Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Live from Solutions for Sustainable Communities: Town Hall Plenary Recap

by Laura Williams, Center for Housing Policy
The National Capital Region, including the District of Columbia and surrounding counties, is a dynamic region where local governments understand the importance of collaboration. At the Town Hall Plenary local officials from the District of Columbia, Prince George’s County, Md., Alexandria, Va., Fairfax County, Va., and Arlington County, Va., discussed the challenges and opportunities in developing sustainable and inclusive communities for the entire region.

All of the leaders agreed that now, in particular, is a time to continue investing in the region, despite financial set-backs; it just requires more creativity. Lost funds can be made up for to some extent with greater cooperation and by leveraging each others’ resources. Local nonprofit organizations, business groups and advocacy groups can also be essential partners when it comes to finding creative solutions. Cooperation also helps the region work together to attract new businesses and develop affordable housing as a whole, rather than competing with one another for new development.

In particular, leaders mentioned the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Association (WMATA) as their “golden egg”. The connectivity and opportunity it provides are essential to keep the region moving and developing, but it is often difficult to make essential funding decisions at the local level for the regional service. While Arlington, Fairfax and Alexandria make their funding decisions at the local level, in Maryland the state controls the funding for WMATA on behalf of Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties. And the federal government, which brings hundreds of thousands of residents into the District every day on Metro to work, provides no direct support to the system.

This theme of negotiating between different levels of government was recurring – the NCR not only involves several local governments working together, but two different states and the federal government. It can be a difficult endeavor, but is the key to this vibrant region.

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