Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Re-Exploring the Hudson-And Regionalism in America

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Re-Exploring the Hudson-And Regionalism in America

Article excerpt

For years, I've been writing about how great central cities and their suburban communities must coalesce and set joint strategies if they hope to compete in the new global economy. In the late 1980s it was an outlier concept; today most mayors and county leaders trumpet the idea.

But what about the regions "in between"--areas that share a geography but have no big city?

A prime example is the great and picturesque Hudson River Valley, stretching 150 miles from Westchester County, N.Y., up to Albany, now approaching the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's exploratory cruise of 1609.

American history and culture run so deep here that Congress recognizes the entire valley as a National Heritage Area. Washington's headquarters were at Newburgh through most of the Revolutionary War. The Hudson offered the path to the Erie Canal, connecting coastal America to the Great Lakes. Famed Americans built great mansions along the river's banks. President Franklin Roosevelt was born at Hyde Park and maintained his home there through his presidency. America's military academy sits atop a dramatic turn of the river at West Point. The age of computers was born at IBM headquarters in Armonk.

But can a region of 242 municipalities, nine counties, 2.2 million people but no city over 50,000--in other words, territory where home rule is treasured as holy writ--ever find a way to pull together in a tough, challenging 21st century?

How competitive can a region be if its narrowly drawn town borders seal off poverty-plagued small cities from the affluence and tax base of privileged nearby communities? Or if elitist towns practice exclusionary zoning, throwing up barriers to new development that effectively bar new middle -income families, not to mention the poor? Or if income-hungry communities allow ugly commercial strips and huge, ugly billboards to despoil the roadways of a region of immense natural beauty?

And those are just samples of the Hudson Valley's current challenges. It has to deal with pockets of severe traffic congestion. Many water and sewer systems cry out for repair. About 250,000 Valley residents commute to metropolitan New York for their paychecks, but job opportunities are scarce for workers laid off from the region's historic manufacturing plants.

In 1965, some valley leaders, with corporations at the fore, created Pattern for Progress, a regional think tank/advocate for economic growth that protects the environment. Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, a proponent of regional planning and using infrastructure to guide growth, was an early participant.

Now Pattern, its membership swelled in recent years to about 500 civic leaders, is embarked on an extraordinarily ambitious "Global Hudson Valley Initiative. …

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