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Are urban growth boundaries more equitable?

Marc Lefkowitz  |  11/30/11 @ 3:00pm  |  Posted in Transform

Ron Sims learned a lot about the rise and fall of metro areas like Cuyahoga County as executive of King County, home to Seattle and an urban growth boundary, and during his recent stint as deputy secretary of HUD. Drawing a line at King County's border beyond which no development can go has slowed sprawl, he said. But not long ago, Seattle wasn't much different from Cleveland-before county and city officials banded together to build up 'urban islands'. With liberal Democrats (and African-Americans) holding the mayor, county executive and governor's office, it helped to hold that line and build an urban redevelopment agenda with persuasion-supported by data. Like their study that bus riders save $11,000 a year in transportation expenditure.

Sims was here to talk about place as a health determinant, City Club Program Director Carrie Miller told me before his appearance yesterday. Their Place Matters series is based on a 24-year difference in life expectancy between a resident of Hough and Lyndhurst.

"ZIP codes are a life determinant," Sims said. "ZIP codes kill. If you have diabetes in one it means amputation in another you get medication."

Sprawl development has its costs, too. "To all of those people who say my development doesn't have a cost…if you commute one hour a day you're more likely to have a heart attack by age 72."

Sims says Cleveland has all of the tools in the toolbox to follow Seattle's regeneration.

"The only thing stopping Cleveland is Cleveland. Nothing is more powerful than belief."

His narrative jives with a new report that downtown is bursting at the seams with new renters-and that supply will have to ramp up.

But the hard part is figuring out how to reinvest in Cleveland's poorest neighborhoods and how to preserve the region's natural resources, he added.

"Look at Austin, which is the most popular destination for college educated under 35 right now. They decided to measure success by addressing their poorest neighborhood, which is right next to downtown. They want to change its look, feel and outcome."

"Cleveland is on the verge of being extraordinary, but the decisions you're making now will make it enduring."

I was sitting next to the don of equity planning, Norm Krumholz, who said with a smile after, "that sounded to me like more choices for those who have few."

I tell Norm that I would have liked to ask about how federal funding will support the strengthening the urban core agenda in Sims' speech. With the draft Transportation Bill reducing funds for cyclists and pedestrians, and with Community Development Block Grants-the only non-discretionary funds for urban development on the Congressional chopping block-it's a stretch that Cleveland would build out its entire 180 mile bike plan or repave the wider sidewalks in the city neighborhood that Sims says seniors need; and that's where the rubber sole meets the road (or complete street).

When asked what direct benefits accrued to King County from its urban growth boundary, Sims said: "Because we are constrained, King County is the 8th largest agricultural county. We preserved 125 acres of forest. We are very green, and we don't lose people's capacity to spend what they would on transportation in places they can walk and bike to."

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