When I was invited by the Quad City Times Editorial Board to contribute to the Voices of the Quad Cities series by sharing an Illinois perspective, it prompted a number of ideas and directions this subject could take.
Among the first to occur to me was consideration of the overall advantages our bi-state area enjoys from the standpoint of both political and cultural opportunities.
On the political front, while serving some years ago as the mayor of Rock Island, I was part of an annual Quad Cities delegation to Washington, D.C., to lobby for issues of concern to our region. With some regularity on our trips, we were reminded of our rather unique situation nationally. We are one of a handful of metro areas overlapping state borders where populations in each state are roughly equal. As a bi-state region we enjoy the benefit of four senators and at least two congressional representatives, while most single-state areas only have two senators and one congressman.
Given our historic balance of population, this likewise affords a relatively equal voice in raising concerns to our entire area, with each state’s congressional delegation giving us similar weight. Given the fact that over the last 30 years our congressional delegation has also generally been bipartisan and wielding a considerable degree of seniority, we’ve enjoyed good leverage in promoting issues of concern to the bi-state region – like preserving and growing the Rock Island Arsenal.
Similarly, although five major cities comprise our somewhat inaptly named "Quad-Cities," this diversity has provided the opportunity to learn from each other, as each community explores ways of revitalizing downtowns, creating cultural centers, or promoting issues such as historic preservation or green innovation. Though intercity competition could be divisive, Quad Cities area governments have undertaken agreements to discourage "raiding" each other’s businesses. Instead, local governments have proactively sought to coordinate efforts to respond to emergencies, jointly purchase commonly needed materials and engage in joint training of first responders. The recent cooperation of Rock Island and Moline to provide recycling and waste services to the Rock Island Arsenal is a good example of this.
Again, our bi-state character, while making this somewhat more challenging, also allows us to see what works in one state that might deserve replication in the other – like adoption of historic tax credits in Illinois patterned after what Iowa has.
Beyond political considerations, cultural amenities have been enhanced by our bi-state region as well. Built around the amazing Mississippi River, each side of the river over the last 30 years has created incentives to promote redevelopment as well as cultural enrichment through a range of devices from tax credits to government grants. Variable development tools in each state have contributed to their development – from civic center authority legislation in Illinois to charitable contribution credits in Iowa. As a result, local institutions – from museums, to theaters and entertainment districts, to public radio and television stations – give our Quad Cities a cultural range of offerings second to none among communities of comparable and even greater size nationally.
In short, although challenges to be considered in other columns have contributed to a growing imbalance between the two sides of the river, overall our Quad Cities as a region benefits from our bi-state character. It will be stronger still if we continue to address issues that could divide us in a sensible and proactive way going forward.