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Metros Seek Balance Between Fragmentation and Amalgamation

As the world's cities grow ever larger, local governments constantly ask themselves which is better: amalgamating into one metro-wide government, or maintaining autonomy among fragmented jurisdictions? The answer remains unclear.
May 14, 2015, 11am PDT | Josh Stephens | @jrstephens310
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The typical metro area is not one city but rather many cities, sitting cheek-by-jowl and jostling for funding, residents, business activity, power, and prestige. Some metros, like Toronto and Indianapolis, decided that this situation is untenable, with localities trading some of their autonomy for membership in a region-wide government. Others, including most cities in the United States, maintain dozens, or even hundreds, of independent jurisdictions within areas that otherwise function as single cities. The Greater London Authority is an example of a region that tries to strike a balance. 

The pros and cons are endless, with none clearly outweighing the other. Fragmentation can lead to segregation and unhealthy competition between smaller cities. Consolidation can mean that one interest group can dominate an entire region, for better or worse. In the developing world, cities are growing so large that urbanized areas are running roughshod over existing boundaries. A World Bank report indicates that 135 of 350 urban regions surveyed in East Asia have no dominant city. 

"'Often, administrative boundaries between municipalities are based on centuries-old borders that do not correspond to contemporary patterns of human settlement and economic activity,'" the OECD observed in a recent report. The thinktank argued that governance structures failed to reflect modern realities of metropolitan life into account.

"Fragmentation affects a whole range of things, including the economy. The OECD estimates that for regions of equal population, doubling the number of governments reduces productivity by 6%. It recommends reducing this effect with a regional coordinating body, which can also reduce sprawl, increase public transport satisfaction (by 14 percentage points, apparently) and improve air quality."

"Among those who stand to lose from regional government are minorities. In Ferguson, black residents were already under-represented in government relative to their population. But as a voting block they would find their strength heavily diluted in a merged government: Ferguson is more than two-thirds African-American, while St Louis County plus the city of St Louis together are about 70% white."

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Published on Thursday, April 23, 2015 in The Guardian
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