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Bigger is not better: the virtues of decentralized local government.

OLD-LINE manufacturing cities have taken it on the chin in recent years. Just ask officials in Dayton, Ohio. As its metropolitan area grew to almost 1,000,000 people, the central city's share of the regional population declined from more than one-third in 1960 to 18% in 1990. The decline is likely to continue as the city struggles to maintain its economic tax base.

Just ask the employees at the General Motors plant in downtown Dayton. GM is moving 1,000 jobs to a more modem facility in suburban Moraine. Faced with billion-dollar losses, the company plans to close four other manufacturing plants in the city and move the jobs north to suburban Vandalia or Canada.

Those occurrences, like plant closings in countless other metropolitan areas throughout the Northeast and Midwest, severely have challenged a city that has experienced blow after blow to its economy during the past two decades. In 1991 alone, a major marketing firm announced it would move 800 white-collar jobs from Dayton to its headquarters in Minneapolis; a national airline announced the closing of its hub at the Dayton International Airport; and a major regional retailer severely scaled down its downtown anchor. Those changes add to the ominous uncertainties attached to the hostile takeover of Fortune 500 company NCR (founded and headquartered in Dayton) by AT&T and declining defense contracts at Wright Patterson Air Force Base (which employs more than 25,000 civilians, largely in white-collar and technical jobs).

Dayton's economic decline is not unusual--similar events have been standard fare in most manufacturing towns since the 1960s. To preserve Dayton's position as the "heart" of the sprawling metropolitan area, more and more public officials are advocating a city-county merger. "Dayton deserves to survive as a nice place to live," Max Jennings, editor of the Dayton Daily News, maintains, "and its citizens deserve as much." Since the leadership days of the city are over, merging it with the county is seen as the way to revitalize the core of the region by tapping county-wide resources (money) and reaping economies of scale by providing public services through a larger, more encompassing government.

Dayton and its satellite communities are riding the wave of a new era of regionalism in local government. Unable to revitalize their once-vibrant central business districts, cities across the nation are turning to an old standby as the new panacea for their development woes: regional governance.

Under the banners of "regional cooperation" and "regional development," local governments are banding together to plan the future of their metropolitan areas. Fragmentation and decentralization there, regionalists argue, are compromising the ability of cities to compete successfully in an increasingly competitive global environment. Only by pulling together through cooperative arrangements and, in some cases, consolidating local governments can metropolitan areas solve pressing urban problems such as poverty, affordable housing, education, and job creation.

The new proposals move far beyond the more limited special districts designed to provide a specific public service--such as parks and recreation--over a wide geographic area. The governance proposals that form the core of the new wave of regionalism are comprehensive. Most involve consolidating economic development functions under a unified government whose authority supersedes that of independent municipalities and the private sector. Proponents of consolidation argue that providing public services and coordinating programs through a government monopoly will be efficient than allowing dozens, sometimes hundreds, of smaller governments to compete against each other. The trend toward regional government, however, is likely to exacerbate the problems it is intended to solve. Although there are legitimate concerns about lack of cooperation among local governments, particularly on large public projects such as road and sewer systems, a more consolidated structure probably would decrease the ability of local governments to provide public goods efficiently and cost-effectively. Attempts to consolidate governmental authority imply that public goods and services are handled best by a single comprehensive organization. Experiences with regional attempts to solve local problems have confirmed the worst fears of opponents about the excesses of monopoly government. Moreover, the private sector, with its more innovative and flexible alternatives, often has been more efficient than larger, bureaucratically controlled local governments.

The solution is more likely to be found in a competitive, decentralized governmental system. Instead of undermining the diverse interests that make up metropolitan America, urban policy should free political markets to ensure that the desires of local residents are expressed fully in the policy-making process and the private sector is given the widest possible latitude to provide needed goods and services. Public services often are provided more effectively and efficiently through privatization, which allows outside companies to develop innovative new services and products that reflect the changing needs and wants of local consumers. That goal can be reached only by avoiding a consolidated, monopoly regional government system that depends on one organization to provide all public goods. A decentralized, fragmented political system that is competitive and responsive can achieve that goal.

City-county mergers once again are coming to the forefront of the debate over local governance. When officials venture into the competitive business world to attract new industry and employment, merger proponents argue, they sell the city, not the smaller satellite communities buried within the larger metropolitan area. Creation of a regional identity requires that communities band together to coordinate and plan future development and services.

