The Limits of Metropolitan Planning Organizations

By: KAID BENFIELD, The Atlantic Cities

There are a few examples of good regional cooperation around the country. Portland, Oregon, has the nation’s only directly elected regional government, Metro, with legal authority over regional land use, transportation, and other specified issues in three counties and 25 cities. The region’s success in containing sprawl, preserving forests and farmland, redevelopment, and efficient transportation is renowned, in part because of the regional authority. But Metro’s jurisdiction does not extend to those parts of the Portland region across the Columbia River in Washington, which lag behind their Oregon neighbors in addressing these issues.

Taking another approach, the seven counties that compose Minnesota’s Twin Cities region share tax revenues. Forty percent of each county’s property tax is redistributed within the region based on population. This tends to reduce somewhat the fiscal disparities among jurisdictions and dampen intra-region competition for businesses and development. The region’s Metropolitan Council is a bit of a hybrid, with more limited powers than Portland’s Metro but more influence than most MPOs over issues such as wastewater, parks, transit and, through grantmaking, revitalization and economic development.

Perhaps the new frontier for regionalism in the US is being presented by California’s innovative planning law to reduce pollution of greenhouse gases, SB 375. That law relies primarily on metropolitan regions for its implementation, empowering MPOs to exercise greater influence over regional land use and transportation investment through Sustainable Communities Strategies required from each to meet state-imposed emissions reductions targets. It also provides significant economic and regulatory incentives to assist compliance.  SB 375 is now beginning to produce some very promising regional plans.

Continue reading: The Limits of Metropolitan Planning Organizations