Regionalism

I went to a really great discussion today at the University of Washington: remarks and a panel featuring Bruce Katz, the vice president and founding director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C.  Katz was in town to give a lecture on Tuesday night as part of the UW’s Danz Lecture Series, and he hung around Wednesday morning to do a more intimate session with a bunch of local bigwigs and leading regional thinkers (note: I am neither, but I got to go anyway).

Anyway, the discussion was really fascinating, centering on how the central Puget Sound can more successfully act as a region, and be an economic and policy leader for the country’s recovery and beyond. But, as Gene Duvernoy of the Cascade Land Conservancy – one of the panelists – pointed out, there was one big problem with the conversation.

That problem, of course, was that it was mostly “preaching to the choir.” Lots of nods and silent agreement with all of Katz’s great points and the insights of the other panelists about our region’s potential; the promise of smart investments in education, infrastructure, innovation and quality of life; the major barriers to our success (a bad relationship with the state! a flawed tax structure! no tax increment financing! lack of strong regional vision or leadership!). I honestly mean no offense to any of the speakers, because it’s always great to stimulate our thinking about these real and important issues, but I probably could have guessed all the points in advance. These are the things we all talk/complain about all the time.

So what are we going to do about it? Katz thinks it’s a vision thing:

The metropolis does not have a crisp collaborative vision, critical in today’s hyper-global competition. There are pieces of a vision, given the fine work of groups like the Puget Sound Regional Council, Cascade Land Conservancy, and SkillUp Washington. Now is the time to pull these disparate activities together, forge a common vision and then align federal and state investments in service of the goal.

I actually disagree.  We’ve got plenty of vision, like VISION 2040 and the Cascade Agenda.  And it’s not that we lack agreement on them or that they’re flawed documents; it’s that people don’t know about them.  I remember when I was in Dubai on the last Trade Development Alliance mission and all of the participants were ooh-ing and aah-ing about how the United Arab Emirates has all these great planning documents, and all I heard from some of the most influential business and government folks in our region was “Wow, we should totally have one of those.”  If key Chamber of Commerce people don’t know about it, then all the vision in the world doesn’t really help.

So I’ve got one word: marketing.  Rather than trying to bring everyone together to develop a new collaborative vision, let’s use the vision that was already developed collaboratively and get everyone to buy-in.  And I’m not talking your standard outreach:  a couple of powerpoint presentations, a luncheon, maybe an op-ed.  I’m talking a full frontal assault on the region’s citizens and the state legislature. Billboards, radio and television ads, a Facebook page, Twitter, Linked-in, social media, viral video, newspapers, speeches, rallies. You’d start generally first – just talking about the value of working together, of sharing and focusing resources and of investing in things that create prosperity for all. Then you’d start to pick some things, maybe small at first, or else “go big or go home.” Could you get 100,000 fans of a Facebook page and then get them all excited about tax increment financing or regional governance or making sure that the central Puget Sound got its “fair share” of return on investment from state revenues? I don’t know, but I’d sure like to try.

Who do we know that’s really rich that would love to bankroll something like this?

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