At a forum today organized by the DC Chamber of Commerce and Washington Business Journal several top elected officials discussed regional cooperation specifically in regards to economic development.
Not surprisingly the panel of D.C. Mayor Vince Gray U.S. Congressman Gerry Connolly Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille Montgomery County Executive Isiah (Ike) Leggett and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker did not reach consensus on the appropriate location of the new FBI headquarters. Their friendly ribbing on the topic surely made for good tweets and sound bites.
The larger takeaway from the forum—especially for those of us that want the Region Forward vision to succeed—is that officials are open to greater cooperation on a number of issues that will strengthen our region’s economic competitiveness such as transportation planning and affordable housing.
It helped that the panel featured leaders very experienced with regional organizations like the Council of Governments—Gray and Connolly are past COG Chairmen and Euille is the current Vice Chairman. Euille noted that while local jurisdictions compete to attract new businesses and residents there’s also an understanding that our real rivals aren’t our neighboring cities and counties but other regions like Los Angeles and London.
Euille referenced COG’s recent Economy Forward initiative which calls on leaders to prioritize projects like the upcoming Regional Transportation Priorities Plan which will identify 10 to 15 top transportation strategies as well as sustainable funding sources.
All of the forum participants stressed that investment in the region’s transportation system is critical to the region’s economy. They said new growth and businesses must be located around public transit as much as possible and expressed strong support for dedicated funding for Metro through a commitment by the federal government and a regional sales tax or other new funding strategy.
Gray highlighted affordable housing as a serious challenge for the city and region as a whole. He mentioned his recently announced $100 million initiative and said he would love to participate in a region-wide effort. Connolly and Leggett also discussed local efforts they’ve led to preserve affordable housing in their communities. Connolly alluded to the benefits to businesses and workers when people live closer to where they work—less traffic less pollution and more productive workers.
Even on the traditionally local issue of land use the panelists revealed they are thinking more regionally while they continue to act locally—a popular mantra at the Council of Governments.
Baker pointed out that he and his staff members are working with their regional colleagues to coordinate development in Prince George’s County to better align with nearby projects in the District such as the H Street and the Rhode Island Avenue corridors as well as Langley Park which borders Montgomery County.
Leggett was candid about a missed opportunity at cooperation during past zoning and land use plan updates in Friendship Heights a neighborhood that straddles the County and District line on Western Avenue. Despite being “across the street” from each other County and District officials did not coordinate with one another.
The timing couldn’t be better however for leaders interested in better coordinating transportation and land use decisions—which have a tremendous impact on the economy.
This January the Council of Governments approved an Activity Centers map identifying the urban centers traditional towns transit hubs and transforming areas (like Tysons) that will be critical to accommodating future growth. The map was designed to help local governments support land use planning and analyze growth.
Later this year the Council will unveil an Activity Center Investment Plan to help local governments developers transit agencies philanthropists and other groups guide planning and investment decisions in these centers. Activity centers are increasingly becoming magnets for both businesses and workers since people want to spend their time and money in walkable downtowns instead of on long drives to traditional office parks.
As we’ve said many times our region is a national leader in mixed-use and transit-oriented development and we need to make sure we continue to work together to maintain our competitive advantage in this area.
On the micro level our local governments will continue to compete over individual businesses like the FBI. But on big picture issues like transportation affordable housing and even land use coordination the Council of Governments and its Region Forward partners are ready to help local governments businesses and other stakeholders make decisions that will ensure a prosperous accessible livable and sustainable region for all area residents.