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Major Cleveland consortium chimes in on sprawl, other divides

Marc Lefkowitz  |  03/12/18 @ 2:00pm  |  Posted in Transform

The Fund for Our Economic Future’s “Two Tomorrows” report, like Cleveland State University Levin College of Urban Affairs professor, Tom Bier’s book "Housing Dynamics in Northeast Ohio: Setting the Stage for Resurgence," offers an indictment of trends in Northeast Ohio’s economy. It also provides specific recommendations on how to turn things around. It is the type of report intended to grab the public and private sector’s attention, given that its contributors represent major philanthropy, academia, and the area Chamber of Commerce.

<br />From a 2016 Center for Neighborhood Technology report on the economic impact of connecting jobs and transit. Akron riders board a Metro bus. 

Improving transit in Akron-Summit County could gain the region $8 million, and give a lift to households in poverty.

What The Fund has to say about Northeast Ohio can be summed up in a quote on page 20 from economist Joseph Stiglitz that the only sustainable prosperity is shared prosperity.The report makes a considerable effort to draw lessons from widening gaps in the local economy.

“One in fifteen Northeast Ohioans live in an area of economic distress,” The Fund starts. Thousands of people being left behind due to economic polarization, a digital divide, and urban sprawl are among the metrics that The Fund follows. The latter was the subject of its “Geography of Jobs” report, which looked at the effects of living in a region beset by poor land-use decisions.

Two Tomorrows continues the analysis of what missed opportunity, like 50 years of sprawl, has done to the regional economy.

Like Bier, who has made a career studying the impact on housing values, The Fund repeats the bottom line from the Geography of Jobs report: In the first decade of the new Millennium, jobs within a typical commute distance of Northeast Ohio residents declined by 22%.

Despite the fanfare around Millennials and Boomers moving to cities, fueling some economic gains, the dominant real estate and transportation infrastructure trend in Ohio has been to siphon resources with subsidized sprawl.

“Without a doubt, downtowns throughout Northeast Ohio are benefitting from a resurgence in residential occupancy rates, leading to important benefits to regional economic and psychological well being,” The Fund writes. “Over time, this trend is likely to yield increases in tech-based and headquarters related jobs, as it has in other cities. However, this has yet to materialize meaningfully and local, regional and statewide policies continue to promote the development of new sites over use of existing infrastructure, driving the land-use patterns that undermine the region’s economic competitiveness.”

The Fund does have recommendations to correct for this massive market distortion. They call on the region to implement anti-poaching agreements and regional revenue sharing. Both help existing and new communities in the long run (when they find themselves in a revenue crunch from building around short lifespan ideas).

Knowledge industries like biomedical engineering have place-based advantages. Tech capitals like Boston and Austin are seen as the top corporate relocation spots because they have invested heavily in clusters where intellectual capital, density and the growth of an industry-specific workforce are the priority.

The Fund thus advises against pouring more into highway interchanges—resulting in redundant retail centers and poaching corporate headquarters. Northeast Ohio will continue to drain its resources and relocate jobs away from locations that are often better served with infrastructure, like fiber optic lines and transit service.

Admittedly, 30-acre shovel ready sites in existing areas often need brownfield remediation; there is a tactical advantage to defining what urban land meets the requirements of a job hub.

“Identification of priority redevelopment sites using (a) job hub definition could be used to encourage changes to the state investment philosophy toward site improvement, which strongly favors directing funding to outlying areas, a strategy that is undermining our region’s competitiveness.”

They also recommend state and local officials re-prioritize transit-oriented development. “The (22% reduction) in jobs nearby leads to untenable choices. A commute by public transit can be as long as three hours a day.”

“A robust transportation agenda should include both state and local actions,” The Fund concludes. “At both levels, vocal business leadership will be central to improving connections between people and jobs."

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