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Conventional wisdom suggests that the basic job of public policy studies (and public institutions, for that matter) is to deal in a timely and practical fashion with pressing public issues of the day. The focus typically is on 'ripe' topics, 'hot' political problems. If a study can be ahead of the curve, in John Kingdon's apt phrase "an idea whose time has come," so much the better. But unlike more traditional academic research, where the focus is timeless — i.e., an explanation of previously inexplicable phenomena, timeliness is a prime reason for initiating a policy study.

In this context, analyzing the prospects for regional governance in Massachusetts and New England and suggesting the creation of any new arrangement for metropolitan regions for the Commonwealth seems premature or, at best, wishful thinking. But these are not conventional times. Wrenching changes in welfare, education, and health care are accelerating in a nation being demographically transformed.

Three important forces are at work which suggest that regional goverment may be a timely topic after all. First, as we will describe, the academic community is giving some priority to the subject after two generations of neglect. Second, in a time of budgetary constraints, the economic development strategies of metropolitan communities increasingly require a global perspective that emphasizes the interdependence of central city and surrounding suburbs in achieving and maintaining an international competitive advantage. Especially in Massachusetts, given the effects of Proposition 2 1/2 and pressures on the costs of land and home ownership, the need to develop and articulate a common metropolitan economic strategy grows. Third, political forces speak increasingly to the ineffectiveness of local governments in coping with the critical issues of the day. In the midst of "the Big Dig" and a long-term inability to site a new convention center and a stadium within the metropolitan Boston region, how to plan and provide key metropolitan infrastructure is definitely a 'hot' political issue.



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