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Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Super-Regionalism in Kentucky

Joe Nannery sent me a link to an interesting Courier-Journal article where Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer talks about super-regional collaboration with Lexington on economic development and other matters. There’s a great video interview with him that accompanied the story that you can watch below. (The video won’t display in Google Reader or platforms like that, so to watch it please visit my main web page by clicking here). I think he and his economic development director do a great job of laying out the case for a greater regional vision in an accessible way.

It seems pretty clear that Fischer understands one of the key challenges facing Louisville, namely that it is just a bit too small to really have the heft it needs to go to market in the new economy. He sees collaboration with Lexington as one way to help both cities punch above their weight, particularly in attracting international attention. He believes this is essential to the long term relevance of the cities.

He is weaker on what exactly this collaboration would consist of as the reporter tried to pin him down on specifics. As he put it, “We’re in the early stages of dating.” I wouldn’t feel bad about this if I were him since the mega-regionalism concept is pretty nebulous. Lots of people are saying it’s the next big thing and that cities and states should be thinking this way, but as I myself noted in a previous blog post, nobody tells us exactly what is we’re supposed to actually do to make this a reality. It’s not just about Louisville and Lexington. The reality is that mega-regionalism as an operational program not just a concept is in its early stages. This is part of the process of figuring out what it really means. I do think if we’re ever going to have true mega-regions though, they are going to emerge from bottom-up collaboration between cities like Louisville and Lexington, not from top-down visions and programs.

Fischer also understands that Louisville and Lexington are non-overlapping in their industries in many regards. That’s actually a good thing in my book. This allows them to specialize and gain the advantages of that on some things. My analogy is to a football team. Not everybody is a quarterback. Not everybody is a linebacker. Not everybody is the kicker. Everybody has to know and excel at their own role on the team.

He’s talking about partnering with Brookings to help draw up the plan, and also on a new strategic plan for Louisville itself. I generally like Brookings, but as a former Southern Indiana resident, I can tell you that I did not care for the previous Louisville plan, which suggested any growth outside of Jefferson County was actively bad. I’m all in favor of a strong core, but that plan went too far in its core-centric and almost anti-collar county tone. I can’t imagine it played well anywhere outside Jefferson County because the key goal of the plan was to keep as much regional growth as possible inside the boundaries of that county (notwithstanding that much of Jefferson County itself is suburban or rural in character).

Hopefully this next version is much more actively embracing of the region. I was glad to see Fischer include Southern Indiana explicitly in his regional concept. For too long Kentucky and Indiana have been acting crazy just paying businesses to move back and forth across the Ohio River as if that is some sort of net regional economic add. It would be much better if they could both focus their energy on bringing net new growth to the area instead.

We’ll see where this goes, if indeed it goes anywhere. But it’s certainly interesting indeed to see Mayor Fischer talking about mega-regionalism, and definitely a change from the more Louisville-centric Abramson administration approach.

13 Comments
Topics: Demographic Analysis, Economic Development, Globalization, Public Policy, Regionalism, Strategic Planning
Cities: Louisville

13 Responses to “Super-Regionalism in Kentucky”

  1. Karen says:

    I really enjoyed this piece and watched the video twice. I like that the Louisville mayor uses the term “twinning of cities.” Competition and collaboration are healthy and it goes a long way when these ideas are shared among regional urban centers and those municipal areas that sit in between. I think cities like Pittsburgh (where I live) and Atlanta are somewhat isolated, although some Atlanta-Savannah partnerships are occurring.

    My first visit to Kentucky was driving through the eastern part of the state from Pittsburgh last winter, on my way to Atlanta, GA. I took a highway route to avoid the rain and snow that was traveling south east along interstates 79 and 77 and decided to go interstates 70 and 75. I pride myself on my knowledge of geography, but was taken aback that I was immediately entering Kentucky after crossing a bridge in Cincinnati. I truly enjoyed the drive, which led me through Lexington. The highways were clean and the scenary was beautiful, lots of white picket fences. I decided that I’d stop in Lexington for a day on my way back to Pittsburgh.

