Pictures really do speak volumes. Here's a comparison of land-use maps for Northeast Ohio, Portland, Oregon and Seattle's King County. Of course, Seattle and Portland draw Urban Growth Boundaries around their existing metro areas, and that has helped to contain overdevelopment.
When you look at Northeast Ohio's land use map-prepared by regional sustainability initiative, NEOSCC-a pattern of low-density development (the yellow) spreads from Cuyahoga County outward. Decades of converting farmland in Geauga County into subdivisions are made plain to see. A tattered lace of land-use reveals the region's choice. We pour most of our resources into highways and residential development at the metropolitan edge.
The map is marked by a more recent trend – vacant land (purple). You can see how vacancy is not just reserved for Cleveland. Pockets of vacant land, mostly due to the recession and foreclosure crisis, have spread into the southern and eastern parts of Cuyahoga County. More heavy concentrations of vacant land-and negative tax base-is following along the I-90 corridor into Lake and Lorain counties. Worse hit appears to be Summit County-what's going on here? Akron, Kent and suburb alike are pockmarked with purple. What isn't purple is yellow-zoned for more residential even where none exists today.
The purpose of the $4.25 million NEOSCC is to reach consensus on a plan to develop more sustainably. That may mean the colors on the land-use map will change voluntarily, as a result of policy decisions like re-zoning. Northeast Ohio can grasp the tools it needs to take control of its fate; cities and townships can raise up the re-emergence of denser nodes of development at the metro fringe like you see in the Portland and Seattle region in part through new mixed use zoning. The cities where we call home hold the fate of the region in their hands. It is up to them-and key regional policy makers like the Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to figure out how this patchwork comes together into a coherent and resource-smart place. It may require a new direction for land-use. The current pattern is just too unsustainable.