David Robertson, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments
On June 8, two gatherings were held that reinforced why Region Forward holds great promise to be a catalyst for renewed regional focus and action.
The Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington hosted the chief elected officials from the region’s four largest jurisdictions— Mayor Vincent Gray (DC), County Executives Isiah Leggett (Montgomery) and Rushern Baker (Prince George’s), and Chairman Sharon Bulova (Fairfax County). They were brought together to explore strategies to strengthen governance and nonprofit collaboration. The audience included board members and senior staff from both large and small nonprofits serving a wide-range of community needs. At the end of the two-hour meeting there was a clear call for greater cross-sector regional collaboration, setting top regional priorities, and measuring performance to achieve outcomes.
Later that day the Board of Directors of my own organization, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments was briefed by experts from the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings on their new report, Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America. The report provides a wealth of data on the top 100 metropolitan areas, including the National Capital Region, and concluded that even regions with good transit service often fare poorly in providing access to jobs, especially for low-wage workers in suburbs. The dialogue among public officials on our Board that was triggered by the Brookings presentation highlighted the links to affordable housing, gentrification, diversity and equity.
What’s the connection between these two meetings? Region Forward was identified at each meeting as a useful new avenue for spurring regional thinking and action. That’s not bad since the marketing of Region Forward has been quite modest to date. Nonetheless, like a pebble tossed in a pond, the ripples are spreading.
Public officials and business and nonprofit leaders — and the public too — all understand that we live in a complex, multi-state, multi-jurisdiction region. The National Capital Region will almost certainly never be a “one size fits all region.” Yet, there is not only a willingness, but a desire to work together, across sectors, to achieve our common goals. People also readily see the connections — between transit and jobs, for example, or between investments in nonprofits and the community outcomes we desire.
Support for regionalism, the need for clear goals, and a commitment to measure performance and hold ourselves accountable for outcomes were themes common at these two gatherings of area public and private sector leaders. They are also at the heart of Region Forward, which has a number of hard targets and indicators for measuring success.
On June 10, the new Region Forward Coalition, which is made up of public officials, nonprofit and business leaders, advocates, and experts, will kick off its first official meeting, following three community orientation meetings last month in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. There is a lot of work ahead for the Coalition and some will no doubt expose the fault lines of competition that crisscross jurisdictions and sectors. But the message that the National Capital Region shares a common future and that regional, multi-jurisdictional, multi-sector collaboration will help us unlock that future grows more powerful. That’s a good thing for our community — now and in the next 40 years.