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May 1, 2012 / Christian Clansky

Why is WRAG Talking About Regionalism?

By Tamara Copeland
President, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

Let’s think of my block as a region. I’ve lived in my house – Copeland City – for more than twenty years. For all of that time, until last month, my house has sat ten houses into the block next to a vacant lot – Vacant Lot City. As Copeland City mayor, so to speak, I had done all kinds of things to improve my city. But no matter what, my property value didn’t rise significantly until a developer came in and put a house on Vacant Lot City. With that improvement, all of the adjacent jurisdictions benefited. All boats rose. The improvement of the lowest element of our city-block region improved the entire region.

Regionalism seems like it should be common sense. What happens in one part of the region has a real and measurable impact on the rest of the region. Especially in our region – which is so interconnected that in some places you literally cross a street to move from one jurisdiction to the next – it seems incredibly short-sighted to be so insular as to only focus on one’s own jurisdiction.

I was chagrined to hear a high level D.C. city official imply that the District would be interested in collaboration with other jurisdictions toward a Region Forward goal – but only after the city had achieved its own exclusive successes. I was further dismayed when Steven Pearlstein reported in the Washington Post that a Fairfax County official noted that the county would be remiss if it didn’t pursue the relocation of the FBI headquarters to Springfield. Prince George’s County – a county in very real need of economic enhancement – was also in contention. I would assume that the Fairfax County official knew that.

For WRAG, working under a regional frame doesn’t mean that we will forget the unique needs of any one jurisdiction. What we hope to do is to put those specific needs within a regional context and demonstrate where there might be value in learning from the experience of others.

Last month, for example, the Fairfax County School Board asked the Montgomery County School Board for advice on how to start its search for a successor to Superintendent Jack Dale, recognizing that Montgomery County recently went through this process. It was a small step perhaps, but certainly a powerful example. WRAG is encouraging similar collective thinking by introducing the region’s education leaders to the funding community. In May, the Public Education Working Group is hosting Dr. Patrick Murphy, Superintendent of Arlington Public Schools. Dr. Murphy has a vision for improving the quality of education in the region. I hope you’ll join us to hear from him – his vision has applicability far beyond Arlington.

The power of a regional lens will occur to each of us at different points. Maybe it will be the need for shared criteria across jurisdictions in assessing the needs of the elderly. Maybe it will be coordination of core training of firefighters in one jurisdiction and EMT providers in another so that each jurisdiction doesn’t have to duplicate what others are doing. Maybe it will be the shared communication system that COG is promoting so that the traffic fiasco of snowmaggedon doesn’t happen again.

In This Could Be the Start of Something Big: How Social Movements for Regional Equity are Reshaping Metropolitan American, the authors note, “In many places, groups are discovering that the regional scale is valuable for understanding the roots of social problems, for developing valuable solutions to social problems, and for building significant social power.”

As philanthropy works to fight those deep social problems that threaten our region, the value of a regional lens continues to be a filter worthy of your consideration.


  1. Dan / May 1 2012 2:36 pm

    Thanks for the post- regionalism is a hot topic everywhere, but particularly relevant for DC. In many ways it is a major (not minor) miracle something like Metro ever got off the ground. We need that sort of leadership today.
    I bet somebody could get a nice crepe somewhere close to your house….

  2. Tamara Copeland / May 2 2012 8:35 am

    Hi, Dan,

    Thanks for your response. Are you familiar with the Council of Government’s Region Forward plan? There’s a bit of multi-sector energy behind the concept. Now we just need to move to action.

    Crepes on the Corner is a hit. You obviously know the neighborhood :).

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