Working Paper, Institute of Urban and Regional Development 2007,15
This paper examines the tension between regionalism and progressive goals, focusing on the effort to ensure that the benefits of growth are widely shared and that the concerns of low-income neighborhoods and the residents are a regional priority. Drawing on our research about transportation politics in the Los Angeles and Chicago regions over the past fifteen years, we argue that although decisions about how regions grow are critical to low-income communities, it does not follow that engagement at the regional level will yield benefits to low-income communities. Like the critics of regionalism, we contend that engaging in regional collaboration is unlikely to benefit low-income people. Moreover, we argue, the widely used image of the regional table is misleading: There are in fact, very few authoritative regional forums, and the more informal and collaborative the forum, the less likely it is that participation will yield tangible benefits for low-income people. Instead, we argue that progressive regionalism must be viewed as a process of building multilevel power, not participation in regional venues per se. This perspective recognizes that, without the backing of a legal threat or strong regulatory policy levers, low-income communities lack the power to influence regional decisions, even when they participate in regional venues. It also underscores the fact that many regional decisions of critical importance to low-income communities are made in multiple political venues - federal, state, and local, rather than in a single regional venue. Because the region is not a coherent political entity, regional outcomes are likely to represent the intersection of decisions taken at multiple levels of government. As a result, participation in the regional venues that do exist may actually be little more than a diversion, leading low-income advocates to expend effort in an arena that has little real influence over decision making.