To date, 30 US. cities have merged with their county governments; the last of those mergers occurred in the 1970s. They have included cities as large as Indianapolis, Lexington, Ky., and Nashville, and as small as Baton Rouge and Sitka, Alaska. Other cities cite the lack of local leadership, economic disasters, and fiscal inequality within metropolitan areas as reasons for consolidating or merging local governments.

Regional governance has become an important part of modem planners' vision for the future. Indeed, people who write about it rarely question the efficacy of consolidation; they take at face value the purported efficiencies of unified, monopolistic local government. Stephen C. Forman, former executive director of the Seattle Municipal League, contends that local policy-makers and citizens do not lack the ability to resolve difficulties regionally. Rather, they are not yet prepared to solve their problems with a truly regional focus that implies giving up the "religion of local control," accepting a more encompassing sense of home (presumably a geographically larger urban area), and becoming less relentless in the pursuit of their fair share. Local communities lack only the will to implement regionalism to solve myriad problems, he contends.

The call for a larger, monopoly government on the local level is a product of the changing economics and politics of urban America. US. population has become increasingly urbanized, although less concentrated in central cities. The number of central cities with more than 50,000 people and metropolitan areas of at least 100,000 has increased by two-thirds since the early 1960s. The proportion of the nation's population in metropolitan areas grew from 63% in 1962 to 77% in 1990.

Growth has occurred primarily outside the central cities. Although suburbanization always has existed, the post-World War II movement dwarfed all other urban demographic shifts. The promise of a single-family detached home on a quarter-acre lot became a reality for millions, pushing the proportion of households that owned their own homes to almost 64% by the late 1980s. The search for less congestion, fewer people, and "good" schools further fueled the suburban immigration. Prompted by Federal subsidies for new home buyers (available through the Federal Housing Authority, the Farmers Home Administration, and several home mortgage guarantee associations), government policies reduced interest rates and lowered down payment requirements from 30% to less than 10% on new home purchases. The effect was to boost the proportion of suburban dwellers in America from 30% in the mid 1960s to 45% in the 1980s.

The implications for the central city were staggering. In a survey of the fiscal health of central cities, economist Roy Bahl found that most have experienced a steady erosion of their economic base over the past several decades. Even those in the South and West such as New Orleans and Denver began to experience job losses by the mid 1980s, despite the economic growth of the larger metropolitan areas.

Ironically, central cities provided the economic vitality that enabled thousands of residents to abandon their inner-city neighborhoods every year. Now, with high-technology firms leading the growth in metropolitan areas, the survival of central cities may depend on the economic vitality of the suburbs. Boston's resurgence may have more to do with the success of companies such as Lotus and Data General on the outer beltway (Route 128 and I-495) than with its ability to harbor and nurture companies inside the city limits.

The emergence of edge cities

In Edge City: Life on the New Frontier, author Joel Garreau argues that the emerging economic centers, or edge cities, are providing the foundations for downtown revitalization and are the source of jobs and wealth in the 1980s and 1990s. Without those emerging bastions of vitality and employment, "the plight of old downtowns would have been immeasurably worse." Garreau cites more than 200 edge cities dotting the urban landscape, fueling economic growth, and saving traditional central cities.

Los Angeles provides a striking example of how important they have become in recent years. Although Los Angeles is the central urban core of its region, 16 smaller urban-village cores have emerged. Since 1960, Los Angeles' share of the metropolitan area's office market has declined from 60 to 34% as most of the new office space has been built in outlying suburban areas. Orange County's population, which blossomed from fewer than 900,000 in 1960 to almost 2,500,000 by 1990, is concentrated in the Costa Mesa / Irvine / Newport Beach urban village. New jobs and office space have made that urban village the third largest downtown in California.

Edge cities have become centers for employment in services and modern manufacturing in the second half of the 20th century. Traditionally, central cities served as the primary home for America's manufacturing industry, but their fate has paralleled the decline of old-line firms. The pillars of the manufacturing industry--the automobile, steel, rubber, textile, and other traditional sectors--lost their prominence. In their place emerged a newer, more entrepreneurial sector--high-technology manufacturing.

Many high-tech manufacturing firms are looking for different things when they relocate--access to higher education, a well-trained workforce, better public schools, and more land for developing large single-story factories. In many cases, those companies can be run from virtually anywhere, including a small town: IBM's headquarters is located in Armonk, N.Y.; General Electric in Fairfield, Conn.; and AT&T in Warren, N.J. Although the towns themselves may be small, the high-tech firms have provided the economic foundation for sprawling development such as Tysons Corner, outside Washington, D.C., in northern Virginia.

