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Nov
16

It is Time for New Regional Visions

There are hundreds of metropolitan regions in the world each made up of hundreds of smaller communities. They are the center of nearly 90% of the world’s economic activity. The United States alone has grown to include 130 metro-economic regions with populations over 1 million that generate 85% of the country’s GDP, and most of the resources of these region’s are focused on generating more growth by winning the competitive economic game of a ‘flat world.’ It is now the time for the people of these regions to challenge the current trends and ask deeper questions about who they are, who do they want to become and what do they want to stand for in the world.
These are difficult questions for a region to address when the world and their country’s place in it is changing so rapidly. As we look around the globe, while we see many positive developments from globalization, we can see many negative developments as well. It can be exciting, confusing and scary at the same time. While we cannot control everything that will happen at the national and international levels, economic regions can control their collective reactions to these events that can make a positive difference in lives of local people and the rest of the world. Too often a community waits for national or state government to provide the leadership and direction. In this waiting, people have given away their power to government. Even if direction was provided, it would require change at the local level. Individual communities need to provide the leadership now beginning with a new vision for the future that looks beyond winning the short term competitive gain to a sustainable long term solution. Part of the solution can be found in our understanding of the complex interrelationships of globalization.
We have been using a competitive economic system based on a false model of unlimited resources and infinite consumption, while we are actually living in a finite global system with limited regeneration capacities. Strains are being felt at all levels of society and government as well as the charitable systems trying to cope with the consequences of dwindling resources. We are realizing that we can no longer simply say that economic growth equals quality of life. They are related, but how we decide to balance the two will have a profound impact on the regions we live in and the world. As world trade barriers continue to come down and global communications continue to improve, economic regions are free to trade with anyone in the world. They can now begin to think about economic concepts such as imports versus exports, trade balances, off shoring and out sourcing, GDP, etc. concepts that an entire country would have only given thought to in the past. To seriously evaluate this, they need to conduct a new form of comprehensive asset mapping dealing with both natural and human capital resources, and then decide how best to use them. To address these issues, local communities and larger regions must reevaluate their missions. For most, it is probably a mission that has not changed in decades. As a result of the economic competition or downturns, the primary purpose, from both a political and community perspective, has been growth. Regions have used their common resources to fuel as much economic growth as possible, often at the expense of other communities. The simple model that a higher growth automatically equals a higher quality of life is not only passé, but incorrect.

Communities can also begin to consider other items such as who they want to trade with based on their values and belief systems on human rights or environmental issues as determined by what the region stands for. Do the communities of a region really want profit margins, a very simple and short sighted way of making decisions, to solely decide their region’s course of action? Perhaps it is time for values and principles to drive economics rather than the other way around. While companies might be able to save a few dollars trading with a country or region that disregards environmental standards, do we really want them to, given what we now understand about the true cost to life and global sustainability? Many metropolitan regions have grown beyond their level of self-sustainability and their future is heavily dependent upon resources, most importantly food and water, from outside sources. Concepts such as buying locally, manufacturing locally and producing locally are beginning to take hold and gain momentum, but for many regions in the US, their options are limited. Not only can buying locally greatly expand economic impact and reduce unproductive, social subsidies, it is one of the best ways for a region to reduce its carbon footprint and contribute to global sustainability. Perhaps now, in post-modern times, communities in these regions can work together, united by a common vision, to become a new model that shows the world how a metro-region can sustain itself and its population in a prosperous way that can contribute to the global community, not destroy it. The more economic regions can become less dependent upon the increasingly fragile global economic and food grid, the more they can support it.

Perhaps these regions can become places where success is measured on how happy and healthy people are, not how much they can consume. It is the same dream the United States was founded on – a dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It was based on certain inalienable rights and a belief about the purpose of life. It was based on higher ideals about the purpose of living together in communities, and the role of our collective actions called government to achieve them. The American dream was never about competing against each other to get as much as each person or region can individually at the expense of everyone else. It focused on improving the quality of life, not on quantity. This is a about the evolution of human society that will require participation by all sectors of communities – the spiritual, social, industrial, educational, governmental, etc. acting consciously in union.

As we move further into this new millennium, it is time for each region, acting independently but thinking interdependently, to look back through its history at what worked and what did not work, and be resolved to apply this wisdom to develop a new vision, set it in action as an example for others to follow, and share it with the rest of the world.

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