Do Townships Have A Place In Geopolitics

June 5, 2002
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Every decade or so, an expert comes to West Michigan saying we can work together better. The litany is familiar: we have so many opportunities but are so hopelessly fragmented; so many municipalities, always in back-biting competition, never seeing the big picture, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

The latest Big Picture purveyor, Michael Gallis, is an architect and specialist in hyper-comprehensive regional planning. His firm analyzes regions economically, culturally, demographically, educationally and in terms of taxation, transportation, housing et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

He made his pitch at last week’s annual meeting of the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce, which has adopted “regionalism” as its ruling cliche for 2001. In fact, some of the chamber officers, together with many Grand Rapids influentials, are executives in the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, which is financing Gallis’s $800,000, 18-month analysis of the region.

Gallis’s pitch is that fragmentation handicaps us in the emerging world economy which, he predicts, soon will march to the drum of the hardest-working, biggest nation on earth, the Chinese.

He did not describe the nature of the region’s disadvantage. Instead, he referred to record U.S. trade deficits with China. He also made veiled references to Genghis Khan’s chief tactic: thoroughly scouting a country before assaulting it. Perhaps he’s referring to the enormous number of Chinese in our graduate schools. (Genghis Khan, by the way, wasn’t Chinese.) Too, he spoke of China’s historic peak coming during our own Revolutionary War, implying perhaps that we’re peaking just as they are surging back as a world power.

So how does this relate to having a plethora of township, municipal and county governments with a village or two thrown in? The single clear reference he made to the subject is that it’s easier for a unified region to get federal transportation funding than it is for one municipality.


On the face of it, Gallis is right: our region is somewhat fragmented. We just hope his study includes noting how very, very closely and professionally our local governments cooperate and how successful inter-governmental contracts have been.

To be sure, Gallis’s study may reveal fresh insights and heighten people’s understanding of the dynamics by which this region functions.

Nonetheless, this project calls for cold-eyed skepticism. “Regionalism” is an imprecise term. And if it is a delicate reference to some eventual overarching southwest Michigan command authority, forget it.

One reasons the United States has the world's strongest economy is that it is a relatively free economy competing with command economies, China’s included, that necessarily are far less efficient.

And as part of the liberty that makes our economy so vital, it’s noteworthy that hundreds of townships and little cities exist because their citizens like it that way. That’s part of the nature of the United States. It’s one of the deep-seated reasons, too, that 200 million Americans were able to protect 300 million Europeans 3,000 miles away for 40 years.

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