The result is that fewer and fewer jobs are available in America's central cities for the less educated and low-skilled members of society. The numbers of factory jobs, once common in central cities, are declining there, but growing in the suburbs.

The migration of firms was aided by the development of the interstate highway system. Originally designed as part of an elaborate national defense transportation system, these highways have become the primary arteries for economic development. By restricting access to major thoroughfares, the Federal government inadvertently made suburban development cost-effective. "Edge cities," notes Garreau, "are most frequently located where beltway-like bypasses around an old downtown are crossed at right angles by freeways that lead out from the older center like spokes on a wheel." Ease of access is one of the most important defining characteristics of emerging economic centers.

The growth of edge and ring cities and urban villages has backed central cities into corners of the metropolitan regions they used to dominate. Rather than centers for manufacturing jobs, they are becoming service and administrative hubs for the entire metropolitan area. In earlier generations, central cities played a leadership role because of their sheer size and dominance of their immediate areas. In modern times, their dominance is due to the economic functions they perform and their ability to provide services (e.g, administration, centralized banking, and regionally focused consulting) to outlying areas. If they fail to fill those roles, central cities will continue to decline.

Suburban cities have vacant land, low population densities, relatively new roads, and a property tax base (mainly expensive homes) capable of financing quality public schools. Central cities, on the other hand, grapple with abandoned buildings, rising crime rates, pollution, and aging infrastructure. traditional cities hardly can be expected to compete successfully for new business given those inequities.

Several forms of regional cooperation have been devised to redress inequities in the tax base and the provision of public services within the metropolitan area by strengthening the hand of central cities. One of the simplest and earliest attempts was made in Miami, which created a consolidated city-county government in 1957. Its authority has increased dramatically as local governments have continued to transfer responsibilities to the area-wide government. Other major cities and counties that have effected city-county consolidations include Nashville-Davidson County, Tenn., and Indianapolis-Marion County, Ind. In the latter case, the effect of consolidation was to strengthen and centralize administrative and budgetary authority, particularly over the increasingly important issues of economic development.

Some areas have taken a less dramatic, but equally comprehensive, approach. The Twin Cities Metropolitan Council was established in Minneapolis-St. Paul in 1967. The regional council enjoys policy control over area-wide special districts, housing, school districting, and development guidelines. In 1971, the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council adopted regional tax-base sharing to offset the "imbalance between public service needs and financial resources in certain communities." The concentration of industrial and commercial property in some areas, proponents argued, impedes investment in other communities with smaller tax bases (and higher local rates). Communities with smaller bases, despite their higher tax rates, were not financially able to provide the same level of services as those with larger bases. Tax-base sharing, in principle, would lessen the fiscal inequities within the metropolitan area. In addition, competition for business development through tax incentive programs promoted urban sprawl, straining local infrastructure in the region. Although tax-base sharing was meant to address fiscal problems, one of its primary advantages, according to the program's proponents, was its ability to enhance planning objectives by directing development to declining areas and promoting "orderly" growth.

The empirical record has been substantially less impressive than proponents of consolidation had expected. For example, the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council, which includes seven counties and 250 local governments, has had marginal impacts on land-use planning. In fact, the only substantial effect of the tax-base-sharing plan apparently has been to redistribute property tax revenues within the seven-county planning area (although the direction of the transfers is not always clear or desirable).

After brief disillusionment with and disinterest in consolidation in the late 1970s and early 1980s, proposals for metropolitan-area-wide approaches to urban issues have emerged once again to save the metropolis from anarchy and chaos. Hybrid forms of inter-community partnerships have been created to deal with regional issues and problems. When the Fort Drum military base was upgraded in Watertown, N.Y., three counties combined forces to address concerns about land-use regulation, social service coordination, and infrastructure development. The Greater Cleveland Growth Association has pulled together businesses in the Cuyahoga County area to generate $500,000,000 to address county-wide sewer and water issues and other public works management situations.

Although many cooperative arrangements are packaged in less ambitious in language--cooperation is used instead of consolidation--most advocates are pushing for more centrally directed regional and urban policy. Proponents of consolidation point to several expected advantages of eliminating fragmented local government. First, consolidation would reduce exploitation of the central city by suburban areas. Indeed, the experiences of the Minneapolis-St. Paul program and other region-wide tax-base-sharing plans suggest that tax revenue redistribution to the central city is an achievable goal (although the patterns of redistribution are difficult to predict and some well-off communities may benefit along with poorer ones). Most studies analyzing the problem conclude that suburbanites pay their share of the costs of city services through taxes and user fees. In some cities, more than half of municipal revenues comes from sales and income taxes paid, in large part, by suburban residents who work and shop in the central core.

