Sunday, 6 June 2004

Be careful what you wish for

Mike Hollihan has a very interesting post that manages to summarize pretty much everything worth knowing about Memphis politics today. A particularly interesting quote:

Also, if Memphians who want out—for good schools, racism, safe neighborhoods, whatever—know that Shelby County is now, or will soon be, a closed book, then they just skip county or state lines and move anyway. But now they’d be out of the reach of Shelby County altogether.

And, thanks to a oft-overlooked portion of Tennessee’s “smart growth” law passed in the late 1990s (after the “Toy Towns” crisis), they’re now out of the reach of Memphis too. Part of the deal that half-heartedly imposed Oregon-style urban planning on the state’s municipalities was a little provision that essentially cut off the “nightmare scenario” under previous law that would, essentially, have allowed Memphis to annex any unincorporated land in Tennessee, given sufficient ingenuity by the Memphis City Council;* now, annexations across county lines require county commission approval, except in limited cases where a city already straddled county lines.

In essence, the legislature told Memphis: “we saved you from the Toy Towns, now the whole mess is yours to sort out—the catch is, you only get to f*ck up one county.” The legislature is looking mighty prescient right about now.

* Tennessee’s annexation laws give priority to the more populous municipality in annexation disputes, regardless of any other factors (geographic continuity, geographic compactness, ability to deliver services, etc.). As the most populous municipality in Tennessee, Memphis thus had essentially unchallengeable authority to annex all unincorporated land in the entire state.


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Unrelated, but interesting side note: St. Louis, the city, is not a part of St. Louis County. St. Louis sits apart from the county and doesn’t reside in a county. In the late 1800s (I think), the bustling city did not want to waste its tax monies keeping up the vast empty space outside its city borders, so it separated from the county.

One hundred years later, the city has a population of 400,000 and a declining revenue base, and St. Louis County is ~2,000,000 strong.

Now the city wants the county to rejoin it. Probably to help pay for those revitalization moneypits like the Trans World Dome, the Kiel Center, Busch Stadium II, and Union Station (where trains don’t stop, but you can buy some nice t-shirts depicting St. Louis), the projects the city likes to spend its revenue on to maintain its position as a “world-class city” at the expense of its disaccredited school system and other silly things like infrastructure.


Much the same is true of Baltimore, Maryland, which is not part of the surrounding Baltimore County.

Oklahoma City spills out of Oklahoma County into Canadian and Cleveland; there’s a sliver in Pottawatomie, and there used to be another one in McClain. At 621 square miles (including the lakes), it’s probably as big as it’s going to get, and most of the adjacent territory has already been annexed by the ‘burbs.

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