John Parr, Regional Civics - In Memoriam

"A Tragic Loss for Civic America" by Neil Pierce & "Remembering John Parr" — By Curtis Johnson - CitiStates Group

"Thoughts on a Regionalist"

by William R. Dodge

John Parr’s death stirs a wide range of emotions, but especially rekindles thoughts about a common passion for fostering regional cooperation.

John and I shared extraordinary experiences during my tenure as the Executive Director of the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC). John helped launch a series of Regional Summits, bringing together hundreds of public, private, nonprofit, academic, and civic leaders to prepare National Regional Agendas of timely initiatives. John contributed to the Regionalist, NARC’s quarterly journal on the latest regional thinking. John assisted in preparing NARC’s first national report on the State of Regional Cooperation.

Later, when he served as President of the Alliance for Regional Stewardship, I assisted him. I especially remember preparing monographs on timely regional topics, including one soon after 9/11 on the growing importance of cooperation among first responders, and state and federal agencies, to prepare regional emergency preparedness compacts for safeguarding citizens in natural and manmade disasters.

For all of the energy we applied to these efforts, however, sustaining them long enough to see any tangible impact, much less make them self-supporting, was extremely difficult. Some of the initiatives also suffered untimely deaths, such as the Regionalist. Some became pale reflections of their original purposes to bring us together to revitalize the ineffective governance all too often found in metropolitan and rural regions.

I am also reminded of John Gardner, the incredible civic activist, who served as a mentor for both John and me. Each time we talked, John had a new aphorism to share. One that has always given me hope in fostering regional cooperation is “Hypocrisy is Halfway to Virtue” though I all too often experience repeated acts of hypocrisy. Another is striving to achieve “Unity with Diversity” and again diversity seems to be the predominate winner.

John’s death does rekindle my, and I hope others, passion, for fostering regional cooperation. I have a book in process that explores future paths for regional cooperation and maybe this will prod me to complete it.

Pursuing new regional initiatives might be an appropriate way to remember John. What can we do to help everyone think of themselves as regional, not just local, citizens? What can we do to bring regional citizens and leaders together to design, test, and institutionalize new tools for regional cooperation? What can we do to corral the inequitable and profligate behavior that often characterizes regional governance? What can we do to shape future growth that is affordable and benefits each and every citizen? What can we do to make state and national governments effective regional partners, such as in preparing regional emergency preparedness compacts? What can we do to link up regions world wide, to learn from each other’s experiences, and to build the support systems required by individual citizens and their governments?

What can we do to build and sustain the passion that John Parr brought to regional cooperation?

Maybe it’s time to prepare a series of “Regionalist Papers”? Our purpose might not be to make the case for adopting a new Constitution, like the Federalist Papers. However, the country is facing challenges that merit equally serious attention to how we govern ourselves. Ironically, in 1786, George Washington suggested convening a meeting to discuss the limitations of the Articles of Confederation in resolving a regional issue, navigation rights on the Potomac River. The meeting the following year in Philadelphia resulted in drafting the United States Constitution.

Are there budding Jays, Hamiltons, and Madisons who would like to help prepare a series of “Regionalist Papers” on addressing regional challenges in a federal governance system? If so, I look forward to working with you and dedicating the effort to John.

Bill Dodge served as the Executive Director of the National Association of Regional Councils and is the author of Regional Excellence. He can be reached at