Strength in numbers

My latest op-ed appeared in The Virginian-Pilot Thursday. Tuesday’s presentation on the State of the Region gave me an opportunity to write about a couple of things that I think are important.

First, I’ve noticed economic terms being thrown around that a lot of folks seem to not understand. There is this presumption, for example, that everyone knows what “median household income” means. My conversations tell me that many don’t – and incorrectly assume it means average. So I took the opportunity to explain what it meant. I hope to do that with other such terms in future columns.

Second, there is this whole idea of Hampton Roads being a region – and what’s standing in our way. Someone told me that 50% of our local population turns over every 5 years. Even if that’s not quite true, I know there are a whole lot of folks who don’t understand why this area just can’t be one region, all working together. Bluntly, it’s a lack of leadership. Everyone wants their own little fiefdom.

And, of course, we’ve got people still upset about the creation of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, an event that took place nearly 50 years ago.

One thing is certain: the fiefdoms won’t matter if defense dollars are cut. Neither will it matter that Norfolk and Portsmouth are land-locked since that night-time session of the legislature created Virginia Beach and Chesapeakin 1963 if the defense cuts come. We are all going to be hurting.

It would just make sense for the localities of Hampton Roads to work together. The buzzword a few years ago was “synergy,” meaning the sum is greater than its parts. Hampton Roads needs synergy – and soon.

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3 thoughts on “Strength in numbers

  1. All this is, indeed, true. Our city fathers and mothers very seldom take a regional approach. I think it was Wednesday there was an article in the paper about an organization, AECOM moving its regional headquarters to Norfolk. While from a parochial standpoint, I am happy, this has no value for the region. The jobs don’t appear to be new jobs, the jobholders are not going to move to Norfolk, particularly in the current climate. We need to stop trying to move jobs from VaBeach to Norfolk, or Chesapeake to Portsmouth, or Suffolk to Newport News. We need to find a way to compete with Charlotte, Atlanta, DC, London, and Tokoyo.

    Leadership Hampton Roads (will never use “Lead” as it is called now), the sponsor of the State of the Region, has tried for over 22 years to take the regional perspective and grow it. It is a grass roots mentality, if the people think regionally, ultimately – at least we hope – the leaders will do so. Just call me Pollyanna.

  2. Our local leaders don’t act regionally because there’s no real thrust to do so. The only group actually pushing regional policy writing is Future of Hampton Roads (FHR), and theirs is a fundamentally undemocratic regionalism: consolidating services from the cities under an unelected regional metro council.

    In 2004, at the time of the state-sponsored consolidation talks between Norfolk and Portsmouth, I wrote the resolution overwhelmingly passed by the Council of Civic Organizations (i.e. Virginia Beach’s civic league federation) urging the Beach to enter the five-way talks that Paul Fraim wanted among the Southside cities towards consolidation. There are vast benefits in such a five city consolidation for the average resident, provided that it is done in a good manner. (You could also produce a nightmare.) Paramount is including a Residents Bill of Rights in the agreement. As the cities grow more homogenous, the reasons for keeping them separate will melt. (They’d end up making as much sense side-by-side as two democratic Germanys in 1989.)

    The missing component is a grassroots pro-consolidation organization. It would push for a democratic consolidation from the bottom: holding teach-ins on the issue, endorsing City Council candidates (who are consolidation-friendly), sponsoring or cosponsoring candidate forums (to get Council candidates publicly on the record on such issues), etc. Eventually it could (should?) have a petition drive to force consolidation talks. Virginia law gives it up to one year to gather the signatures of 15% of the registered voters in each locality involved to petition the circuit courts to order such talks. Obviously you’d want a buildup of years of efforts, and the recruitment of a large volunteer army, before taking the petition drive leap.

    Many residents don’t demand regionalism because either they don’t understand the possibilities or they believe it’s a pie-in-the-sky fantasy. They need to be taught it isn’t, and letting FHR’s undemocratic vision define the issue in the interim is a huge disservice.

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