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Does Northeast Ohio like business as usual?

David Beach  |  04/17/13 @ 1:00pm  |  Posted in Vibrant cities

Northeast Ohio has lost 7 percent of its population since 1970, while increasing the area of developed land by 33 percent, or 400 square miles. This sprawl without growth has emptied the region’s central cities and created a host of fiscal, environmental, transportation, and social problems.

Do you want more of this suburban pattern development in the coming decades? Or do you have other ideas about the kinds of places that will allow you to live your version of the American Dream?

Abandoned in the city<br />Construction of homes in new communities has outpaced household growth, causing surplus old homes to be abandoned and the region's urban cores to decline.Encouraging, but not enough<br />Walkable, mixed-use redevelopment projects, such as Uptown in Cleveland's University Circle, are encouraging, but they are not happening at a large enough scale to counter-balance the loss of urban population and tax base.

Confronting the trends

You will have a great opportunity to express your preferences in the coming months at regional planning workshops conducted by the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium (NEOSCC). The consortium is a 12-county effort to help people understand:

  • What is happening to our region.
  • Whether the trends (jobs, housing, land use, transportation, environmental quality, etc.) are what we want.
  • If not, how we can change the trends and create a better future based on our shared values and goals.

As a tool for learning about the region, NEOSCC is undertaking a scenario planning process. Scenarios are stories about possible futures. The first step is to map out what the region will be like in 30 years if current development trends continue — the Business As Usual (BAU) scenario. This scenario will include trends of property abandonment, so we will be able to see the shockingly large areas of the region that are likely to decline. And it will include a fiscal impact analysis, so we will finally know the costs (roads, water, sewer, schools, services, etc.) of continued sprawl.

On April 30-May 2, NEOSCC will conduct public workshops to get reactions to the BAU scenario. Based on the reactions, it will then work with its consultants from Sasaki Associates and Fregonese Associates to create alternative scenarios for the region – possible futures that might offer a better quality of life at reduced cost.

On July 29-August 2, there will workshops about the alternatives. Then a preferred scenario will be developed based on what people like about the alternatives. This preferred scenario will be the topic of workshops in September.

Moving from planning to change

Can we imagine a better future and make it happen? To have a chance, two things will need to happen.

First, the people who have a vision of a more sustainable Northeast Ohio will need to make their voices heard during the NEOSCC planning process. We will need strong advocates for:

  • A region with vibrant urban centers where more people can live in walkable neighborhoods with reduced environmental impacts.
  • A region with abundant land for nature and working farms.
  • A region with much lower greenhouse gas emissions, so we can meet our moral responsibility to reduce the risks of climate change.

Second, people who want a different future will need to work hard for implementation in the coming years. This will require changing the myriad public policies and investments that encourage new development in rural areas. NEOSCC is committed to starting the process of change. It will develop policy recommendations, a toolkit of best practices, and pilot programs to support the preferred scenario.

But NEOSCC’s federal funding will run out at the end of this year. In the long run, it probably will be up to other organizations to alter the BAU trends. Key players will include existing regional planning agencies – the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA), Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study (AMATS), Stark County Area Transportation Study (SCATS), Eastgate Regional Council of Governments in Youngstown, and the Northeast Ohio Four County Regional Planning and Development Organization (NEFCO).

These agencies are already showing signs of understanding that current trends are not sustainable. NOACA, for instance, will soon be developing a regional strategic plan that will help it determine whether the billions of dollars of transportation funds it distributes actually help to build the types of places people want.

Of course, change will be hard. These are big issues with which we have been grappling for many years in Northeast Ohio. (See our Citizens Bioregional Plan for a 1999 summary that remains on the mark today.) In a fragmented region with more than 700 taxing districts and local control of land use decisions, it’s challenging to forge consensus on common priorities. To change the trends, we will need a vision of a better future that is incredibly compelling.

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P.S. In the past few days there were interesting Plain Dealer articles on this topic:

  • Steve Litt on trends of urban employment and infant mortality.
  • Brent Larkin on Tom Bier's latest scary numbers on the impending decline of Cuyahoga County if redevelopment doesn't become a priority.

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David Greene
4 years ago

It seems city growth problems have to become grotesquely terrible before any action is taken. I would like to see a complete inventory of housing in N.E. cities and an analysis of the problems followed by solutions that promote pedestrian neighborhoods and compact urban areas. I would like to see urban boundaries and comprehensive planning (to include neighborhood plans) that are updated on a regular, five-year basis.

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