The Washington-based International City/County Management Association (ICMA) has released two new reports, one dealing with the benefits of consolidating 211 and 311 service numbers, and another on smart growth planning in rural areas.

ICMA's "211/311: Is There a Case for Consolidation or Collaboration?" examines the history, growth, and similarities and differences between 211 and 311 services, which allow residents to access information and non-emergency local services in many communities with a single call. The paper's author, Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies President and CEO David Eichenthal, proposes that, given the growth of 311 and the prevalence of 211 systems, there are opportunities for consolidation or coordination between them. "By providing greater public access to essential government services, both 311 and 211 systems increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their delivery to residents," Eichenthal said. "Despite the obstacles, the opportunity for consolidation and the need for collaboration are clear."

The paper includes case-study examinations of consolidation attempts in certain locations, such as New York; the Regional Municipality of Halton, Ontario, Canada; and Bridgeport, Conn. As of April 2009, more than 240 million Americans had access to 211 resources through more than 240 active systems in 46 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, according to the report. During 2008, 211 systems nationwide received more than 13.5 million calls. As of March 2008, according to the report, there were 64 cities and counties with a 311 system, less than 5 percent of the 914 counties and 627 cities in the U.S. with more than 50,000 residents. A 2007 ICMA survey found that just 15 percent of responding local governments reported having any form of central customer service system.

ICMA's other report, "Putting Smart Growth to Work in Rural Communities," focuses on how to adapt smart growth strategies to rural communities. Funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the report examines the challenges rural communities face, including rapid growth at metropolitan edges, declining rural populations, and the loss of working lands. It focuses on smart growth strategies that ICMA believes can help guide rural growth while preserving the unique rural character of existing communities.
The problems facing rural communities, according to the report, include: declining populations and growth at the edges of metropolitan areas that consumes working lands and converts small towns into bedroom communities; limited accessibility to critical goods and services; and, in many rural communities, limited planning capacity, which can make planning for change a challenge and can lead to haphazard development patterns.

To address those challenges, the report recommends strategies based on three central goals: 1) support the rural landscape by creating an economic climate that enhances the viability of working lands and conserves natural lands; 2) help existing places to thrive by taking care of assets and investments, such as downtowns, Main Streets, existing infrastructure, and places that the community values; and 3) create great new places by building vibrant, enduring neighborhoods and communities that people, especially young people, do not want to leave. The report uses case studies from across the country that demonstrate the successful implementation of smart growth policies by local governments, states and non-profit groups.

Download "211/311: Is There a Case for Consolidation or Collaboration?" and "Putting Smart Growth to Work in Rural Communities."

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