Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A New Map For America

Is the concept of a 'state' in need of a reboot? Seems like proposals for reorganizing America are popping up more often and it's kind of thought-provoking in a way. Why not break free of these relatively artificial boundaries we've created for ourselves? Who says we need to have fifty states? Or even ninety-nine counties, like Iowa does?

The whole idea of 'reorganizing government' at the structural, macro type of level instead of tinkering with laws and stuff really popped onto my radar in 2014 and Iowa's last gubernatorial race where a new political party called the New Independent Party Iowa proposed a radical reorganization of state government- the details of which are here, but the big kahuna: reducing 99 counties down to 9 regional centers (which includes 9 state universities...  not sure how that's going to work.)

Of course, if you love maps like I do, the idea isn't exactly new- Urban Planner Neil Freeman created this map, which shows what America would look like if all fifty states had an equal population- and you know what? It's not half bad- but would you need to shift the boundaries as populations shift and change? (Slate got a little ridiculous with the concept of dividing America, but the idea still has merit.)

Which brings us to the latest proposal to bubble up from the commentariat: A New Map For America, which ran in the New York Times Sunday Review a couple of weeks ago now... I'm not sure what to think about it. The political science part of my brain hates it: reorganization centered around urban corridors? The word 'emerging North American Union' appearing in the bottom half of the article- even in the most innocuous of ways? The tinfoil hats would be out, pitchforks brandished and the whole concept dead on arrival as it would tilt power toward the Blue States in a huge way.

But if you take politics out of the equation, a lot of the points the article makes are sensible- maybe even important. We do lag in infrastructure spending in this country and state boundaries can get in the way- maybe even slow things down. While in general, I don't think the government is all that good at spending my money, one of the things I am 100 percent okay with them spending money on is infrastructure. If you can't keep roads, bridges and rails intact, then what good are you? Spend the cash. Modernize the place a little bit- and trains- not, 70mph trains than you call 'high speed' but actual honest to god 200mph+ high speed trains are what this country desperately needs.

If I was the Feds, I'd throw money behind six decided high speed rail lines (Boston-Miami, Minneapolis-Houston, Seattle-San Diego and San Diego-Jacksonville, San Francisco-Washington and Seattle-Boston) and then work to provide incentives for states to partner with each other and private investors (if they want) to fill out the rest. (Not sure if my crazy notion is even feasible or makes that much sense- but what it would do is encourage states to engage in a little cross border cooperation if they wanted to grow off of the main infrastructure the Feds throw down.)

Whether you view ideas like these as exciting and feasible or just interesting thought exercises there is a fundamental element of truth contained in them: if our states were conceived as laboratories of democracy*, then why can't they be laboratories of economic innovation? Why can't states group together to create regional initiatives or hell, even regional councils? In an era where our politics are as polarized as even and the distance between the governed and their government seems to be growing larger, not smaller- encouraging regional cooperation could provide impetus for solutions that the Federal government seems unable to reach.

*The whole notion of states being 'laboratories of democracy' is one that would be great to see more widely embraced.

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