    I stayed at a hotel about 2 miles from UK and took myself on a walking tour of the city. There were signs displaying that stimulus dollars were being used from infrastructure projects. There are interesting “ethnic” restaurants near the UK campus, where you’d expect them, but also reaching blocks away where I swore I was in Queens, New York, looking at 3 and 4 story buildings with fire escapes. (I rarely see building with fire escapes outside of NYC). Not as much of a downtown presence as Louisville, but not far behind a Chattanooga (which I love) or Knoxville, TN, which are two cities that could easily benefit from “twinning.”

    What many of these cities are missing is a transportation link. High speed rail linkages among southern and midwest cities would open up an infinite number of cooperative initiatives. I often wonder if the leaders in the midwest and south understand why Boston, NYC and Philadelphia and even DC keep innovation thriving in northeast. I also wonder how many of these communities still have planning commissions and if they receive any CDBG money, their economic development budgets will be cut by 25% next year.

  2. stunoland says:

    Mayor Fischer is right to push regional thinking but fails to understand the basic requirement to make the core of that region an attractive and inviting place. Mr. Fischer supports Louisville becoming the first and possibly only city to ever expand an elevated waterfront expressway, locking the city’s image defining gateway into over 100 years of elevated freeway blight. Modern cities understand the need to construct a context sensitive design on their signature gateways and Louisville’s downtown ORBP fails on all levels. While it would be preferable (and logical) to remove I-64 from Louisville’s waterfront it is not necessary. The KY Dept of Transportation is notoriously backwards so the real key is to push for a context sensitive design. If Louisville were to build a context sensitive at-grade expressway on its waterfront (at a 50 year flood level with multiple pedestrian overpasses) the city could then 8664 at any point in the future. No other city is planning a terribly designed flyover expressway in its central business district much less its image defining riverfront. This epic mistake will doom the city of Louisville to over 100 years of economic and cultural stagnation. With over 60% of the populace oppossed to tolls to fund the economically suicidal downtown ORBP, it is not hard to find an educated urban Louisvillian who will tell you that they won’t stick around post downtown ORBP.

  3. @stunoland, you may know that I am a huge fan of 8664. I’m disappointed Fischer supports ORBP, which is a gigantic waste of money and would clearly harm downtown. But in this case credit where credit is due.

  4. Wad says:

    It’s good to see some governments give regionalism a go. Louisville and Lexington are an interesting experiment, as they are the two largest cities and metropolitan areas in Kentucky, plus they have Frankfort, the capital, right in between them.

    Aaron has wrote about the practical obstacles of consolidating physical government departments. For one, compensation tends to favor the higher-paid bureaucracy, rather than the median or the low-end. There are other considerations, such as the costs imposed by eliminating jobs (severance packages and aid) and jurisdiction friction.

    I agree with Karen’s suggestion of one of the goals being a transportation link. It shouldn’t be high-speed rail to connect Louisville and Lexington, though.

    Google maps shows the driving time between Louisville and Lexington to be less than 90 minutes. If these cities had higher costs of living, they would have the same labor-commute sheds and the I-64 contiguously developed.

    This corridor would do very well with ordinary passenger rail reasonably close to car speeds. It has “tent poles” in Louisville and Lexington, and stops in eastern Louisville between I-264 and I-265, Shelbyville, Frankfort and possibly Georgetown.

  5. Beta Magellan says:

    I’m not sure passenger rail needs to be brought into this effort yet—as a former resident of the NEC I didn’t notice any real connection between the transportation network and innovation. Innovation came from broader milieu, and rail was necessary because so many people happened to live in the area. Maybe the need for rail between Louisville and Lexington will eventually arise, but I think at this stage a big infrastructural project might end up being a distraction, and based on what Aaron wrote above (I haven’t seen the video yet) at this point it seems tangential to the project. Right now, Louisville and Lexington should be taking into account how to better utilize their existing infrastructure assets (including freight rail). New infrastructure comes with growth—it doesn’t create it.

  6. Beyond endorsing Stu Noland’s position (as always), I have two general thoughts…

    1) Why just Louisville and Lexington? Why not make it a quintuple-city entity, including the 10th largest city Frankfort, the 17th largest city Georgetown (16th if you exclude Jefferson County cities in front of it) and the 32nd largest city Shelbyville (29th after excluding JC cities). Not all businesses want to locate in urban settings, but may well want to locate within this “power strip”. Heh.