A second advantage claimed for centrally directed regional governments is their ability to economize by pulling a number of diverse agencies and districts under one administrative roof. In a larger geographic region, public investments in water, sewers, roads, utilities, and other activities would be coordinated better. With more efficient organization and a broader planning area, a metropolitan-area-wide government could exploit scale economies in the provision of public services, so it could produce them at a lower cost.

However, the costs associated with the public sector are likely to soar if a more consolidated local government structure is implemented. The reasons are fairly straightforward and follow directly from a realistic assessment of the way government actually operates. When bureaucrats and politicians are removed from close, day-to-day contact with citizens, the incentive to spend increases and the stimulus to reduce costs decreases.

Thus, at the heart of the debate over regional government and efficiency is the controversy over political accountability. In democratic societies, taxpayers pass judgment on their elected officials through the ballot box. The further elected representatives are from voters, the less likely they are to be held accountable through the political process. In the end, elected officials and bureaucrats charged with carrying out government policies pursue personal interests, rather than the publics. Numerous studies have demonstrated that consolidated local governments spend more money and tax their citizens at higher levels than do cities that have remained in decentralized regional government structures.

A major goal of regional coordination and consolidation is the equalization of tax rates and public spending levels among local governments in metropolitan areas. The evidence suggests that such equalization is an achievable goal. Yet, fiscal equality may obscure differences in tax and spending policies that reflect the interests and desires of local residents. Muddling those differences further will reduce incentives for policy-makers to experiment with various programs and policies that might stimulate economic development.

At the heart of the issue is a significant misunderstanding of economic markets and the nature of economic development. The migration of businesses and people to the suburbs since the 1960s has reflected increased abilities of households to find residential locations that satisfy their tastes and preferences.

If the consolidation of local governments or the creation of another tier of regional government is not the answer, what is? Even if a metropolitan-area-wide form of government may be efficient in allowing diverse interests to be expressed through the political process, central cities face seemingly intractable problems. In fact, many public-sector failures--the inability to provide effective mass transportation systems, reduce crime rates, provide low-income housing, and/or stimulate economic development--are exacerbated by current and past attempts to solve problems through centralization and consolidation.

Movement toward a more fragmented system is occurring in cities as diverse as New York and Chicago as the result of policies that are designed to "empower" neighborhoods and local residents. The political and economic market adjustments that have occurred in inner cities and metropolitan areas have strengthened the hand of decentralists. Experiences to date provide important lessons for redesigning local government to enhance its ability to respond to local needs and desires.

Urban transportation. One of the most dramatic examples of how a contemporary social problem can be handled through the private market and decentralization comes from mass transportation. Although it commonly is considered the sole province of governments, private companies increasingly are challenging the authority and appropriateness of publicly financed transportation networks.

Mass transportation on the local level typically entails the use of fixed-route buses that carry passengers from their suburban homes to jobs in the central business district. Those radial bus routes are a holdover from the days when private carriers were purchased by local governments in the 1950s and 1960s. The emergence of integrated metropolitan areas significantly has undermined the notion of an economic region that revolves around a single central city. The growth of edge cities, urban villages, and ring cities has eroded the need for radial mass transportation routes.

Publicly financed and provided bus services have been slow to adjust to suburban growth. Modern metropolitan workers require promptness and flexibility, even to the point of being picked up at their front doors or within a few blocks of their homes. Modern mass transportation also must be able to adjust to the changing demographic and development patterns of the metropolis to ensure adequate service levels. An important point to note is that transit riders tend to be twice as responsive to changes in service quality as they are to price.

In spite of the needs and desires of potential passengers, public transportation companies have been content to pump billions of dollars into existing routes and large inefficient buses, and ridership has declined. The result has been the emergence of more and more private companies willing to offer extralegal transportation services that cater to the individual desires of commuters. Numerous private companies have arisen in congested metropolitan areas to provide jitney bus or minivan services to transport workers to their jobs.

Law and order

Crime and community-based policing. Trends in law enforcement also point to a more decentralized, consumer-based approach to providing services. Unlike public transportation, which has been able to lumber along inefficiently with heavy government subsidies, law enforcement is under the close scrutiny of local residents who consider effective enforcement a necessity. The breakdown of law and order undermines the cooperative behavior that is essential to the survival of economies.

