Academic journal article Harvard Law Review

Old Regionalism, New Regionalism, and Envision Utah: Making Regionalism Work

Academic journal article Harvard Law Review

Old Regionalism, New Regionalism, and Envision Utah: Making Regionalism Work

Article excerpt


For decades, observers have blamed prevailing land use patterns for rapid land consumption, congestion, air pollution, social and economic segregation, concentrated poverty, and inner-city decline (1)--problems this Note refers to as "sprawl." Advocates seeking to address these problems suggest solutions that are commonly referred to as "smart growth," a growth pattern that generally involves transit-oriented development, walkable communities, mixed land uses and housing types, higher densities, and open space preservation. (2) Nevertheless, very few anti-sprawl efforts have succeeded, (3) and density is decreasing, not increasing, in most metropolitan areas. (4)

Most agree that fragmented land use control is a cause of, or at least an impediment to ending, sprawl and its associated problems. (5) Fragmented local governments, the theory holds, are often able to reap the rewards of low-density development while externalizing the costs onto neighboring jurisdictions. While wealthy jurisdictions are able to keep out the poor--and therefore many minorities--through exclusionary zoning, poor jurisdictions have no option but to accept whatever land uses they can get or, more often, the land uses that already exist. Poor jurisdictions are thus forced to absorb people and land uses that require extensive services but provide little tax revenue.

For these reasons, most proposed solutions to sprawl involve some sort of regional or state land use planning. (6) The theory is that a government whose boundaries include the entire region will be more likely to consider the external effects of local decisions, and will therefore plan for more equitable, less segregated, and denser land use. All centralized control, however, involves limiting or eliminating local control over land use. Such a course is both undesirable and politically difficult to implement. In addition, centralized government may not actually curb sprawl. (7)

Because of these concerns, the recent "New Regionalism" movement has suggested that voluntary local measures and interlocal cooperation can be effective substitutes for centralized control. (8) New Regionalism asserts that regional "governance," which involves voluntary horizontal cooperation, is superior to regional "government," which "entail[s] formal institutions" that regulate vertically. (9) According to New Regionalist writers, the economic fate of cities and suburbs is so interdependent that suburbs will voluntarily aid ailing central cities. (10) Other commentators, however, are unconvinced, (11) and no New Regionalist has been able to point to a region in which voluntary cooperation has occurred in any significant way.

In Salt Lake City, Utah, an organization called Envision Utah (12) has proven remarkably successful at combating sprawl in a politically conservative urban region and has even served as a model for numerous other coalitions. Envision Utah is extraordinary in that it may not be a true smart growth "coalition" at all. (13) A coalition forms around a common agenda, whereas Envision Utah began with an ironclad rule: it had no agenda. (14) Instead, it involved as many people as possible--including, most importantly, powerful decisionmakers--in defining what the region's agenda should be. Remarkably, when asked to think about the good of the region and when educated about the consequences of choices, the people of the Wasatch Region (15) made decisions that fit closely the agendas of other anti-sprawl coalitions. Because a broad base of stakeholders, rather than a coalition built around a specific agenda, chose Envision Utah's vision for the region's future, implementation has met less resistance than have the efforts of other coalitions.

Envision Utah has demonstrated that the New Regionalist model can be somewhat successful, but it has also recognized that changes to background incentives are necessary to motivate localities to combat sprawl voluntarily. …

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