Metro Government for Desegregation and Land Use Planning

Metropolitan Government for Desegregation and Land Use Planning

by Howie Hawkins 

This statement is a 3-minute talk I gave at the Manlius Chamber of Commerce’s candidates forum on August 8, 2017. I’ve added a few sentences on school desegregation in this version to drive home that point.

Good morning. There’s a Green Platform summary on your tables. It’s an ambitious list of reforms.

The main goal of our platform is to build a sustainable city – fiscally, economically, and environmentally.

The focus is on uplifting poor and working class people, which we believe is the best way to create a community that will also retain and attract middle-class people and businesses and build a sustainable prosperity for all.

In the few minutes I have here, I want to talk about the last item on that platform: Metropolitan Government because those of us in the city and those of you in the towns have a common stake in that.

I oppose the Consensus Commission’s metropolitan government proposal, but I want us to continue to pursue the right kind of metropolitan government.

I oppose the Consensus governing proposal because it is inequitable to the city.

First, dissolution for the city is mandatory, but optional for the towns, who will not – and should not – give up important local powers. 

Second, the city is reduced to a special “Debt District” with a metropolitan “overseer” to make us pay extra taxes for our segregated schools and the pensions of our former city employees.

Third, the winner-take-all election system proposed simply disempowers city residents. They will be a permanent minority ruled by a town majority that has different interests and politics.

But I want us to pursue metro government because it is the only way we can solve two major problems in our region: segregation and fragmented land use planning.

Metro government is the only way we can desegregate the housing and schools that has given Greater Syracuse the most concentrated – which is to say the most segregated – poverty of the nation’s 100 largest cities. We rank #1 in for blacks and Latinos and #5 for whites.

Desegregation means consolidating school districts and enacting new metro-wide fair housing laws such as inclusionary zoning and an end to source of income discrimination against tenants.

Experience has shown that desegregated schools radically reduce the race and class achievement gap. Middle class students also do better, not only on standardized achievement tests, but also on important other measures, including creative thinking, intellectual self-confidence, teamwork and collaboration, and empathy and tolerance.

In short, desegregated schools should be embraced by middle-class communities as well as poor and working-class communities because they are better schools with better results for students across the socioeconomic spectrum.

Metro government is also the only way can have an enforceable regional land use plan because land use planning is vested at the municipal level in New York State.

A metropolitan land use plan is needed to stop the connected problems of wasteful suburban sprawl and inner city disinvestment and decay.

We should also pursue metropolitan government for the reasons the Consensus Commission stated: it can provide better infrastructure and services more efficiently.

But it is not going to be created unless the people see the structure as inclusive and responsive.

I suggest that a metropolitan government based on the principles of Federalism and Proportional Representation would be inclusive and responsive.

Federalism would mean a metropolitan municipality with sub-jurisdictions corresponding to the existing city and towns, which would retain the powers that should be at that local level. 

For example, within the framework of an enforceable regional land use plan, the city and towns should retain the detailed planning, zoning, and permitting powers.

Proportional Representation means multi-member districts for electing the legislative body. 

Proportional Representation gives each political perspective its fair share of representation and power in proportion to the vote it receives. Every voter gets some legislators who represent their views. 

That I suggest would constitute a metropolitan government that is inclusive, responsive, and therefore acceptable to the people in the city and towns alike. 

I will be around after if you want to discuss these ideas further.

Thank you.

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Howie Hawkins is the 2017 Green candidate for Syracuse Mayor
Hawkins for Mayor