This is not going to be an in-depth, highly researched & linked article. This is a fast brain dump on why in the great Boston Metro area we either need a “Capital Region Government” or Boston should just annex everything within Route 128.
- A great piece in the Globe today by Diedre Fernandes talks about how our region’s housing stock is out of sync with the regions shifting demographics. The gist is: young people are moving to the city for schools & jobs and are taking over the housing stock that used to house Boston’s working families. These families are moving to the suburbs which is driving up costs in those area. Empty nesters in the suburbs want to downsize, but zoning in their towns means there’s little smaller housing stock without changing towns or moving closer into the city. If empty nesters move into the city, it increases housing competition between them, the existing residents, and the earlier mentioned Millennials to further drive up housing costs. This cycle is unsustainable but won’t be solved by any one town/city government as this is a regional issue. Too many town/city zoning boards, development agencies, planning agencies and politicos make it structurally impossible to solve this problem.
- Budgets & inefficiencies – Every city & town maintains similar sets of agencies, including police, fire, schools, Public Works, health & social agencies, IT, city/town managers etc. Every agency means different unions, different contracts, different pensions, different executives – huge overhead costs that could be reduced by merging municipalities at some level. Similarly, there are great operational efficiency that can be gained by merging towns & cities – deploying snow crews to the hardest impacted areas, deploying police & fire resources across a broader area as needed (Fires & crime don’t stop at municipal borders), bringing scale to social services agencies.
- The MBTA – Should the MBTA be beholden to state politicians or to the region it serves? The MBTA is a great engine for the Capital Region’s growth & development. A Regional level government with taxation abilities would allow for problems to be solved by the region, for the region.
Are there examples of this around the world? Sure – you can look at areas like LA County in California where certain services are provided at the county level and others are the city level.
However I think a model that would better suit the New England Town model that our region is heavily based on would be that of the Greater London Authority in the UK. The GLA acts as an umbrella government, who’s primary responsibility is providing transit, police, fire service & strategic planning to the region, leaving local issues such as education, social services, libraries and others to the local boroughs of London. A model such as this would let us have a government body to really plan for the future of the Capital Region, not just each individual city & town. As has been long discussed here on BMG, many cities & towns in our region have a hard time looking beyond their borders and have barely functional local political leadership (Looking at your Cambridge). A GLA style body for Boston may not solve all of these problems, but at least it would elevate those that need to be addressed at a regional level.
Of course the alternative is we can go back to Boston annexing everything in sight (another idea I believe I read here on BMG). With a bit more devolution of power from the State, this could achieve the same end.
I don’t see either of these ideas being popular with our local or state pols because it would diminish their power & influence. But if you look at most major cities around the world that have experienced rapid growth over the last 50-75 years, those who have grown the most consistently have done it by integrating & streamlining government.