Derek S. Green
is chief legislative aide to Philadelphia Councilwoman Marian Tasco
It's the closing session of the 2015 Keystone City Conference. Attendees at this eighth annual event are looking back on the group's years of achievement and cooperation.
It was in 2008 that Philadelphia's elected leaders first came together with their counterparts in Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties to begin a dialogue on how they could work together to move the Greater Philadelphia region forward.
The conference's name of course echoed Pennsylvania's nickname of Keystone State, which it got because of its role in upholding the Union.
The title Keystone City underscores how the Greater Philadelphia region is responsible for more than a third of Pennsylvania's economy, employment, and population. The name expresses how vital this region is to the growth and future of the commonwealth.
The conference began because, after years of an us-vs.-them mentality between Philadelphia and the adjacent suburbs, elected leaders finally realized that they were not competing against themselves or even other regions in the United States but with metropolitan regions such as Bombay, India; Dublin, Ireland; and Shanghai, China.
During the first conference, leaders began the dialogue by focusing on areas that connected all five counties (for example,, transportation). They determined what issues were distinct to each county and what issues could be addressed cooperatively. After a year of collaborative dialogue and debate, the leaders agreed on an issues agenda and then developed methods to fulfill the agenda.
In year three, each county used the conference as a way to kick off cooperative reforms, created assessments to measure results and outcomes, and organized a Keystone City caucus that spoke with once voice in the General Assembly.
As a result of the Keystone City Conference, the county governments found more and more ways to work together, from cooperative purchasing agreements to a regional tourism fund. Cooperation enabled each county to save money and to preserve limited resources for key goals.
Yes, it's obvious, from the perspective of 2015, how much the Keystone City Conference, and the cooperative spirit it generated, did to energize the region, reverse negative trends, and set up population and jobs growth, as well as a strong increase in per-capita income and property values.