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Paths to prosperity

Marc Lefkowitz  |  11/14/07 @ 4:12pm

Restoring cities will take efforts large and small.

The just-ended Shrinking Cities Symposium and exhibit showed us there's great value in bringing artists, educators, entrepreneurs and 'at-risk' communities to the table. In Detroit, creative, boot-strap efforts like The Heidelberg Project, a massive outdoor art environment, and the Beloved Communities Initiative spurred by activists like Grace Lee Boggs are an answer to shrinkage and blight.

Youngstown wants to follow suit with its 2020 plan-setting aside 260 acres in depressed areas like the Wick District, possibly for those who want to grow things.

"The city may let homeowners buy abandoned lots next door to create gardens," according to a USA Today article. "It's considering relaxing zoning rules to allow small horse farms or apple orchards. It's offering incentives for people to move out of abandoned areas."

On a larger scale, the just-released Brookings Institution's Restoring Prosperity report calls for a shift in how the state handles the flagging socio-economic status of Ohio's metro areas. For example, it calls for a "fix it first" strategy to strengthen areas where people already live by improving existing infrastructure like streets and buildings.

The report sparked a statewide effort led by nonprofit group Greater Ohio to "outline a state action agenda, continue local dialogues, engage stakeholders, and implement the plans needed to return Ohio's struggling cities to prosperity.

"Many cities are already hard at work rebuilding neighborhoods, re-forming their business base, and tying cities to their regions. Greater Ohio will identify state policy directives that help these cities get back on track." Read more.

Ohio's General Assembly grew interested in how state land-use policy impacts urban redevelopment and farmland preservation back in 2003, when its Subcommittee on Growth & Land Use, lead by Rep. Larry Wolpert (R-Hilliard), issued a report (pdf) with strategies for advancing and preserving our cities, townships, and farmland. They offered a menu of interesting suggestions; some of which came to fruition, others still under consideration, and a few that sound radical, but may have currency with the Restoring Prosperity and Shrinking Cities efforts underway.

Of the latter, they called for an Urban Homesteading Zone, where the state helps its cities like Cleveland-endowed with many abandoned acres of land in neighborhoods like Central or Clark-Metro-by offering incentives like free school vouchers to lure 'gentlemen farmers' to the city. Imagine gated farm estates right along Opportunity Corridor where you can grow food for your dinner table or to sell at local City Fresh markets.

The committee also called for a State Historic Tax Credit, which passed last year, and for expanding Transfer of Development Rights to all 88 counties (multi-county TDRs are currently being considered by the legislature). They also suggested 'Planned Counties' or a regional land-use plan, which is further explored in the recent EcoCity Cleveland study, The State Role in Guiding Land Use Change in the Ohio Lake Erie Basin.

Share your favorite ideas and insights for an urban agenda that may help close the gap between the haves and the have nots in our state.

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