Commentary: Steele: Geography and local politics
December 24, 2012 11:12AM
Updated: December 24, 2012 11:38AM
I tend to think that city council districts aren’t all that important in very small cities like Crown Point, but I can understand the idea that there might be some distinction in the interests of residents of various parts of town.
In my experience as an observer, council members, commendably, haven’t shown the proclivity to care more about their own district than others’. But at least voters know that there’s someone who is officially dedicated to the interests of a relatively small territory.
The reliance on population, precincts and neighborhoods in their creation is probably the only way to do it, but that highlights the way that physical geography plays such a secondary role in the way politics and policy-making is structured.
Crown Point did a good job, it turns out, with that. A majority of the council will have a direct interest in Beasor Valley drainage, in the downtown and its immediate surroundings, in the Broadway corridor and the interstate interchanges, and in other big topics.
This sort of adherence to manmade boundaries doesn’t always work out, though.
Why exactly is it that it’s best for your neighorhood to have one representative, rather than two? It used to be that the 46307 zip code was split between two state representatives, for example. There was one from each party, even.
But when lines were redrawn, that’s exactly the sort of thing that’s targeted as bad — it’s taken as obvious that it’s better to have one representative for an area of common interest. No one tells us why. You’re just supposed to know it’s better.
Ultimately, the city council here and in most similarly sized cities is collegial enough that even we have more compact, districts, the city would be fine.
The entire issue of political boundaries, though, is one that calls for addressing in a way that’s not going to happen.
Counties and townships defined by 19th century surveyors have created inefficiencies and politically unmanageable entities that make it impossible even to form something like a firefighting territory, where everyone would be taxed by the same rules for the same service.
The political odd couple of northern and southern Lake County is as much a result of geogrphay as anything — the northern part being a natural for heavy industry; the southern for farming.
How governable a particularly area is depends as much on luck as anything else. The occasional redrawing of boundaries is necessary, but of marginal impact.