Megaregions and Megaproblems

As America's metropolitan areas meld into "megaregions", officials and policymakers will need to figure out how to deal with their shared and growing infrastructure problems. Consider the ball rolling.

The growing population of America is creating major metropolitan regions that can span state lines and encompass tens of millions of people. These emerging regions are projected to continue to grow, and as they do, their infrastructure is expected to struggle to keep up with the pace of expansion. In areas like transportation, energy and water, how these regions meet the needs of the near future is a question nobody quite knows how to answer.

What's needed is a "third century vision", says Mark Pisano, West Coast Director of America 2050, an effort to develop a nationwide infrastructure strategy. The group has been holding collaborative conferences with policymakers in each of the 11 "megaregions" forming in the U.S. to try to jumpstart regional thinking and cooperation . Due to their cross-border nature, these megaregions are seen by the group as stepping stones towards development of a national policy on infrastructure.


The emerging megaregions of the U.S., according to America 2050.

And while crumbling infrastructure is not necessarily a new problem for cities, continued growth will create a greater reliance on these interconnecting systems. Traffic congestion does not stop at city borders, nor do depleted water sources. Energy transmission lines may not be up to the task of fulfilling the needs of larger populations, and may not even reach some newer areas.

"Each of these systems is under environmental stress. Each of these systems is increasingly unreliable as we move to the future," said John Kirlin, Executive Director of the State of California's Delta Vision Foundation at a recent America 2050 forum on devising infrastructure strategies for the "Southwest Megaregion." Kirlin was part of a panel focusing on the three key infrastructure areas: transportation, energy and water.

Beyond the specifics of what's not working in each region, the overarching problem many at the forum saw is the lack of clear national leadership.

"Megaregions don't have representation in congress," argued Polly Trottenberg, executive director of Building America's Future, a bi-partisan coalition of elected officials working for greater investment in infrastructure. Officials need to start recognizing the cross-jurisdictional issues that affect them as a region, according to Trottenberg, who was recently nominated as assistant secretary for policy at the federal Department of Transportation. "We're not institutionally prepared to do it yet," said Kirlin.

Key among these issues is water.

"Water is without a home in the federal policy structure. There's a Department of Transportation, a Department of Energy. Is there a Department of Water? No," said Timothy F. Brick, Chairman of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Brick argued that many of the decisions about water and water policy happen at a very local level. But many of those local areas receive their water from far-off places, especially in the arid Southwest. With water being transported from Northern to Southern California, oversubscription to supplies from the Colorado River, and plans to build a North-South water pipeline to feed Las Vegas, the problem of water is one already steeped in cross-jurisdictional politics. But generating funding for projects that are built in specific cities or areas but which have cross-state benefits and implications is not an easy prospect.

"We have all kinds of things where if we had the money we'd spend it tomorrow," said Nevada State Assemblyman Tick Segerblom. Convincing Northern Nevada to invest in a water pipeline serving Las Vegas has been a challenge, however, so the money just isn't there.

The idea behind America 2050 is that places within these megaregions already rely on each other, and unless they start acting -- and investing -- like it, the fall of one place could likely result in the fall of many others. As the group pulls together the ideas and advice of officials and policymakers from these 11 megaregions, they hope to plot out a way to argue that case – a move many hope will spark a more unified approach for addressing the infrastructural needs of America.

Comments

Comments

Mega-regions and water demand, old visions, multiple strategies

Kathleen Van Velsor:

Thank you, Nate, for helping to make the link between water, other infrastructure and inter-regional planning opportunities. The San Francisco Bay region is now described by state planners as the largest importer of water in the state and as such needs to begin an essential and extended conversation with the residents, land and water care agencies, businesses and legislators for those areas where our water originates. Many of these areas are keenly interested in not only protecting their water supplies for current and future urban and rural water needs, but in restoring watersheds. Since our region shares many of these same concerns about its own watersheds, it would appear that such a program of dialogue is possible. To do anything less is to invite conflict like that which is occurring along the Mokelumne River and in the greater Bay/Delta.

During the last Brown administration, there was a vision for such a east/west, north/south dialogue. This was a very different approach from the current State Water Plan emphasis. Let's see if we can revive it, along with another older vision (Office of Appropriate Technology) for a time when California would not, for example, use vast quantities of fresh water to process human and industrial waste, only to create nightmarish pollution conditions in our coastal environment.

And aren't we lucky to have one of the best think tanks on these topics right here in the Bay Area -- the Pacific Institute -- where multiple strategies for water sustainability are explored. Aren't we lucky too to have the opportunity to implement Sustainable Community Strategies (SB 375 - Steinberg, et al.) with its embedded concept of plan and program integration (although it's oddly silent on planning for water resources management to prevent sprawl).

I understand that a federal agency for water resource management is strangely missing and that with its creation we could achieve some important objectives. But Californians have creative capabilities in this arena, even in this difficult economic climate. So what, one might reasonably ask, are we waiting for?

The Florida Mega-Region needs southeast Florida cohesion

There is a missing prerequisite if America 2050's effort to jumpstart planning at the mega-region level is to be successful in the Florida Megaregion. That missing piece is a framework for logical regional coordination in Southeast Florida. While successful multi-region visioning efforts have occurred everywhere else throughout the state, the seven county area containing Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and over 100 other cities from Key West north to Vero Beach flounders in the quagmire of dysfunctional - or at best, incongruent - regional agencies.

The transportation and water infrastructure issues in Southeast Florida are tremendous. The failure of leadership to secure the future of Tri-Rail is the most recent example of how parochial decision making continues to thwart progress of the region as a whole.

Many elected officials, professional staff members, and citizen activists understand the importance of overcoming the fractured nature of Southeast Florida's governance. The goal will continue to be unattainable, however, until a far larger portion of the general public gets behind "regional solutions" like they do "green initiatives".

One year ago, this area joined the nation in the fervor for "change". Long term change starts with vision. In southeast Florida, that vision will be developed for the first time by a generation that was, in large part, born and raised here. We need to ask ourselves "What were 'the 60s' like for our parents and grandparents? What do we want 'the 60s' to be like for our children and grandchildren?"

If we in southeast Florida want a future that is economically secure, sustained with the resources we need to live, and accessible via multiple transportation choices, then "the region" needs to be the new buzz word in each of our homes.

Keven R. Klopp, AICP
from Southeast Florida

Southeast Florida 2060

I found Kevin's link very

I found Kevin's link very helpful. I feel like the author brought up a really important idea about reciprocity: if we don't start working together we are going to be worse off ten, twenty, thirty years down the road. I really wish that community planners would have taken water into consideration before allowing said 'megaregions' to exist.

Here's another link I found useful:http://www.cuesfau.org/publications/SEFL2060/goldenrule.com

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