Localism and Regionalism
37 Pages Posted: 28 Jan 2000
Date Written: August 1999
Localism and regionalism are normally seen as conflicting, conceptions of metropolitan area governance. Localism is the belief that the existing system of a large number of relatively small governments wielding power over such critical matters as land use regulation, local taxation, and the financing of local public services ought to be preserved. Regionalism would move some power to institutions, organizations or procedures with a larger territorial scope and more population than existing local governments. Regionalism appears to be a step towards centralization, and the antithesis of the decentralization represented by localism. Yet, in the metropolitan areas that dominate America at the end of the twentieth century, regionalism is not just the enemy of localism: It is also localism's logical extension. Localism is based on a set of arguments concerning the role of local governments in promoting governmental efficiency, democracy, and community. But in contemporary metropolitan areas, the economically, socially, and ecologically relevant local area is often the region. In these areas, concerns about efficiency, democracy, and community ought to lead to a shift in power from existing localities to new processes, structures, or organizations that can promote decision-making on behalf of the region. Regionalism is, thus, localism for metropolitan areas. Localists, however, do not become regionalists when they live in metropolitan areas. Indeed, resistance to regionalism is intense in many metropolitan areas. Localism is not simply a theory intended to advance certain normative goals. It is also a means of protecting the interests of those who receive advantages from the existing governance structure. Local self-interest, rather than the political values localism is said to advance, plays a central role in the opposition to regionalism. This essay explores the relationship between localism and regionalism. It considers the meaning of regionalism in contemporary urban policy debates and the reasons why regionalism currently enjoys so much attention from academics, urbanists and policy analysts. It reviews the arguments for localism, and explains how, despite the asserted conflict between localism and regionalism, the theories underlying localism actually make a case for regionalism in contemporary metropolitan areas. Finally, it examines the role of local self-interest in the resistance to regionalism, and the efforts of regionalists to respond by making the case for regionalism in terms of local self-interest as well.
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