Crime is largely an urban dilemma. Even small cities (those with populations of less than 50,000) reported higher crime rates than rural areas. The urban character of crime most dramatically is illustrated by the high-profile war on drugs. The anti-drug effort is largely an urban-centered strategy, focusing on drug traffickers and users in central cities. A survey of local jails released by the US. Department of Justice found that drug offenders were the fastest growing segment of the inmate population. In many cities, more than 50% of the murders are drug related, the result of turf wars and contract disputes in an underground economy that generates billions of dollars every year for those willing to assume the personal risks of injury and arrest.

To combat the rising tide of criminal activity, local law enforcement agencies are adopting a "back-to-the-neighborhood" approach. Instead of centralizing the administration of law enforcement, big city police departments are pursuing street-level action, encouraging individual officers to become more visible in the community and literally walk a beat.

Conventional police procedures call for incident-oriented policing under which officers respond to particular calls. Effectiveness is determined by response time, the number of calls handled per officer, how many cops are used per call, utilizing sophisticated investigative techniques, etc. That approach fits with the conventional hierarchical and centralized organization of police departments. It also fails to curtail crime significantly.

Sociologists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling point out that one of the problems with this approach is its tendency to remove police from the neighborhoods they are assigned to protect. The personal involvement of police in neighborhoods is important for offsetting the perception that vagrants, gangs, and crime-prone youth rule the streets. Neighborhood-based policing has become more and more prevalent as a general strategy for combating crime in several major cities, including Los Angeles, Houston, and New York.

The best response to crime is not to dump more money into law enforcement, but to restructure the way police work is done. Increasingly, policy analysts are concluding that what is needed is a decentralized approach that emphasizes an in-depth knowledge of the community and its problems. Solving problems from within requires a strategy based on developing the resources of residents and neighborhoods.

Neighborhood revitalization. Another example of how a fragmented, more private-sector-oriented approach to public policy problems is yielding substantial benefits is found in America's inner cities. The migration of the middle class and blue-collar employment in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s contributed to the erosion of the central cities' property tax bases. Housing abandonment and conversion to commercial or middle-income residential uses significantly have reduced the number of low-income housing units in American cities. Many interventionists point to the "retreat" of the Federal government from funding low-income housing as the primary cause of homelessness and the apparent shortage of low-income housing.

Yet, increasing evidence points to local development policies, often implemented as a result of region-wide growth controls, as a principal cause of the decline in the U.S.'s low-income housing stock. Zoning, building codes, laws favoring tenants over landlords, and rent control conspire to destroy hundreds of thousands of rental units every year. Building codes alone can place substantial burdens on developers and potential owners and renters through delays, biases against more efficient technology, and the subversion of the codes to special interests.

As cities continue to erect costly and complex obstacles to new housing development, thereby reducing the supply of existing homes as they depreciate, poor and inner-city areas are forced to depend on their own resources. Neighborhood development organizations (NDOs) have sprouted up in city after city to attempt limited, localized solutions to community development problems. Many of those organizations are led by 1960s radicals and community activists. The NDO sector is a growth industry" of sorts in central cities. Data on existing programs suggest that between 2,000 and 5,000 groups throughout the country generate as much as $1,000-000,000 annually. Although some of the NDOs are big--one raised approximately $100,000,000 for neighborhood-based development--most are small and have decentralized organizational structures.

Some of the nonprofit housing corporations have experienced remarkable success. One of the most widely heralded ventures is Jeff-Vander-Lou, Inc., in St. Louis. After failing to attract attention and support from the Federal government in the late 1960s, its organizers began raising money privately. By the 1990s, the nonprofit organization had 70 full-time employees and had renovated almost 900 housing units. In addition to housing, it has funded day-care centers, a senior citizens' complex, and a meal program and kitchen capable of feeding 1,500 neighborhood residents who are sick, elderly, or disabled.

In the public housing arena also, the response to resident issues typically has come from within. In Washington, D.C., the Kenilworth Courts housing project consists of 464 units that house 3,000 low-income residents. In 1982, residents formed a corporation to take over the management of the project. The result was a 60% decrease in administrative costs paralleled by a 60% increase in rental receipts. Welfare dependency was reduced by half, and crime declined by nearly 75%.

In both of those cases, the key to improving low-income housing has been decentralization of authority and responsibility. In the first case, a nonprofit housing corporation took the lead in renovating abandoned homes. In the second case, local management was able to reverse the economic and social decline of residents of an existing building when the larger, centrally directed housing authority could not make significant headway. Small organizations, with close ties to the neighborhoods they work in, are able to provide the services residents need and desire. Centralized authority and responsibility for low-income housing are likely to undermine the processes that make NDOs effective.

