educated and enthusiastic pool of workers, as well as the 'intangibles' of sound public policy and supportive business suppliers. And, increasingly, these assets are constituted at the regional level."
The reasons that the network metropolis must operate at a regional level are obvious: the global scale of the economy and the vast range of specialization required to compete globally demand a large and varied pool of labor skills and other expertise. This pool simply cannot exist at Gopher Prairie scale.
In recent years, for example, several U.S. airlines have contemplated creating a hub airport, used exclusively for transferring passengers, somewhere in the Midwest—preferably "in the middle of nowhere," where land would be cheap and complaints from neighbors would be minimal. Despite a lack of gate space at existing hub airports, however, all the airlines have rejected the "hub-in-the-middle-of-nowhere" solution. The reason? The range of labor skills required by a major airport demands a local population of at least 400,000 people—and that simply can't be found in the middle of nowhere. Like a thousand other components of a successful regional economy, an airport requires a network metropolis.
Increasingly, businesses recognize that they must operate at a regional scale to be competitive in the global marketplace. Businesses are coming to understand that the entire metropolis—central city, older suburbs, newer suburbs, and so on—must be viewed as a single economic unit in order for them to be competitive.
When Los Angeles erupted in civic unrest in the spring of 1992, prosperous business owners in the suburban counties surrounding Los Angeles believed they would be unaffected by it. But investors from London to Tokyo were suddenly skittish about investing anywhere in Southern California, largely owing to the television images of urban neighborhoods in flames. In that case, the social geography of the region had a direct effect on the prosperity of virtually all of its residents—even those who had fled to distant suburbs in hopes of severing their connection to urban neighborhoods and the social ills that often afflict them. So it is not surprising that Pastor and his colleagues, in their new book, analyzed dozens of American metropolitan areas and found that the entire region is more likely to be prosperous if that prosperity is shared by both the central city and the suburbs. The suburbs are linked to the city in other, more positive ways. Cities are the home of an important and in some cases essential segment of the labor pool. Businesses must choose locations where they have maximum access to potential employees—including those in central cities, where a substantial population still lives. Recently, for example, BellSouth decided to consolidate seventy-five dispersed offices in metropolitan areas into three large employment centers. Instead of moving into the distant suburbs with most new development, however, the company chose three locations inside Atlanta's beltway, because the workplaces needed to be equally accessible to employees commuting from the fast-growing northern suburbs, the less-affluent southern suburbs, and city neighborhoods as well. In this way, the suburbs and the city are more interconnected economically than ever. In short, businesses that operate at the regional scale cannot afford to seclude themselves in job centers located in affluent suburbs, because the labor pool upon which they must draw is scattered throughout the entire region, including in the older central city.
In response to these trends, economic-development efforts throughout the United States have increasingly begun to operate on a regional, rather than a municipal, level. And they have increasingly begun to recognize that they must operate on the network metropolis model. For example, many economic-development experts have abandoned the "smokestack chasing" approach of the 1970s and 1980s, in which politicians woo an individual large company to relocate its headquarters or build a new plant in their city or state. In a volatile global economy, smokestack chasing is too risky. There's no guarantee that the smokestack will still be around—or even still be needed by the world economy—next year or the year after.
Instead, economic development now revolves around analyzing and understanding business and industrial "clusters"—geographically based groups of companies, entrepreneurial networks, and labor skills that permit any region to find and keep its place in the global economy year after year. The cluster approach recognizes that it is the network that matters, not any individual business.
Not surprisingly, the emergence of regions as a cohesive economic unit has rendered the traditional approach—based on the jobs and tax base of individual jurisdictions—almost completely obsolete. "Cities and suburbs are political jurisdictions astride a single regional economy," political economists William Barnes and Larry Ledebur wrote recently in arguing for a regional approach. "The nature and dimension of this interdependence vary from place to place, but interdependence is nonetheless an economic reality. Denial of this essential reality fosters the seeds of the spatial suicide that is occurring in many of our nation's urban areas."
"Spatial suicide" is an apt term for the manner in which many American metropolitan areas choose to tear themselves apart rather than adapt to the idea of an economic region. As we will discuss below, the mismatch between regional economic reality and local political fragmentation often leads to such severe social and economic inequality across a region that it cannot function well either as an economic unit or as a social unit.
Excerpted from The Regional City by Peter Calthorpe, William Fulton. Copyright © 2001 Peter Calthorpe and William Fulton. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
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PART I. The End of Sprawl
Chapter 1. Living in the Regional World
Chapter 2. Communities of Place
PART II. The Architecture of the Regional City
Chapter 3. Designing the Region
Chapter 4. Public Policy and the Regional City
Chapter 5. The Federal Role in Regionalism
PART III. Regionalism Emerging
Chapter 6. Designing the Regions: Portland, Salt Lake, and Seattle
Chapter 7. The Superregions: New York, Chicago, and San Francisco
Chapter 8. State-Led Regionalism: Florida, Maryland, and Minnesota
PART IV. Renewing the Region's Communities
Chapter 9. The Suburb's Maturation
Chapter 10. Renewing Urban Neighbrhoods
-Conclusion: Transforming The Edge City in the Regional City
Appendix: The Charter of the New Urbanism