Ten Big Ideas: Enhance Regional Decision-Making

The Ten Big Ideas Initiative is an APA Washington Chapter effort derived from the Game Changing Initiative in coordination with the Oregon APA Chapter. It is designed to bring about far-reaching and fundamental change on a variety of issues. Topics include addressing climate change, rebuilding our infrastructure, restoring and protecting our ecosystems, supporting economic development, and supporting sustainable agriculture.

Each month, The Washington Planner will focus on one of the Ten Big Ideas, providing Washington APA members with more information on the work being done and how they can get involved. This installment focuses on regional decision-making.  

Enhance Regional Decision-Making
By Yonn Dierwechter and Laura Benjamin

Enhancing regional collaboration in multi-jurisdictional policy environments— often just referred to as “regionalism”— has long been an important problem in the U.S. planning profession. Ebenezer Howard thought we needed it. So did Lewis Mumford. The severe financial crisis in local and county governments in recent years has only reenergized these older interests in regionalism and regional planning. While the term “regional collaboration” evokes visions of regional planning across large metropolitan areas, in particular improved cooperation between cities and suburbs, it is only one of many forms. Regionalism within Washington State, as elsewhere, takes many different forms and occurs in all kinds of communities who are struggling with a variety of complex problems. 

For example, regional collaboration in Washington includes the well-known work of formal transit agencies like Sound Transit, but also many other forms: 

  • Dozens of collaborative watershed partnerships organized around Water Resource Inventory Areas
  • Interesting new social equity goals and programs advanced by traditional councils of government, such as in Yakima
  • Various MPO funding and policy visions, county-wide (and multi-) county planning policies associated with GMA mandates
  • Rural-area economic development visions
  • Specialized inter-local service agreements
  • Tribal development and environmental conservation initiatives
  • ‘Community-based’ regionalism, and even
  • Recent efforts toward regional collaborations around climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies!

Regionalism in Washington is actually quite widespread, but ironically it is poorly understood, under-studied, insufficiently assessed, and probably still under-appreciated by the general public. For these reasons it forms a major area of professional planning concern.

As part of the “10 Big Ideas for Washington’s Future,” University of Washington Tacoma Professor of Urban Studies Yonn Dierwechter and some of his undergraduate students have been conducting initial empirical research on a range of contemporary regional planning experiences across our state. Based on their work, a report is being prepared provisionally entitled “Enhancing ‘Big Ideas’ Through Cross-Jurisdictional Collaboration: Regional Value Added in Washington State.” Drawing on new student research, the report provides “thumbnail sketches” from the field as well as one extended case study on regional climate action in Thurston County. These stories together highlight a remarkable variety of regional experiences and institutional forms. The ultimate goal of the report is to provide a framework and agenda for further discussions on how to move forward. The content of the report is as follows: 

  • Introduction
  • What are Regional Collaborations? Types, Lessons, Applications
  • Mapping ‘regionalism’ in Washington State: thumbnails sketches from the field
  • Extended case study: regional climate action in Thurston County
  • Moving forward: an agenda for discussion
  • References

This report will be presented on the APA Washington Chapter website, along with other reports from the Big Ideas working groups by mid-April. Further news on this release will be presented in the April newsletter. 

Using this background report as a springboard, Yonn Dierwechter and Jill Sterrett are planning to hold a one-day workshop in Seattle in the early fall where various participants around the state can reflect on the problems and potential of regional collaborations in our state. Anyone interested in participating in this forum to enhance regional collaborations in our state is strongly encouraged to contact Yonn at [email protected].


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