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An urban agenda for Ohio

Marc Lefkowitz  |  04/06/16 @ 2:00pm  |  Posted in Vibrant cities, Transportation choices

Inspired by a Tweet last week from Ohio Democratic Party Chair, David Pepper, calling for a new urban agenda in the Buckeye State, a group of urbanist bloggers from around the state have been responding with ideas. In addition to a post written on the subject by David Beach in February, here are some thoughts.

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Ohio is an urban state. Of course, it has amazing natural areas, farms and rural communities, but more than half of its residents live in metropolitan areas and that number is expected to grow. This fact should make it easier to start talking about what an urban agenda means to Ohio. But, every generation needs to be reminded, and so here are some thoughts on how Ohio stands to benefit by having an urban agenda.

Most notably Ohio’s cities are powerhouses of production. They export, they build, they produce culture, art, literature and places built to last and get better with age. Ohio is the envy of states with less traditional, beautiful cities. Ohio’s cities were built to be reused over and over, across generations, including this time of Millennials, Gen Xers and retiring Baby Boomers whose interest in living in urban places is rising and demands a cohesive agenda.

Ohio, your strength can be found in cities and their built form where density and mixed uses are again desired properties because they were built for proximity and human interaction. A real urban agenda for Ohio would build from this position of strength. It recognizes that the human scale of its urban places enhance productivity and quality of life. An urban agenda encourages sustainable development which means building where infrastructure exists, and incorporating low carbon forms of transportation and technology to make it easier to live with less. For example, green building can reduce energy and water consumption and make cities cooler. Form based code can help lessen the reliance on an automobile.

An urban agenda promotes connectivity and diversity. It mixes modern amenities like bike share, car share, Uber, driverless cars, real-time parking apps that provide incentives to reduce the space required for parking cars so that land is more affordable for human habitation. An urban agenda for Ohio respects the existing 20th century built environment and seamlessly weaves in the 21st century advancements.

A real urban agenda builds more dense, mixed use places and links them with frequent transit service. It recognizes that streets are places, specifically, through a state policy that requires all road construction projects to be complete streets and recognizes that the provision of bike lanes, sidewalks, crosswalks, traffic calming measures and trees are good for health, safety, property values and local economies and should be funded annually and strategically.

As recent reports comparing the tax generation of low vs. high density development show, Ohio benefits when growth back into cities is encouraged. Instead of undermining that growth with tax incentives for sprawl and interstate highway expansions where no population density exists, Ohio needs an urban agenda that uses transportation investments to reduce the long term demand and the ever spiraling cost for transportation.

We need Ohio to flex more federal transportation funds to MPOs like NOACA who identified a $1.5 billion backlog of road and bridge repair needs. We need ODOT, NOACA and Cleveland to agree on a plan that prioritizes building the “sustainable multimodal transportation system” that Northeast Ohio’s Metropolitan Planning Organization identified in its strategic plan.

This could happen in a few ways. The most pragmatic would be for Ohio to support NOACA in setting a mode shift goal in their Long Range Transportation Plan. Ohio could fund a mode shift goal at NOACA. An urban agenda encourages the state and local leaders to plan for more transit and invest in it as the important link to work and as an asset to build around. An urban agenda recognizes that cyclists and pedestrians are tax payers and that cleaner forms of transportation are ideal in cities but only if infrastructure, like protected bike lanes, are routinely added during construction.

An urban agenda also must deal with the scourge of sub-prime lending that unleashed a wave of vacancy on cities like Cleveland and its older suburbs. Ohio must be at the table in assessing the development potential and then help clean up and re-invest in land, big time, especially in its post-industrial places by redoubling its efforts in Clean Ohio and Jobs Ready sites that are poised for reuse. Ohio has an opportunity to create an urban agenda for the communities that have little development potential by encouraging new, sustainable uses like clean energy and/or food generation, and the creation of new parks and green space for the benefit of its people. Communities like East Cleveland and emerging models of urban agriculture in Cleveland need Ohio leaders to visit and put boots on the ground—with an eye toward rethinking how we live in cities.

The cities of the future may not have bedroom community here and towers of elite professionals there. We need an urban agenda that encourages mixing things up: It’s time Ohio rolled up its sleeves and started doing the fun work of re-thinking what it means to be urban. They’ll see what their kids see, that its not scary, but is the crucible for new ideas, local currency, producing food, aquaponics, biocellars, wind farming, encouraging the formation of businesses between minors and retirees, sparking co-operatives, and recycling from old into something new again.

Please share your ideas for an Ohio urban agenda. And Tweet them to @DavidPepper and to your state representative.

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5 years ago

This one's easy: a State constitutional amendment to open up the gas tax to transportation uses other than road projects.

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