Last week, we journeyed to Charlotte, North Carolina, as participants in the Inter-City Leadership Visit. This annual visit offers local leaders from government, business, and nonprofit sectors the opportunity to learn first-hand how other cities function and how they overcome challenges which they face. The hope is that we can bring back good ideas to our communities here in Minnesota.
What did we learn this year? Charlotte’s ability to work as a region struck all of us, and it engendered the liveliest conversation during our debriefing at the conclusion of the visit. Charlotte’s leaders realize that world trends have impacts on the region as a whole, not on individual municipalities and counties; they realize that, in the world marketplace, the region – “Charlotte USA” – has an identity, while small components of the region do not.
The Twin Cities region is a socially and economically interdependent entity within the global marketplace of regions. Do we have the will to work as a unified, coherent whole to address issues of economic development, the education of our children, the care of our aging population, and other significant challenges that we face? Or, do Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and perhaps other sections of the region have egos so large that they cannot yet relinquish more of their autonomy than they now give up for regional development and governance?
Air quality and water quality do not recognize political boundaries. Most people easily recognize that. Similarly, trends affecting health, education, housing, public safety, transportation – indeed all of the key elements of our community – do not pay heed to artificially created city and county borders. We need to understand when it makes sense to think small, enabling and empowering local units of government and small communities and neighborhoods to do their own thing – and when it makes sense to join as one, sharing the rewards and the costs of regional cooperation.
I’m working to promote regional thinking and regional action at whatever level makes sense. I hope that you share a regional mindset; and I encourage you to work in similar fashion.