Monday, October 11, 2010

A Regional Richmond?

Recent postal silliness notwithstanding, most residents who live in and around the City of Richmond identify themselves as being from "Richmond." Nevertheless, when it comes to dealing with issues that affect the Richmond metropolitan region, the various local governments rarely and reluctantly participate in constructive efforts.
Partially, this lack of cooperation is due to the complications of the economic and demographic inequalities between the central city and the surrounding suburbs, a status common to many American cities. However, the regional partitions are reinforced and formalized by Virginia's peculiar method of defining the governmental boundaries of cities as distinct from counties, despite efforts to the contrary. This means that the higher cost burden of the social services and infrastructure within cities are not shared by the more affluent surrounding counties, tending to concentrate poverty within the city.
Some features of urban life, such as public transit, are best handled at the regional level and yet sadly, often fall victim to jurisdictional favoritism. For example, the greatest need for jobs is found in the City of Richmond, while the greatest number of available jobs, particularly entry-level service industry jobs, are found in the surrounding counties. To reach the available jobs, city residents require transportation and while the bus system within the city is fairly extensive, the access to the counties is limited or non-existent.
Unlike may localities, the local bus authority, GRTC, has no dedicated funding stream and must submit annual requests to the city and surrounding counties for funds, shaping annual budgets accordingly. Consequently, since a lack of predictable funding precludes issuing bonds, the GRTC has little ability to develop long-term plans for expansion or enhancement. And, with no expansion possible, the vicious cycle of regional disintegration continues.