The map of Newfoundland and Labrador has become a patchwork quilt of administrative boundaries that change - usually becoming larger - with new government initiatives. School Boards and Health Boards became much bigger in the last decade, new Rural Secretariat regions were put in place over the 20 economic zones. Provincial government departments have their own administrative boundaries, and the federal departments and agencies have their own administrative boundaries and regional offices. There is also a myriad of community based and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with their own administrative boundaries. In every case, regional boundaries have been established formally or informally for good reasons. Once established, of course, people and organizations get used to their boundaries. Yet people live their lives cutting across administrative boundaries all the time.
The more we learn about economic development, or health, or education, or even happiness, the better we know that integrating factors produces successful outcomes. Our research seeks to clarify all this. It outlines the many administrative boundaries, and then, using GIS technology, mapped the functional regions in the province. Functional regions are based primarily on daily commuting areas, but also factor in retail catchment areas. They are often inconsistent with administrative boundaries but reflect the way people live their daily lives and therefore have implications for those who deliver services. An internet-based Regional Economic Capacity Index (RECI), developed by Dr. Alvin Simms in Memorials Geography Deaprtment, will be available in the fall of 2011, providing community and regional data on Labour Markets and Demography, Economic Structure, Incomes, and Governance. RECI allows you to compare your community and region to others, to assess how you relate to your functional region, and to determine areas of strength and areas requiring attention to assist community sustainability. Governance boards can also draw on communities that are close enough to meet together regularly. Even with the Internet, research is clear that face-to-face interaction is critical in any activity to build trust.
Early conclusions from our research indicate that most administrative areas are large compared to functional regions. We learned that functional regions change over time. If a fish plant closes or a new mine opens, a region suddenly contracts or expands as people commute to new jobs. Where governments invest in infrastructure and services has a major impact on functional regions. The maintenance of ferry service, the location of the regional high school, what roads are paved - all affect the ability of people and businesses to interact on a daily basis. Functional regions are not based solely on unchanging natural forces beyond our control: public policy and investment matters.
Realizing that functional regions change over time highlights that we should not attempt to re-draw all our administrative boundaries. What our understanding of functional regions points to and what RECI will assist community and industry and government planning with immeasurably - is that governance bodies need to understand how they relate to neighbouring regions, and how functional regions within their areas of responsibility need to be factored into decision making. Some "orphan" communities exist. Some are not connected by road or are very remote. Some change over time where the closure of a fish plant, out-migration, and aging populations can all impact the level of interaction among neighbouring communities.
The findings suggest that most communities in the province are not on their own. If they assess their population, services, and employers as a region, they will have many more opportunities. To take advantage of these assets they will need governance arrangements that cut across boundaries, often in varying ways, depending on the activity being considered. Our governance approach has seldom created the capacity and supported the tools to enable regional decision-making. This research and the related reports, along with the on-line Regional Economic Capacity Index, should help us understand and manage regional interdependence in our province.
Published in: Newfoundland Quarterly, 104.1, 2011, p. 47-49