While local governance matters, the metropolitan region is the scale at which communities collectively manage quality-of-life factors that transcend local boundaries, such as transit, air quality, growth management, land conservation, social equity, and socially- and environmentally-sustainable economic development.
In cities, counties and metropolitan regions across the country, pressing issues from sprawling development to poor air quality to population growth projections have spurred a variety of efforts to develop regional planning visions and goals. In most cases such regional dialogues (some of which involve substantial citizen participation) result in guidelines for local governments, the main arbiters of land-use policy.
The goals, scope and nature of these efforts vary from region to region. Some efforts are led by governments while others emerge from the private sector, nonprofit organizations, or public-private collaborations. Some of the most established include Envision Utah, Sustainable Seattle, Portland 2040, Idaho's Treasure Valley Partnership Agreement, and the regional council of governments in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Regional coordination among local governments, business and community leaders is essential for successful land use planning throughout a metropolitan area, allowing the consideration of issues such as open space distribution, use of greenbelt buffers, and priorities for transportation and transit spending. Local governments in metropolitan regions like Minneapolis-St. Paul share property tax revenues regionally to mitigate the disparities between newer, wealthy suburbs and older, inner-city communities. Other regions require local governments to share affordable housing requirements to prevent concentrations of poverty in one locale and ensure access to good schools and jobs for a greater number of low-income residents.
Governments and businesses in metropolitan areas also collaborate to promote their region in the global marketplace. Local officials are discouraged from engaging in zero-sum competition for big retail corporations that generate sales tax revenues for single cities. For instance, the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, California pool sales taxes generated from new shopping centers instead of competing for retail tenants. Savvy leaders understand that remaining economically competitive requires nourishing on a regional scale such business-friendly elements as good public schools, innovative research universities, vibrant and walkable city centers, affordable housing, high-quality transportation, and wise land use.
The critical importance of judicious land use and transportation planning becomes clear in booming metropolitan regions like Atlanta, Georgia, where sprawl has led to epic cases of peak-hour gridlock and poor air quality; these factors can strangle economic development. Similarly, Silicon Valley's tremendous economic success has made housing prices skyrocket, hindering the region's prosperity. The Silicon Valley Leadership Group has been a leader in advocating for more affordable housing. Public and private regional leaders, under the aegis of the Joint Venture Silicon Valley Network, have helped the region’s cities align their building codes and implement more timely development review schedules, in order to foster economic growth.