Europe's Cities Get Organized


Berlin. -- President Clinton, at the Brandenburg Gate tomorrow, will pronounce a benediction over the ghost of the vanished Cold War. American, Russian, French, British troops, after a half-century's presence, are departing this once and future capital city.

Mr. Clinton has already revealed one appeal he'll make to Germany: that Berlin, once the dividing line of the Soviet and Western worlds, may now "help to bring East and West together for all time."

Indeed, one can ask what better place could be found for an American president to urge Germany to take on still greater European and global responsibilities than in this most free-spirited of German cities -- the metropolis that least easily succumbed to Hitler, the city that withstood the Soviet blockade of 1948 and a generation of snarling communist threats.

Let us not, though, be misled. The game of power in the new Europe has shifted rapidly and decisively, from the power of nations and armies to the economic savvy of great citistate regions. Heads of state may come and go, dollars and francs and marks may rise and sink in value, but it's the citistates with strategic skills and competence that will flourish.

Leaders of Europe's great metropolitan regions have grasped the new reality, and are moving on it much more rapidly than America's urban leaders.

Mayor Eberhard Diepgen, for example, sees Berlin's potential to become "the greatest industrial center between Madrid and Moscow." Simultaneously, he claims, Berlin will increasingly be seen as the economic center of Europe as the European Community forms special associations with Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, not to mention Scandinavia on Berlin's close northern flank.

But there's a precondition for Berlin to compete effectively with Paris, or northern Italy, or other regions of today's Europe, says Mayor Diepgen: It must break out of its borders and merge governments with the far larger, surrounding "land" or state of Brandenburg.

Mayor Diepgen argues that Brandenburg, a relatively poor province since the days of the old German empire, needs the investment power and capitalist skills of Berlin, and especially West Berlin -- a city that did not have to suffer four decades of communist repression. Berlin, by contrast, needs to make all of Brandenburg part of its economic game plan.

A Berlin newspaper poll released in June shows close to 80 percent of Berliners in favor of merging the citistate of Berlin with Brandenburg. Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the Bonn government are in favor, and a draft treaty to effect the merger in 1999 has already been written.

And it's not only in Germany that efforts at regional coherence are under way. The Polish Parliament recently voted to create a unified Warsaw-area government, with broad regional powers, even while recognizing some autonomy in the 11 surrounding jurisdictions.

Rotterdam, eager to maintain and advance its status as Europe's greatest port, is anxious to have a single metropolitan authority to guide the port and economic development and to control regional land use and environmental and transportation

planning. But to ease suburban fears of being overwhelmed by the center, Rotterdam is agreeing to first split itself into 12 smaller parts, responsible for neighborhood affairs -- and only then go for the unified metropolitan form.

To the south, four especially aggressive European citistate regions -- Lyon, Stuttgart, Milan and Barcelona -- are openly challenging their bigger peer citistates -- Paris, Frankfurt, Rome and Madrid. The four provincial citistates signed a cooperation pact in 1988 and are forging trade and economic ties that virtually ignore their parent nation-states.

Stuttgart is considering a breathtaking scheme to almost double its bustling downtown by putting vast areas of railroad tracks underground and recycling the land for urban development. The trade-conscious Stuttgarters talk of developing their own "foreign policy" -- even while Milan, at the heart of Italy's traditional industrial area, is supporting the idea of breaking Italy into three autonomous regions.

Barcelona, a citistate that's bolstered its attractiveness with heavy investments in sports and the arts, is seeking the power to raise and keep its own share of income tax away from Madrid -- even while it forges a strong economic triangle with Toulouse and Montpelier in France.

Lyon has yearned for years to escape the shadow of Paris, and now seems to be succeeding, adding rapid economic investment, building connections with Geneva and Turin, and emerging as the economic capital of the Rhone-Alps Region.

Every European citistate, in short, seems to grasp the imperative of planning and acting more and more independently of its parent nation-state.

The irony is that we Americans have dispatched our youthful, supposedly change-oriented young president to challenge a continent whose great metropolitan regions already recognize the post-Cold War challenges. In fact, metropolitan Europe is moving to unify and plan for the future with a dispatch and style that puts to shame the halting and tentative strategic efforts of most U.S. urban regions.

Neal R. Peirce writes a column on state and urban affairs.

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