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SYSTEMATIC REGIONAL PLANNING

The sort of systematic planning for an entire region that one might call national planning has been done only once. That project was the work of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The Tennessee River originates in the Cumberland Mountains of the eastern part of Tennessee, flows westward, turns southward into northern Alabama, and then swings north, emptying into the Ohio at Paducah, Kentucky, a few miles upstream from the confluence of the Ohio and the Mississippi. Over half of its drainage basin is in Tennessee, but the basin also includes parts of Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Kentucky.

The natural regime TVA of the Tennessee River is characterized by large spring flows that produce destructive floods and low summer flows that inhibit navigation. The intensity and frequency of these events discouraged development and contributed to persistent poverty in the valley.19

The idea for integrated development of the valley originated shortly after World War I and was persistently and skillfully backed by Senator George Norris of Nebraska. One selling point for a project on the Tennessee, aside from the poverty of the region, was that there was already some federal investment in the valley. Toward the end of World War I, the federal government had started to build a dam at Mussel Shoals on the Tennessee River to generate hydroelectric power and an industrial facility to use that power to make nitrates for explosives. The nitrate plant was tested and then "mothballed" in 1919. The dam was completed in 1925. The presence of that wartime investment provided a rationale for more development to properly utilize the original public investment. The nitrates that would have been used for explosives in war would be used for fertilizer in peacetime. In 1928 Congress passed legislation that would have created an organization similar to TVA, but it was vetoed by President Calvin Coolidge.

The Great Depression changed the political equation. In April 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt requested passage of legislation creating an authority, and Congress quickly complied.20 Both job creation and alleviating the persistent poverty in the region were motivations. The act created a single authority to deal with all aspects of the project.

The river was dammed at a number of points to control flooding, and the same dams were used to produce hydroelectric power. The hydropower made possible electrification and furnished power for industry. In time the economic growth of the region raised the demand for electricity beyond what could be produced from the river, and, in the years after World War II, TVA branched out into fossil fuel and nuclear-generated power as well. The building of locks rendered the river navigable from Knoxville, Tennessee to the Missouri and thence to the Mississippi, thus contributing to the commercial growth of the region. Lakes created by the water projects provided recreation for the residents and brought in income from tourism.

As a project and an experiment, TVA has both its critics and admirers. From the political right it has been criticized as socialistic and as permitting government to compete unfairly with private power companies. In fact, early in its history, electric power companies brought suit to enjoin it from selling electric power. The appeal went to the Supreme Court, which upheld the right of the governmental body to produce and sell electric power. TVA has been criticized from the left for being too cautious and sticking to an excessively narrow agenda. The agency has concentrated on a few areas— flood control, navigation, and power—and has eschewed a more comprehensive planning and social engineering role. Its admirers will argue that the agency performed yeoman service for the region by ending flooding, rendering the Tennessee River navigable (over a 652-mile stretch from Paducah to Knoxville), and providing the region with low-cost power. It let the region compete rather than languish in a state of underdevelopment.

Congress has never duplicated the TVA, though many "little TVAs" have been proposed. One reason clearly is ideological. A writer who worked for TVA for some years suggests that another reason is bureaucratic rivalry.21 In the TVA, various functions are all the responsibility of a single commission. Thus, she asserts, little TVA proposals have been opposed by the Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other agencies because the proposals would take functions out of the hands of those agencies. Although the TVA experiment has never been duplicated in the United States, the project has been the object of study for planners, economists, and administrators from developing nations all over the world as an example of how to handle regional development.

Although the TVA has never been duplicated there have been less comprehensive efforts made at multi-state planning. Of these, the biggest and best-known effort is that of the Appalachian Region Commission (ARC). Set up in 1965, the Commission was designed to combat the problem of lagging development in Appalachia noted in Chapter 13. The region, defined by statistics on poverty and unemployment, extends from the southwest corner of New York State to the northeast corner of Mississippi and includes parts of 13 states. It is run by a director appointed by the President of the United States and the Governors of the 13 states. The basic function of the Commission is to channel federal funding to projects in the region to make it more competitive with other regions and also to ameliorate some of the social effects of underdevelopment.

After the Commission was set up it was concluded that the biggest single factor holding back economic development in the region was inadequate transportation, a result of the region's mountainous topography. The largest expenditure of federal funds coming through the Commission has been for highway construction, and accessibility in the region has been very much improved. Funds have also been spent directly on economic development (for example, the community-owned industrial park that offers firms sites at below cost). Funds have also been spent on workforce training to improve the quality of the labor force and on medical care as well as a variety of social services. Good work has been done by the ARC, but in terms of comprehensiveness and the remaking of a region, it is not comparable to what was accomplished by TVA. There was no single project comparable to the controlling of the Tennessee River that could serve as the defining element in a plan, nor was there a comparable level of funding and political commitment.

 
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