    2) It seems to me that we really haven’t done much work in uniting the 13-county metropolitan region, so it almost seems like a hat trick to pull off this new Lou-Lex vision. I wonder when we’re going to figure out all we can do within this huge MSA, and partner more especially with Floyd (IN), Clark (IN), Shelby and Bullitt Counties. I also wonder why we can’t have a kind of regional government — traditional state governments seem increasingly antiquated in their ability to assist in economic development, not only in large metro areas like Louisville’s, but economic development, period. (Basically, I’m saying that Kentucky state government is so out-of-touch and lacking economic imagination that there’s really little hope of it ever improving.)

  7. Kurt L says:

    I’d have to say that putting a highway at the 50 year flood benchmark is not going to be a very good idea in the coming decades. I could see the semi-annual (and maybe more often) washout becoming a city event.

  8. John Sorg says:

    for years I have been saying that Indianapolis is a region, not just a city or county.

    At some point, governmental entities need to line up with reality. The reality developing is that certain issues are regional in scope e.g. economic development, environment, crime, education, etc.

    It may take years to align government with funcion but the discussion needs to begin now. In Indiana, we are struggling with getting rid of townships – maybe we should gradually get rid of counties and have a regional government that takes their place

  9. Sam says:

    I guess I don’t understand why he wouldn’t just turn this into an investment triangle and include Northern Kentucky (Southern Cincinnati)? Cincinnati/NKY are home to several large companies and Kentucky’s largest airport, Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International. NKY is only a 90 minute commute to Louisville and Lexington via 75 or 71. Lexington’s Metro is around 500,000 which is the same as NKY.

  10. Louisville and Lexington are politically compatible, whereas Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati are very conservative and as far as I know, have never wanted anything to do with Louisville before, and so, I can’t imagine that happening. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I’d like to see evidence of being wrong.

  11. Wad says:

    Beta Magellan wrote: “I’m not sure passenger rail needs to be brought into this effort yet—as a former resident of the NEC I didn’t notice any real connection between the transportation network and innovation.

    You may be right about the timeline. It would be long-term for Louisville and Lexington, not pressing, but it would be more beneficial than detrimental.

    You know why you didn’t see any real connection between the transportation network and innovation while you were in the NEC? You’re not more than 150 years old. :) Those communities were well-established and mature in the 19th century, so you missed the upside by a few decades.

    Maybe the need for rail between Louisville and Lexington will eventually arise, but I think at this stage a big infrastructural project might end up being a distraction … at this point it seems tangential to the project.

    The I-64 corridor has its options. Big infrastructure would be to go big league, as in HSR-grade passenger-exclusive trackage. Kentucky would be gun-shy for that. However, there is an extant right of way connecting Louisville and Lexington, and it’s reasonably double-tracked.

    In this case, it’s only a matter of acquiring train sets. Kentucky can also try to get a waiver from the FRA and run DMUs like the Sprinter in San Diego County to save more on labor costs.

  12. stunoland says:

    @TheUrbanophile, Rethinking the terribly designed ORBP would be a concrete way in which Greg Fischer could bring some regional thinking to the most important issue facing Louisville. Only extreme political dysfunction and provinal thinking could have produced the terribly designed and economically destructive downtown ORBP. Speaking of regionalism is useless if you do not apply the concept to the most important issue facing the city. @KurtL, With a true interstate bypass built, placing a small section (1/2 – 2 mile) of highway at a 50 year benchmark would be an acceptable tradeoff for a marketable gateway to the River city. Even if the road were to flood every 25 years the traffic armageddon would never materialize. Recently, large sections of I-64 were shutdown for an overhaul. The local paper’s editorial board was predicting gridlock and inappropriately connected shutting down the main east west thoroughfare with the 8664 concept. The warned gridlock never materialized with even the editorial board admitting shock at the lack of traffic complications. In the at-grade I-64 scenario there would be additonal exit capacity at both ends before the interstate drops to a 50 year flood level.

  13. Alon Levy says:

    Wad, not that I think that in a parallel universe it would be bad to run rail in Kentucky, but in this universe, it’s very unlikely Kentucky could get a waiver from the Federal 6 Kilogram Steel Ball Administration.

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