Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Regionalism: Explain This To Me Like I'm A Six Year-Old, Okay?

I'm constantly surprised by which of my posts will generate a lot of responses, and which will go unnoticed. My post on Moe's closing, for instance, drew far more comments than I had anticipated. (And I reiterate: the point of the post was not to express schadenfreude over the failure of a northern Kentucky business, but instead to make a broader point about the way some seem to view downtown Cincinnati.) Several of the comments focused on the theme of "regionalism" (and what a great idea it is).

I have to admit to having two questions:
  • What do people mean when they say (or write) "regionalism"?
  • Is it really a desirable end in and of itself?

If I'm a Cincinnatian desiring the best for Cincinnati, does that inevitably mean I want the best for surrounding communities, as well?

There are certain types of "regionalism" that would always seem to be beneficial. For instance, City Manager Milton Dohoney is working on a plan to turn Cincinnati Water Works into a regional water district. While of particular benefit to Cincinnati (with regards to increased revenue), as I understand the theory, the expansion would drive down water rates across the district. So that's a win-win.

But some of the commenters to the Moe's post seem to suggest that "regionalism" meets rooting for Newport (and Covington and West Chester and others) to have thriving business communities. But I question the wisdom of that, as I'm not sure that the figurative pie from which each sovereign's economy must draw money is unlimited. For instance, should Cincinnatians be pleased if the former Jillian's is converted into a casino? Certainly members of Council don't think so, as they seem poised to push a state-wide measure that would permit the building of casinos in any county neighboring a state with casinos. Does a Jillian's Casino increase tourist traffic to the entire "region," or does it instead suck money away from Cincinnati and surrounding communities? And don't "regionalism" efforts have particular problems here, where we're not just dealing with disparate local sovereigns, but municipal governments located in three different states (one of the issues I'm thinking of here, obviously, is tax revenue)? If a major retailer is considering locating in downtown or Sharonville, should Cincinnati compete for it, or be content that even in Sharonville, the new business would be in the "region"?

So tell me, regionalists: when do I have to play nice in the sandbox, and when am I allowed to root, root, root for the home team?

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