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Collaboration is the foundation of our region's contemporary success stories: Viewpoint

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By Tim Brennan, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission

In 1955, Massachusetts became one of the first states in the nation to enact regional planning, enabling legislation allowing "a city or town to plan jointly with cities and towns to promote with the greatest efficiency and economy the coordinated and orderly development of the area within their jurisdiction and the general welfare and prosperity of their citizens."

With leadership provided by an initial core of six communities, the creation of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission followed, establishing an effective regional planning district that today encompasses 43 member cities and towns, nearly 1,200 square miles of land area and a population of over 630,000.

The rationale of this legislation was sound, recognizing that in order for communities to effectively address problems, as well as to pursue opportunities, they needed to reach beyond individual municipal borders in order to think, plan and act together, However, this was not an easy transition for any Pioneer Valley community to navigate given New England's penchant for home rule and local autonomy.

Over time, however, there has been growing recognition that in order for communities in a region to grow, compete and prosper, it is essential that they work together. Undeniably, this reality took considerable time and effort to take hold, but today collaboration is the foundation of virtually all of our region's contemporary success stories.

If we look back over several decades of regionwide collaboration that the planning commission has helped orchestrate, there's an impressive list of important accomplishments we can celebrate, including notable examples like these:

* The ongoing Connecticut River cleanup project, which has reduced water pollution levels by over 50 percent south of the Holyoke Dam while regaining fishable, swimmable water quality above it;

* Creation of the region's public transit district, the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, the largest regional transit authority in Massachusetts, which today employs over 300 vehicles to transport nearly 12 million transit riders per year;

* Development and ongoing implementation of the Pioneer Valley Plan for Progress, the region's strategic economic plan, which was first launched in 1994 and has since undergone major overhauls in 2004 and 2015;

* Reconstruction and revitalization of the region's main north-south passenger rail corridor with an over $120 million investment of federal and state funds, which has successfully brought back Amtrak rail service to the cities of Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield for the first time since 1989;

* Sparked by the 1992 opening of the Norwottuck Rail Trail, an 11-mile combined bicycle-pedestrian facility linking Amherst, Hadley and Northampton, the Pioneer Valley today boasts an evolving network of bicycle and pedestrian facilities that enhance our region's attractiveness, livability and health; and

* The successful launch of Leadership Pioneer Valley, a nonprofit that the planning commission helped organize in 2010 to fill a critical need for a program producing an army of emerging leaders to tackle the challenges and opportunities of the region at large.

To maintain this pace of success, however, requires that our region continue the sound planning and doing what is needed in order to intelligently cooperate with our collective future. In fact, it's proven to be the bedrock of sustainable progress for the Pioneer Valley and its people.

Happily, as we look ahead to 2018 and beyond, there are many more collaborative and exciting regional ventures in the "pipeline" that we can look forward to, including:

* The spring 2018 launch of the first phase of the Pioneer Valley Bike Share Project, a joint venture led by Northampton, Amherst, South Hadley, Holyoke, Springfield, the University of Massachusetts and the planning commission;

* Start-up of Connecticut's new commuter rail service, dubbed the Hartford Line, which during 2018 will connect New Haven-Hartford-Springfield, bringing 12 round-trips per day into Springfield's revitalized Union Station;

* An expanding array of municipal, shared-service projects that encompass diverse activities such as accounting, animal control, economic and community development, information technology, conservation and storm-water management, among others;

* Led by the Hampden and Franklin-Hampshire regional employment boards, a regional partnership will unveil a new Pioneer Valley Workforce Blueprint that is aligned with critical state workforce development priorities;

* Implementation of numerous clean energy and climate action strategies that will accelerate the region's transition to renewable energy sources while simultaneously reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions to ensure we meet statewide reduction targets established for years 2020 and 2050; and

* Launching, on a pilot basis, expanded passenger rail service north of Springfield to benefit Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield, working in concert with Amtrak, the state Department of Transportation and other key partners.

None of the above-cited accomplishments, whether achieved in the past or anticipated in the future, could have been achieved by one community or organization acting alone. These are, and will continue to be, the products of collaborative thinking and acting that's results-driven.

What has evolved across the Pioneer Valley after more than 50 years of practice is a system of regional governance, rather than regional government, that is firmly grounded in cooperation, trust and confidence. As American industrialist Henry Ford once observed "coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success."

The Pioneer Valley has surely learned how to collaborate on a regional scale and, increasingly, at a super-regional scale that stretches across state borders. This collaborative path is how we now have many major and noteworthy achievements to point to and perhaps, more importantly, why we must commit to stay on this collaborative course.

Tim Brennan is executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission. To learn more about the commission and its work, visit the website, pvpc.org.

Source : http://www.masslive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2018/02/post_106.html

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