Time to Think Regionally: 7 Cities Today, Norfolk Metro Tomorrow

You ever ride down Virginia Beach Blvd  near Newtown Road and feel a thump-thump underneath your car?   You ever get confused when going to a concert wondering which one of the amphitheaters or venues to go to?    Tired of living in a city that often gets overlooked for new business opportunities and prestige that seem to always go to Virginia Beach and Norfolk?  Wondering why  the Tide stops in the middle of a residential area and does not stretch from the NOB to the Oceanfront?  Well, most of us are tired of and confused by these issues and a lot more.  Companies all over this land are combining forces.  The idea of ‘a little bit of something is a lot better than a whole lot of nothing’ is sweeping Wall Street.  Mergers of large technical and financial companies are happening at a record pace, making the landscape for small and medium-sized companies into a desert with nary a mirage in sight.  The same can be said about the metropolitan areas in America.  The top ten largest cities in the U.S.  is a venerable who’s-who list of industry, politics, economics and clout.

Rank City State Population  
1 New York City New York 8,175,133  
2 Los Angeles California 3,792,621  
3 Chicago Illinois 2,695,598  
4 Houston Texas 2,099,451  
5 Philadelphia Pennsylvania 1,526,006  
6 Phoenix Arizona 1,445,632  
7 San Antonio Texas 1,327,407  
8 San Diego California 1,307,402  
9 Dallas Texas 1,197,816  
10 San Jose California 945,942

One has to conclude that the federal government and large corporations give more favor to our larger cities.  How can Hampton Roads capitalize on such good fortune?  Let’s look at that chart with the 7 cities’ and their populations combined.  (Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Suffolk,  and Portsmouth).

Rank City State Population  
1 New York City New York 8,175,133  
2 Los Angeles California 3,792,621  
3 Chicago Illinois 2,695,598  
4 Houston Texas 2,099,451  
5 Philadelphia Pennsylvania 1,526,006  
6 Phoenix Arizona 1,445,632  
7 Norfolk  Metro Virginia 1,401,281  
8 San Antonio Texas 1,327,407  
9 San Diego California 1,307,402  
10 Dallas Texas 1,197,816

This would make Norfolk Metro the seventh largest city in the United States.  Strategically and geographically New York would be our only competition on the entire eastern seaboard, and because of the deep ports and industries already established here we would have an advantage in several key areas.  There are key roadblocks that will keep this from happening.

People Don’t Want a Regional Government:  The meer mention of combining cities brings out the worst fears in everyone.  Will Suffolk, with its small population, have as much of a voice and influence as the larger cities?  Who is going to deflect Newport News’ crime and poverty numbers?  Who will be responsible for elevating Norfolk’s schools and test scores?  Will Virginia Beach have to share their considerable cash advantage with everyone?

These are really important questions that need honest and tough answers.   The sacrifice will be less that rewards we reap as an area.  The network of schools, hospitals, and civilian services(police and fire) really would not have to be touched.  Quality of life most definitely improve for all over time.  Some people could see a minimal  reduction in quality of life i.e. increased traffic or increased building that would not have existed before the merger.

What’s First?  Light Rail is the first spoke in the wheel to improvement.  The cities are segregated because of a circuit of roads and bridge that serve individual communities but do little to nothing to improve travel and commuting from city to city.  Light Rail will, eventually, be an artery that seamlessly links Portsmouth to the oceanfront.  Williamsburg to the Norfolk Naval Base.  Great Bridge to Waterside.  The only links between these distant locales now is a myriad of congested roads.  Light Rail will make these trips more palatable and frequent.

Next, regionally there are no real convenient links to our closest competitors in Raleigh, Charlotte, or Washington D.C.  Creating more convenient routes to these cities will create more convenient routes to our area.  We are essentially cut off from the rest of the larger region and realistically cut out of the economic and industrial possibilities that often go to other cities.  Widening the highways and the creation of more direct paths to our competitors by way of rail(Amtrak) and air(improving and expanding the Norfolk airport) will only serve to help the area.

Norfolk Scope2.JPG

Conclusion.  We are decades from realizing our potential as a major city.  The facts are it will take almost a decade of state and federal wrangling to allow the cities to combine.  After that it will take decades to make the improvements that are outlined in this essay and the myriad other things that have to happen to make this venture profitable and impactful.  The first step has to come in the form of reconciliation and the creation of a regional adventurers spirit.  On paper it works.  Just like anything else that is put in blueprint form one needs an architect to make those plans a reality.  Who or what will be the spark to get this ball rolling?

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