A new look at reality of managing growth "Metropolitics": Minnesotan's book provides real-world backdrop for evaluating Glendening's "Smart Growth" proposal.

The Political Game

February 25, 1997|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

HIS CRITICS have called it communism. He calls it reality.

With computer-generated maps, Minnesota state legislator Myron Orfield travels the country urging a new look at managing growth. Flight from the nation's urban core, followed by flight from the first ring of urban suburbs, followed by another and another round of flight into gated communities defies any pretense of community.

We can run, says Orfield, but we can't hide.

"Seventy percent of the nation lives in metropolitan areas that are destabilizing and polarizing to one degree or another," he writes. "The only real solutions involve a new metropolitan compact to plan a common future, share benefits and responsibilities, reinvest together in older areas, protect forests and farmland, conquer social prejudice and in general foster sustainable, interdependent regions."

The cycle of wasteful suburbanization could be broken, he says, if local, county and state officials would level with their constituents instead of playing on their fears.

Like Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Orfield wants a smarter approach to development of land and the spending of public dollars. The Minnesotan doesn't call his idea "Smart DTC Growth," as Glendening does, but he urges public officials to point out the stupidity of what's happening now.

Compared to Glendening, Orfield is daring, asserting a brand of policy-making surely in keeping with the Progressive roots of his state.

At base, he is advocating the power of the vote. City and suburban legislators have the votes to push for:

Tax-base sharing in which a region's tax resources are pooled and redistributed on the basis of need. If cities and older suburbs have more resources to address their problems, those problems will be less likely to spill over into the newer areas.

An understanding that regulated, fair housing policies will limit, not accelerate, movement of poor families from cities to counties.

All Orfield has to do is persuade local elected officials that concepts such as regional planning and tax-base sharing are not political suicide.

Maybe what they need is a look at the future through Orfield's book, "Metropolitics," published recently by the Brookings Institution and the Lincoln Institute of Land Use Policy.

"People tend to support things out of self-interest," he said during a visit to Maryland in 1995. "The more they understand the dynamic they're in, the better hearing you get.

"People see social and economic distress rolling out of the city," he said, and the "dynamic" he warns of becomes clearer. He acknowledges that racial antagonism and fear of crime make the "fair share" housing proposals difficult. Tax-based sharing is a "nonstarter," too, until the computer runs are done.

For the older suburbs in a Minneapolis regional compact developed years ago by Orfield and others, the pool of taxes contributes as much as 15 percent to some local budgets. Not surprisingly, Minneapolis area officials see regionalism as a life ring, he said. The pool, which had only $8 million or so in the first year, now stands at $300 million.

Glendening pushes a comparatively palatable and perhaps more realistic version of resource conservation in which the state withholds aid for projects that add more roads, sewers and schools. He would control growth in sort of a passive-aggressive framework. Local governments would not be forced to comply with his plan, but they would risk millions in state aid if they didn't.

Even that cooperative approach faces a tough go in the General Assembly.

"Metropolitics" offers a theoretical -- and real world -- backdrop against which to evaluate the Glendening proposal -- a %o foundation for new thinking, really, that should encourage policy-makers to level with their constituents.

Lapides adds title of 'First Citizen'

Called a maverick, a scold and an unrepentant liberal during his 28 years in the Maryland Senate, former state Sen. Julian L. "Jack" Lapides returned to Annapolis last week to receive another title: First Citizen.

With his former colleagues applauding, Lapides received the "First Citizen" award during a ceremony in the Senate chamber. Instituted by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller several years ago, the award is named for Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, who wrote liberation pamphlets under the pseudonym First Citizen.

Lapides then delivered the annual President's Day address. He urged his colleagues to rededicate themselves to a style of public service that proudly defends the role of government as a positive force in public life.

Pub Date: 2/25/97

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