REGIONAL PROFILES: Metropolitan Governance and Regional Planning Four Cities, Four Approaches

by Dalila Hall  

Portland, Oregon’s Metro

Metro is the only directly elected regional government in the United States. It serves more than 1.3 million residents in three counties, and 24 cities in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area. Established in 1979 in response to a state wide land-use planning program (1976) that required all cities to establish an urban growth boundary, Metro was initially responsible for land-use and transportation planning and regional services such as solid waste management and operation of a metropolitan zoo. These responsibilities have since expanded to include solid waste disposal, regional parks and greenspaces, technical assistance to local governments, and authority over convention, cultural, sports and exhibition centers in the region.

The central feature of Portland’s regional plan is growth management. The Urban Growth Boundary’s (UGB) purpose is to prevent sprawl development from consuming natural areas and farm lands. Another key feature of the plan is to preserve central cites by keeping investment within the boundary. Growth control is addressed by two tools: open space designations within the boundary and rural reserves beyond the boundary. Open space designations protect natural resources such as water sheds, parks, and tree stands. Rural reserves, along connecting corridors in the Metro area, maintain farm land and space between communities. Urban areas within the region are classified as Neighborhoods (inner & outer), Centers (towns & regional), and Corridors and Main Streets which connect all the above. Within these urban areas densities are higher than average than in most western cities and lot sizes are smaller than average at about 7,000 square feet. These urban areas are serviced by a well utilized light rail and bus system. Metro is currently developing a plan for the year 2040.

Metropolitan New York’s Regional Plan Association

The Regional Plan Association (RPA), founded in 1929, is the nation’s oldest regional planning organization. The RPA is a non-profit civic organization working on issues facing the NY-NJ-Connecticut metropolitan area. The Association’s work is funded by individual members, private foundations and corporations. Working in an advisory and research capacity the RPA has created and promoted three long-term plans in 1929, 1968 and 1996. Areas of research include land-use planning, transportation, economic development, the environment, governance and social policy. The Association seeks to build coalitions between government and private organizations, and to foster public participation.

Their Third Regional Plan, A Region at Risk, published in 1996 states, “…for the first time the challenge facing the RPA and the region is not managing growth, but preventing decline.” The plan recommends enhancing the region’s “Three E’s” foundation: economy, environment, and equity. These are portrayed as interlocking rings which intersect to shape the quality of life. By investing in this foundation, the region will be able to attract and retain people and businesses and remain competitive in the global economy. Their recommendations are organized into 5 campaigns: Mobility, Greenswards, Centers, Workforce, and Governance.

 Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota’s Metropolitan Council

The Metropolitan Council was created in 1967 by the Minnesota legislature to oversee regional planning for the Twin Cities Area. This area encompasses a seven county region with 190 local governments and includes about 2.5 million people. The area is divided into 16 districts of equal population and each district is represented by one council member. An additional member acts as the Council Chair. All representatives and the Chair are appointed by the governor.

The Council’s first regional task was the coordination of an area wide sewer system. Since then responsibilities have expanded to include long-range plan development for services such as aviation, transportation, parks and open space, water quality and water management. They are a housing and redevelopment authority and the proposing agency for the area’s growth management plan, Metro 2040. The plan aims to: reduce sprawl by keeping development compact, preserve agricultural land, set up an “urban reserve” to be developed after 2020, revitalize the region’s urban core, and target certain areas for job development.

Currently there are two bills before the state’s legislature on the matter of whether or not Council members should be elected rather than appointed. It is believed that elected representation would give the Council the necessary political power to fully implement its plans.

Toronto, Canada’s Metro and the New City of Toronto

Created in 1953 by the provincial government of Ontario, the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto (Metro) was part of a two tier system of government. Metro served as the upper tier of government that coordinated public works, land-use planning and development for the thirteen cities of greater Toronto. At that time the local municipalities (lower tier) were to retain most of their functions while Metro would concern itself with regional issues. In 1967 the thirteen municipalities were consolidated into the six municipalities of Toronto, East York, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough and York. Over time Metro began to share some of the local responsibilities. Today the region has a population of 2.4 million people and is the eighth largest metropolis in North America.

Metro was governed by a 34 member council (28 councilors & 6 mayors). Initially the councilors were indirectly elected by the various city councils but beginning in 1988 they were directly elected by the people in their wards. Beginning on January 1, 1998, the new City of Toronto was created by the conservative provincial government. The six municipalities plus Metro have been condensed into a single government made up of 28 wards. It is governed by 56 councilors (2 from each ward) and one mayor. Only the mayor is elected by all city residents. The councilors are elected only by those residing in their respective wards.

Sometimes referred to as the Megacity, the new City of Toronto is already facing criticisms that it is wiping out local democracy, politicizing residents, and that it will exacerbate central city and suburban inequalities.

Information for this article was compiled from a variety of sources where you can find more detailed information. For your convenience, a few of these are listed below.

Portland, Oregon

Regional Plan Association
New York, New Jersey, Connecticut Metropolitan Area

The Metropolitan Council
Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota

Metro / City of Toronto
Toronto, Canada

In Print
Hiss, Tony, & Yaro, Robert D. A Region at Risk: The Third Regional Plan for the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut Metropolitan Area. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1996.

Orfield, Myron. Metropolitics: A Regional Agenda for Community and Stability. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press; and Cambridge, MA: The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 1997.

Walljasper, Jay. “Portland’s Green Peace: At Play in the Fields of Urban Planning.” The Nation, October 1997, pp.11-15.

 -Dalila Hall

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