Urbanophile has a post up, debating the common assumption that a large number of our regional problems would be solved by combining local and county governments. Insane fragmentation makes it hard to argue against some level of consolidation, but it might have a downside.
The blog's author lived in Indianapolis for many years and is very familiar with the two main examples of "big box", consolidation, Columbus and Indy. He notes that there are few examples of real failure in this model, but perhaps no shining example of success. Sooner or later, one runs out of land to consume and one has to face the work of good design and good government. There's always a county line to to flee across at some point.
But another thing occurs to me. Because Midtown is part of a much larger city, it suffers from the problem of a diffusion of responsibility. That is, it can assume the rest of the city will carry the load in some respects. This manifests itself in a strong anti-development NIMBY contingent that is opposed to urbanization. Any proposed development of any kind is greeted by wailing and teeth-gnashing by opponents, who’ve been known to do things like pull their kids out of school to serve as props at mid-day zoning hearings where commissioners are told neighborhood kids will literally die if new apartments are approved.
I don’t know what the sentiment is in Bexley, but they’ve certainly implemented more actual urbanization than Midtown. I suspect one reason is that Bexley knows it has only its own tax base to rely on. If its residents want to keep quality schools, they can either approve more commercial and intense development, or watch their residential property taxes go up significantly over time. That focuses the mind wonderfully.
So I also hypothesize that in addition to making redevelopment more difficult for reasons of the structure of government, big box government also inculcates an anti-development mindset to a greater degree than small box government.
Also, interesting is that many of the examples of urbanist innovation and success in these regions have come from independent suburbs like Carmel, Indiana and Bexley, Ohio.
The downside is this.
On the downside, it seems almost inevitable that many of these unconsolidated suburbs will turn into complete failed cities, often left ignored and forgotten. There are plenty of beyond dysfunctional suburbs in Chicago just like this. I presume it is similar in places like Pittsburgh. I think it is notable that consolidated cities like Indianapolis and Nashville don’t have any truly failed suburbs. Another benefit of the big box city.