National Association of Regional Councils: History And Evolution
NARC's History and Purpose: furthering the cause of regionalism
The National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) has been an independent entity for over thirty-five years. "The National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) is the preeminent alliance for fostering regional cooperation and building regional communities.
We advocate for regional approaches with federal and state governments; provide training and technical assistance on the latest regional developments; and conduct research on timely regional topics." (NARC, 2003, (http://www.narc.org/)the National Association of Regional Councils is an integral part of the growth and development of countless communities, be they interstate or otherwise..
In 1998 Beverly a. Cigler wrote an article entitled "Emerging Trends in State-Local Relations" and though it is questionable that regionalism be defined as emerging it is clear that the academic and governmental organizations that entitle change are sitting up and taking notice of organizations like NARC when developing concrete plans of action.
Government" is less important today than the overall "system of governance" that results from the interaction of organizations in policy development and implementation and service delivery across economic regions. Because problems spill over the boundaries of geographic-based local governments, solutions must be sought on a regional basis; watersheds, laborsheds, rural commutersheds, and ecosystems are the new units of organization in which state-local relations often occur. Strong suburbs help cities, but strong cities make suburbs even stronger (e.g., Barnes and Ledebur 1994; Rusk 1993). Intergovernmental relations have shifted substantially toward improving intergovernmental management and intersector relations and management (Cigler 1996a).
(Cigler, 1998, p. 53)
It is not reasonable to discuss the history of NARC without a general understanding of what regionalism is and what it sprung from, as the history of NARC was determined by much more far-reaching national goals and conflicts. As early as 1935 the United States government was giving recognition to the problem of regional interests vs. political boundaries. (1935, p. 1) One of the first and most recognizable organizations to stem from this early concern is the Tennessee Valley Authority, charged with lofty goals of federal decentralization, employment issues and energy conservation development through the construction of a large group of regional power producing dams.
1935, p. 14) (Carey, 1938, p. 26)
To be sure though it is clear that regionalism was an international issue addressed in nearly every nation during the 1930s and developing into many regionalism movements and organizations thereafter. (Minahan, 1996, p. 342) (Thomas & Thomas, 1963, p. 492) Even with the normal outgrowth of conflict addressed through the urban movement of the late 1930s and early 1940s regionalism still held its ground. (Queen & Thomas, 1939, p. 42) in part because urbanization had caused so many encroachment issues that regionalism became the paramount plan as what used to be neighboring towns and/or cities were reevaluated as neighborhoods of each other. (Studenski et al., 1930, p. 1) (Adams & Savitch, 1997, p. 179)
In the cold war era as reflected by the 1960 President's Commission on National Goals saw the resurgence of the popularity of decentralization and therefore regionalism as a natural out growth of anti-communist sentiments (President's Commission on National Goals, 1960, p. 2) Yet to be sure the development of national organizations to promote the cause of regionalism weather through fear or any other source is a valid and useful outcome. "In its more modest and pragmatic form, the main argument for regional organizations is hat they are needed to respond to the problem of "scale" that arises when functions spill over state boundaries without, however, requiring nationwide action." (Derthick & Bombardier, 1974, p. 6)
One issue that has garnered a very large body of conflict and therefore one of the sources for the development of regionalism and the creation of organizations such as NARC is water use rights. In the following demonstration Derthick and Bombardier use and east coast example but people in the west and central United States also have similar use issues and many will remember the heated, emotional and ongoing debates surrounding water usage in California and the states whose water and borders it shares
The problem of scale may arise when actions in one state jurisdiction substantially affect the welfare of a neighboring jurisdiction, as when New York City's withdrawal of water from the Delaware River in upper New York State threatened cities downriver in Pennsylvania. As an economist would put it, adjustment of jurisdictional boundaries becomes necessary to encompass "externalities." Rivers obviously invite regional organization, for they make their way to the ocean without regard to man-made boundaries of government. It is not surprising that three of the cases to be covered are organizations with a concern for water resources, or that some of the most powerful current arguments for regional organization come from specialists in water quality management. (Derthick & Bombardier, 1974, p. 6)
It is therefore important to understand that NARC grew out of a need to organize on a national scale to ensure the abilities of regional organization. The sometimes-arbitrary political boundaries that separate cities from other cities and states from other states do not encompass all the issues that any given community might face. Yet, at the same time those political boundaries engender pride and isolationism that charges the environment surrounding collaboration in regional issues.
The history of NARC itself as an organization dates to the late 1960s when community collaboration, especially on issues of fair housing and equitable employment for minorities came into national focus. The foundation provides many services to regionalism and expresses its own mission thusly: "For more than three decades, NARC has represented multi-purpose regional councils of government that assist community leaders and citizens in developing common strategies for addressing cross-cutting transportation, economic development, air and water quality, social equity, growth, and other challenges." (NARC, 2003, (http://www.narc.org/)
During its long history as mainly an advocacy organization it has served communities well in their ability to find, above all else, regional role models for change and growth.
NARC has developed a collaborative functioning organization that serves regional councils all over the country and has even began to be used as an information gathering agent for international organization development. As a concept regionalism, has been widely accepted as one of the dominant social action networks present today.
Regional organizations are the fundamental source of change and growth in nearly every local community and in many ways their affect is more fundamental than say that of a national government entity with a similar focus.
According to the NARC regional councils are defined as:
Regional councils of government -- more than 450 of them across the nation -- are multipurpose, multi-jurisdictional, public organizations. Created by local governments to respond to federal and state programs, regional councils bring together participants at multiple levels of government to foster regional cooperation, planning and service delivery. They have a variety of names, ranging from councils of government to planning commissions to development districts. (NARC, 2003, (http://www.narc.org/)
Though one of the main purposes of a regional council is the effective disbursement of national and state funding sources the, within the guidelines of the allocations regional councils are the determining factor of change. In a sense you could say that the regional councils of any given entity be it a town, city, county or even districts are the source of nearly all action in local and regional government. The NARC website offers a foundational definition of how regional councils make a difference in their respective communities:
Regional councils are typically governed by a board of elected officials and other community leaders. Together with an executive director and staff, they provide forums on regional issues, conduct regional planning, provide information and technical assistance services to local governments, and administer federal, state and local programs of a regional nature, such as senior programs, job training, housing and community development, and disaster services. (NARC, 2003, (http://www.narc.org/)
Regional councils address issues ranging in importance and in difficulty but are often the main source of change and the first line of defense against federal funding and regulations encroaching on the actual needs of their own communities. (NARC, 2003, (http://www.narc.org/)
Tough Challenges: Transportation and traffic congestion...air and water quality...economic development and growth...inter-community disparities, workforce training, and housing...information technology and the digital divide
These are all tough challenges that cross jurisdictional boundaries -- challenges that can best be addressed through regional cooperation, planning and action. (NARC, 2003, (http://www.narc.org/)
There is not a publication about federal, state and local collaboration that does not include some bit of information gathered and dispersed by the NARC.
Another report from the National Association of Regional Councils finds sixty-six recent examples of substantial regional government participation in water resources planning, each aiding states in meeting federal water quality and resource standards. This planning took place in twenty states and the District of Columbia, and several instances involved regional governments encompassing portions of more than one state (e.g., Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council) (National Association of Regional Councils 1993a). (Hanson, 1998, p. 153)