The Cities That Work Series: Tri-state planning, communication critical to 'greater' metropolitan region
- By John Swanson, Executive Director, Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission
- July 17, 2012
I was extremely pleased to see that the mayors of Chicago, Gary and Milwaukee will appear together on a panel at this year’s Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) Annual Luncheon. Opening lines of communication across state borders has been a critical step in promoting coordination, cooperation and collaboration for our “greater” Chicago metropolitan area. While on the staff of the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission more than a decade ago, I participated in a series of discussions with our peers from southeastern Wisconsin and northwestern Indiana. It was apparent from these deliberations that there were a number of issues which required concerted action extending beyond the boundaries of our individual jurisdictions, including Lake Michigan and other shared water resources; ambient air quality; shared work force; highway and trail connectivity; interstate commuting patterns; freight movement; and fragmented habitat for biodiversity. The resulting Wingspread Tri-State Accord, which was adopted by the regional planning organizations in 2002, was an important step forward in addressing these issues.
Since becoming the executive director of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) in 2004 (from which I’ll retire later this year), I’ve been able to see some tangible results of these cooperative efforts. These have included the coordination of the widening projects for I-80/I-94; the development of the Lake Michigan Water Recreation Trail; the extension of Joe Orr Road to Main Street in Indiana; and the Indiana Gateway Project. Importantly, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and NIRPC developed their new 2040 comprehensive regional plans in consultation and coopertion with each other.
Finally, I would commend our Chicago-based partner organizations which have expanded their efforts across state lines to good effect. Northwest Indiana has benefited greatly by MPC’s Gary and Region Investment Project and “Sensible Tools for Healthy Communities” planning guidebook; Openlands’ work on the Calumet Connections and the Greenways and Blueways plans; and the biodiversity recovery efforts of Chicago Wilderness.
More work still meets to be done to coordinate economic development activity, but the recently issued report of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development certainly makes a strong case for less competition and increased cooperation between the three states in this critical area. I wish to extend my thanks and best wishes to my colleagues at MPC for the leadership they have demonstrated in promoting cooperation in our greater tri-state region.
John Swanson is executive director of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, a regional council of local governments serving the citizens of Lake, Porter, and LaPorte counties in Northwest Indiana.
On Wednesday, July 25, MPC hosted our 2012 Annual Luncheon: The Cities That Work, featuring an insightful dialogue between the mayors of Gary and Milwaukee, about opportunities to strengthen the tri-state region. Leading up to the event, we featured a series of posts from guest authors and members of our staff on issues that unite the tri-state region. Read the whole series at www.metroplanning.org/citiesthatworkseries.