The Secrets of Successful Communities – Part 5: Cooperate With Neighbors for Mutual Benefit
October 31, 2023

We are pleased to publish the following article by Edward T. McMahon, former president of Scenic America and renowned placemaking and urban planning expert. The article was originally published by PlannersWeb in 2013, and is part one of an eight-part series on placemaking and community development.

Historically, elected officials have tended to view neighboring communities, the county government, and even the managers of adjacent national parks or other public lands as adversaries rather than allies. Some community leaders see economic development as a “zero-sum” game: if you win, I lose.

Successful communities know that today’s world requires cooperation for mutual benefit. They know that the real competition today is between regions. They also understand that very few small towns have the resources, by themselves, to attract tourists or to compete with larger communities.

Regional cooperation does not mean giving up your autonomy. It simply recognizes that problems like air pollution, water pollution, traffic congestion and loss of green space do not respect jurisdictional boundaries. Regional problems require regional solutions.

There are numerous examples of communities working together for mutual benefit. In the Denver region, 41 communities cooperated to support funding for a regional transit system (i.e. FasTracks). Cleveland area communities cooperated to build a Metro parks system. Metro Minneapolis and St. Paul collaborate on tax base sharing.

Even small rural communities can cooperate for mutual benefit. Small towns in Mississippi have worked together to organize and promote U.S. Route 61 as “the Blues Highway.”

Similarly, five rural counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore collaborated with the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy to create a regional agreement to preserve farmland and open space.

Scenic America’s first president Ed McMahon developed an interest in land use planning and landscape conservation as a result of serving a tour of duty in Germany as a young soldier in the US Army. A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Ed spent two years traveling throughout Europe from his post at US Army headquarters in the postcard-perfect town of Heidelberg, Germany. Over the course of Ed’s tenure, Scenic America worked closely with local and state governments to pass sign ordinances, tree protection legislation, and other measures to protect community character and identity. We are proud to honor Ed’s legacy by publishing his catalog of industry-renowned work on the Scenic America website in perpetuity. Read more about Ed McMahon