Summit was good first step

Published 9:35 pm Monday, April 6, 2009


In an area the size of Hampton Roads, which encompasses six cities and two counties from the oceanfront west to Southampton, it can be a dirty word, especially considering the somewhat checkered history of the area’s most well known regional entity, the Southeastern Public Service Authority.

Few governing agencies wish to give up the power they have over their individual municipalities, and many citizens are wary of having the individual identities of their cities and counties subsumed by a collective organization of communities. The example of SPSA — mired in debt, mismanaged by paid and appointed officials and unable to act quickly to embrace needed change — just confirms the worst fears that most folks have about a regional approach to Hampton Roads’ shared problems.

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But many of those problems are, in fact, shared ones, and shared solutions could go much further toward solving them than the piecemeal approach dictated by the current geopolitical strategy.

A regional approach to problem-solving was one of the focus points during the Hampton Roads Civic Engagement Summit, held Saturday at the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center in Suffolk. Hundreds turned out for the meeting, where they discussed not only regionalism, but also possible approaches to achieving greater engagement by the citizens of Hampton Roads.

“There are so many regional issues, but there aren’t any regional structures,” said Chris Gates, one of the presenters at the summit. “It’s the responsibility of the region to have conversations of how these things get done.”

An obvious first step toward solving those collective problems is to promote an area-wide discourse about them. Government and civic leaders took that step on Saturday. It would be a shame to let that first step also be their last.