Decentralization and fragmentation

Now, more than at any other time in history, a decentralized and fragmented metropolitan government structure is functional and effective. The ability to "vote with your feet" has placed important, and sometimes severe, constraints on local governments and their abilities arbitrarily to expand services and raise revenues. Instead of viewing a fragmented structure as an impediment, policy-makers should view it as a system that effectively protects the diverse interests of the community. Studies suggest local governments that distance constituents from policy-making, reduce the number of governments, or consolidate responsibilities into higher tiers of government are inefficient and may undermine the political responsiveness that is essential for democratic governance.

Several policy recommendations follow from the preceding analysis. First, cooperative agreements should be pursued by local governments when the situation requires a joint solution. Local governments should be permitted and encouraged to enter into similar agreements with other organizations--private or public--to avoid internalizing new services. For example, cities that want to extend sewer and water systems to currently undeveloped areas could enter into contracts with neighboring municipalities, agreeing to share the returns on development. The contracts would specify the services to be rendered (sewer and water) and the timetable for payment for them (tax revenue rebates). Unlike a consolidated government structure, which is likely to be dominated by questions of redistribution, a voluntary agreement among governments implies that all parties have a vested interest in the completion of the project. Thus, the cities would have an incentive to monitor each other to enforce the contract. When services are internalized, that type of accountability is missing, and bureaucratic waste and mismanagement often result.

Second, local governments should continue efforts to privatize public services and functions, either by contracting out or allowing private firms completely to replace the public sector. The private sector better is able to adapt to the changing demands of consumers by identifying real economies of scale and acting quickly to make market adjustments. Democratic governments are intentionally cumbersome and dominated by bureaucratic decision-making processes.

Some cities, such as La Mirada, Calif., have become contract cities that buy and sell services from the private sector or other levels of government. Those cities have few public employees, but still offer a wide range of services to their citizens and adapt quickly to changing fiscal conditions. La Mirada, for example, has a population of 41,000 and a full-time city staff of 59, whereas the similarly sized city of La Habra, Calif., has almost 300 employees.

Contract cities also have the ability to drop contractors who perform poorly in order to improve city services, an option unavailable to those that rely on public-sector monopolies. Contract cities acknowledge that the private sector is capable of providing many public services efficiently and competently, particularly under systems of competitive bidding. The key to providing those services is allowing separate organizations to generate an array of products through markets that extend beyond the politically determined geographic boundaries of cities. Competitive private firms offering products such as mass transportation are more capable of responding to consumers than is one monopoly provider.

The profit and loss system forces private markets to respond to the changing needs of consumers. When services become outdated and obsolete, governments tend to perpetuate inefficiencies and avoid taking the steps necessary for revitalization. The private sector is forced to respond or risk going out of business.

Third, local governments should be strengthened vis-a-vis higher levels of government. They should be allowed to enter into contracts and avoid unwanted consolidations or annexations. That implies that governmental responsibilities should be decentralized even further than they currently are in many states and metropolitan areas. In some cases, decentralization may require moving power from the legislature to the local level by strengthening home rule provisions of state constitutions. Doing so further would enhance the competitive nature of metropolitan government and allow full expression of the diverse interests of residents. Reducing the number of governments by allowing regional monopolies to emerge simply will weaken local governments and allow public bureaucracies to strengthen their hold on the policy-making apparatus.

Finally, local government consolidations should be discouraged because they are likely to destroy the competitive political foundation on which democratic societies depend. Representation can not be secured by reducing citizens' and voters' opportunities to participate. Local government policy-makers should concentrate on strengthening the competitive political process to ensure that local institutions protect community and neighborhood interests.

An important step is to acknowledge that there may not be a single, most efficient way of producing public goods and services. Consolidating functions within regional bodies presumes that a unitary government is most capable of providing an entire range of services and products. The reality of modern metropolitan America is that the diverse communities that ring central cities harbor residents who have varying interests and preferences in public services. Their provision best is left to private markets that are free to provide services over market areas determined by consumer preferences, rather than within politically determined geographic boundaries.

The urban and community development problems of modern cities will not be solved by extending the authority of monopoly governments. On the contrary, the interests of the community are likely to be served better by enhancing the authority and responsibilities of a decentralized, fragmented governmental system.
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Author:Staley, Sam
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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