BFG

Could a true merger work?

Recommended Posts

It's been discussed numerous times up here and around town, but it's something that crosses my mind a lot. Every time Norfolk does something, VB announces plans to do something similar, and vice versa. Could a true merger between those two cities (or Norfolk and Chesapeake) really work, or is it a complicated disaster waiting to happen?

IMO, on paper, it's a great idea, and probably the most feasible one. You have people who live in VB, but work/play in Norfolk, and vice versa. But because the LRT expansion was shot down, someone who lives in Kempsville (in the case of Chesapeake, let's say Greenbrier) still has to drive to the base in Norfolk and sit in traffic. And that's not changing anytime soon. Creating one city could possibly change that. For building the economy and bringing more tourist and federal money to the region, it makes a ton of sense. It would probably become a lot easier to bring jobs here, knowing you could bring something to an area of 700K (500K with Chesapeake). I think we get more transportation dollars knowing we now have a city of 700K. I also think moving City Hall to Town Center becomes inevitable, as it probably becomes the central-most part of this larger city.

However, I think this deal potentially hurts VB/Chesapeake. Both have a lower property tax than Norfolk, excellent schools and a much lower crime rate. I'm sure they don't want to have to prop Norfolk up in those areas, and that's understandable. Also, what do you do with your councils? I highly doubt you'll see a combined 20-person council, but the areas are so spread out, I don't know if 11 members would adequately represent either. Would Mayor Alexander or Mayor Sessoms give up their positions, or still retain a title overseeing the respective "districts" of Norfolk and VB? I believe the boroughs of NYC have borough presidents; maybe something like that? Maybe allow the current council members to still represent their wards, but still elect a new 11-person council?

This is all just speculation; obviously it would need to be fleshed out over a number of years, but I'd love to see a true feasibility study outlining pros and cons and eliminating this back and forth we keep seeing, most recently with the two arenas. Could a merger work, or could parts of either city become part of Norfolk (i.e. South Norfolk now becomes part of Berkley, or the Bayside/Newtown Road area become part of Norfolk)?

Edited by BFG

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


Continuing, I'm looking over Wikipedia's article on "conurbation", or basically merging cities to form a large metro, but still retaining individuality.

A good example comparable to here might be the Bay Area in California. I've never been to that part, but I think San Fran and Oakland is a reasonable comparison. They're both right next to each other, and they've had their own infrastructure issues with arenas and stadiums.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think so.  Norfolk and Virginia Beach do not have anything in common other than what you've already mentioned.  The people are entirely different. The scene is entirely different.  Norfolk aspires to be like other port cities, Portland, Seattle, Baltimore, etc Virginia Beach does not have anything in common with that aesthetic. 

Virginia Beach and Chesapeake can attain Norfolk's population density, and I actually believe that they will surpass it over time, but the look and feel is something entirely different.  Totally different energy out there than what you have in Norfolk.

As far as South Norfolk, it was its own city before Chesapeake was created out of a merger with that city and the county.  They could have allowed Norfolk to annex.  They didn't then, and I doubt that they would in the future, even though it is a better look for them than Chesapeake.  I have always felt that Chesapeake patronizes South Norfolk, but they don't really care about it.  That will always be the urban core of Chesapeake, even though the city will never recognize it as one. 

I do agree with you about the San Francisco and Oakland comparison.  That is Norfolk and Virginia Beach all day every day.  Just leave well enough alone, and allow both cities to mature.

The real reason why people want the cities to merge is economic.  If the seven cities could stand on their own, no one would care about a merger.  But since each of the cities are, at best, a piece of the puzzle, there is closure with merging the cities together.  Part of my issue with a merger is that you create an unhealthy dependence on the unit in order for the boroughs to thrive.  Take New York City for example. The only other "city" you have out of all of those boroughs is Brooklyn.  Brooklyn was its own city before the merger.  Those other boroughs were rural counties that became urban over time, because of increasing rents in Manhattan. 

People quickly forget that we have a similar situation here in Hampton Roads.  Norfolk became undesirable, for a number of reasons; population density in Norfolk was a lot greater fifty years ago, the area represented the best and the worst of an urban experience in Virginia.  So people left areas like Norfolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, and went into neighboring counties, filled out those areas, and new cities were formed. And that is the way that it will continue to be around here.

People just want Hampton Roads to become one city so they'll get their professional sports, or maybe Taylor Swift will come here for a change.  I don't really think it is for a genuine concern for the area.  The area is entirely too large, actually larger than New York, and it wouldn't create what people think it would.  You'd end up with an experience more like Chicago or Los Angeles. Look at how those areas annexed over the years, and consolidated into a single city.  Los Angeles is still accused of being suburban, despite evidence to the contrary.  They do have an interesting entertainment industry, as a lot of professional sports teams, and they definitely have the concerts and other stuff that we would like to have here but they also have something that is hard to come by in this area; money.  Money is why LA was able to build a great subway system in a rather short period of time.  Money is why LA can afford to rebuild downtown in less than a decade, regardless of what type of earthquakes or natural catastrophes they have there.  We don't have that type of money here.  I'm not even sure if they have it like that in Northern Virginia. 

Chicago is getting 52 new skyscrapers in an incredibly small amount of time.  We have the population to support that type of development here, but we don't have the money to make that work.  I'll be happy if we get light rail throughout Hampton Roads before I die.  I'm thinking like, at least 10 lines that can take people where they need to go.  And I keep my expectations low, not because of a lack of vision, or a lack of cooperation, but because the money just isn't here for those large projects to work.  The people who could make it happen are going to vote against it, and the people that really want it are powerless to make it happen.  But its better than Ohio, so I continue to stay here until I can position myself to go somewhere else. 

You said it all with the lower property taxes in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, which they can afford, for various reasons.  Taxes would raise throughout Hampton Roads, people would cry foul, and everyone who could afford to do so would move to North Carolina. 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Norfolk and Portsmouth- put the two biggest ports under one city's jurisdiction, strengthen transit between the two and create a true urban core of Hampton Roads' longest inhabited spaces along the Elizabeth River. For obvious reasons, this will probably never happen, but with the Dillon Rule, the state, seeing the dysfunction currently in Portsmouth, could force the cities' hands and encourage a merger. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, Norfolk757Kid said:

Norfolk and Portsmouth- put the two biggest ports under one city's jurisdiction, strengthen transit between the two and create a true urban core of Hampton Roads' longest inhabited spaces along the Elizabeth River. For obvious reasons, this will probably never happen, but with the Dillon Rule, the state, seeing the dysfunction currently in Portsmouth, could force the cities' hands and encourage a merger. 

I don't see why this couldn't happen.  Definitely would happen before a merger with Virginia Beach.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'd love to see it happen, and maybe annex South Norfolk into the mix, to bring Norfolk to about 350-375K.

The catch: you run into an even bigger conundrum than you would by merging Norfolk and VB. Both Norfolk and Portsmouth have below average schools, crime, and higher property taxes. Then there's the controversy with Portsmouth's council.

I imagine it would take a ton of work to clean up a city merged between two cities that have an equal share of issues.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah, also isn't one of Portsmouth's main problems a lack of taxable property because of all the federal and military land (Coast Guard, Naval Hospital). Those institutions provide jobs but bring no money into the city's tax base, since they don't pay property taxes. Basically half the city's land is untaxable. That's how I understand it at least. So, from Norfolk's standpoint, on top of all of its own problems, Portsmouth comes with hefty baggage as a partner. 

But it would be cool to have one unified city spanning the Elizabeth River. The two cities are like fraternal twins. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now


  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.