THE AVENUE SEPTEMBER 8, 2009
There’s a lot of back and forth going on about whether the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka ARRA or the “stimulus package”) is working or not. Last week, Mark Muro asked: What transformative impacts might ARRA have on the way states, localities, and regions do business?
Well, my answer would be: partnerships.
Across the country, metropolitan-area leaders striving to innovate in this recovery moment are forming new partnerships. Such collaboration might be a response to specific ARRA program guidelines or expectations, or an unprompted desire to better leverage stimulus resources. Regardless, for many places these ARRA partnerships represent a new way of doing business, and many metro leaders expect that the collaborations they are building now will likely carry on or strongly influence how things get done in the future.
And these partnerships are aiming to do a lot. Multi-jurisdictional partnerships are helping to bring the scale of ARRA responses to the scale of boundary-crossing challenges, like curbing energy use. For instance, 17 local and county governments in Puget Sound and five counties in southeastern Pennsylvania are working together in their respective regions to pursue new opportunities in alternative energy and building energy efficiency.
A new generation of public-private partnerships is setting up the market incentives and investments that could sustain initiatives once ARRA funds are depleted. In Chicago, a new city effort to increase energy efficiency retrofits of low-income multi-family buildings deals upfront with private banks and energy service companies. In Southeastern Massachusetts, a new broadband proposal calls on a telecommunications company to operate the planned network while a nonprofit oversees infrastructure maintenance.
And for that matter, research partners are also stepping up to fill program gaps involving data and evaluation—important for informed decision-making but also stressed by ARRA’s accountability and transparency principles. We see the University of Missouri-Kansas City providing demographic and other data to guide and track ARRA-funded community revitalization in a number of distressed neighborhoods in Kansas City’s urban core. And the Urban Institute stands ready to help a consortium of Washington D.C.’s suburban jurisdictions assess the performance of their planned ARRA program for acquiring and rehabbing foreclosed homes.
Of course only time will tell, as with everything else in ARRA evaluation, whether these connections are really working. After all, partnership-building is a strategy straight out of the playbook for good 21st century governance. Partnerships draw in the expertise, creativity, and resources of those best suited to provide them; they maximize the effectiveness of what is done and reduce redundancy or cross-purposes. Surely that’s a winning proposition in times when every dollar is precious.