Regional planning: Part 2

A possible way to energize and make regional planning more effective.

Recent research and long standing critique of voluntary regionalism suggests that regional planning, where local governments may choose to follow, or not, the regional plan, may not be sufficiently successful, with some expressing the view that it may not work. Part one of this pair of articles reviews the most recent research on this topic.

The study found that out of the 28 local government plans reviewed, only 14 were updated after adoption of a regional plan. Of those 14, only seven were updated to reflect tenets in the regional plan. When looking at housing development that occurred after the plan, compared to before the plan, development continued with little change in location, density, and type. A regional plan, which is totally voluntary when it comes to implementation by local governments and developers, does not get uniformly followed.

For Michigan, development of regional approaches for economic development is extremely important at this time. In today’s new economy, regions are the economic units capable of being competitive in a global economic setting. That is one of the ideas behind Michigan’s Prosperity Regions. Each region is created only as large as necessary so each region has all of the assets necessary to be globally competitive. Then there needs to be a system of coordination, cooperation, and planning so the region can champion economic development efforts for the entire region.

But creation of regional organizations in Michigan with powers that require local governments to do more than voluntarily follow a regional plan is not likely to be politically palatable. There may be another solution to this issue. The approach offered here is not even a middle ground, because it is still a system that leans heavily on the side of local government control and very little, or no, regional authority. In other words it is a system with some light direction from a regional coordination level, but more than a regional plan that depends on voluntary adherence which is often easily ignored, with a strong element of local control and self-determination.

The article is simply to start the discussion about this; there is no expectation this would be the final outcome, or even that it would happen. It is a system where regional planning organizations develop goals. Those goals are formed with direct influence and participation from counties within the region. County planning commissions would develop objectives for the region’s goals and county goals and objectives in addition to the region’s. Those goals and objectives are formed with direct influence and participation from municipalities in the county. Municipal (city, village, and township) planning commissions would develop strategies for the county’s goals and objectives; region’s goals; and municipal goals, objectives, and strategies in addition.

There is currently discussion about a third phase, regional board, for prosperity regions in Michigan. The discussion about the idea in this article may figure into the thought process for development of that legislation. Or the system proposed here may be adopted by each region as part of the implementation of regional prosperity plans, so there is a more formal method of how the regional plan is coordinated with county and local plans. The proposed system in more detail.

So while the region sets region-wide goals, county and local government have a great deal of flexibility and discretion in how those goals are pursued. It is the county and local government that have complete freedom to choose the objectives and strategies for the region-wide goals. They can adopt objectives and strategies which are aggressive, or not, they can adopt strategies which are regulation focused, incentive focused, or benign, or other approaches to the issue. The municipal and county government also have a direct role in formulating the region-wide goals. Even with all this flexibility and role in formulating region-wide goals municipal and county governments also have an additional opportunity to challenge or change region-wide goals.

With this proposal the same system also exists with municipal governments’ selection of strategies for county-wide objectives, has a direct role in formulating the county-wide objectives and goals, and have an additional opportunity to challenge or change county-wide objectives and goals.

At the same time there is a formal consideration by the counties and municipalities to use and acknowledge regional goals and county goals and objectives with a public, in a master plan, dispensation of those goals and objectives.

Result is some “light direction” from a regional coordination level –but more than a regional plan that is easily ignored-- with a strong element of local control and self-determination.

A Michigan State University Extension educator can provide training on this and other topics which focus on land use issues.

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