National Transportation Group Recommends Strategies for Retrofitting and Rebuilding Roads to Incorporate Green Infrastructure

July 21st, 2017

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Coordinator

The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) has released an Urban Street Stormwater Guide, offering city officials recommendations for adopting “green,” as opposed to “grey,” infrastructure solutions to improve streets’ ability to handle rainwater runoff. The recommendations on stormwater infrastructure complement many of NACTO’s transportation priorities, such as investing in complete streets that are accessible to all users. NACTO notes the cost-effectiveness of green infrastructure, and explains the ecological, social, and regulatory benefits of its usage. In the guide, NACTO shares some of the best practices being used around the country, where engineers and public officials have taken steps to incorporate green infrastructure into systems that are already in place.  The memo shows how far green infrastructure has come in the last 20 years: from an afterthought, to mainstream best practice. 

According to NACTO, 60 percent of urban areas are made up of some kind of impervious surface, such as concrete, meaning that water and other liquids cannot seep into the surface. Green infrastructure offers an alternative, whereby there is more surface area for water to go in the event of a storm. Green infrastructure comes in many different forms, including structures such as rain gardens, bioswales, and green roofs, and is a rare asset to cities because unlike most resources, green infrastructure actually appreciates over time because as plants grow larger they become stronger and more effective.

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Green Infrastructure in Cleveland, Ohio

In alignment with NACTO, Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) supports policies to modernize Ohio’s sewer and water infrastructure. In 2016, GOPC published a memo assessing the benefits that green infrastructure provides to communities in terms of cost and effectiveness, and analyzes some regional case studies. Many Ohio cities use green infrastructure to divert stormwater from antiquated combined sewer systems that overflow in large storms, dumping wastewater into rivers.  For example, it is far cheaper to create more parks and bioswales than it is to excavate a deep tunnel that can store millions of gallons of runoff.  Earlier in 2017, GOPC released Strengthening Ohio’s Water Infrastructure: Financing and Policy, which explores innovative strategies for modernizing the system in Ohio. Visit GOPC’s Sewer and Water Infrastructure page for all of the latest state and national news and resources on this critical policy area.

In the Urban Street Stormwater Guide, NACTO advocates for local governments to include green stormwater infrastructure into their formal policies and plans, which could include Green Streets Policies, specific stormwater codes and regulations, and developer incentives to expand green design practices. The guide also includes technical suggestions for retrofitting green infrastructure into streets, along with successful methods to execute comprehensive street reconstruction. Throughout the process of introducing a green infrastructure project, NACTO firmly recommends that city officials understand and evaluate variables such as the health of the watershed, existing infrastructure, flood zones, regulatory requirements, and current land use and zoning codes.

See NACTO’s report here and visit GOPC’s Sewer and Water Infrastructure page for all of the latest state and national news and resources on this critical policy area.

 

Connecting People to Jobs: The Economics of Job Hubs and Employment Access

July 19th, 2017

Glue Cleveland Tour 229

 

By Jason Warner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

Recent studies have shown that over the past two decades or more, more land is being used today, expanding the places where jobs are located, but this is occurring without a net increase in population or jobs. This new type of urban sprawl, known as “no-growth sprawl,” has the effect of separating workers from the jobs they need to support themselves and their families. Cleveland is one of those cities where this has been an especially troubling trend. Now, a number of groups are working on solutions to the problem of erasing the disconnect between people and jobs. 

Fund for Our Economic Future (“The Fund”), working in partnership with the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) and Team NEO, has been examining the concentration of jobs hubs in Northeast Ohio and the benefits and challenges they present to the region. Job hubs are specific places of concentrated economic activity in a city or region, with specific focus on where “traded sector” companies are located in the region. Traded sector companies are organizations that can sell their goods and services outside of the local economy.  The Fund examined job concentration centers in the five counties that make up the NOACA area, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, and Medina Counties, and identified 23 job hubs. These include obvious locations such as Downtown Cleveland, but others as well, including places are far away from the city as Oberlin to the west and Middlefield to the east.

The disbursement of these jobs hubs is at the center of the research the Fund is currently reviewing. Half of the traded sector employment was found to be in a jobs hub in the region.  These jobs are very much in demand and are needed for the local, state and national economy. Additionally, these are jobs that traditionally provide higher income and greater career opportunity than typical service employment jobs. As these hubs move further and further from population centers, transporting people to the jobs is becoming an increasing problem. A survey conducted  by Team NEO found that, when asked to rate what was the biggest challenge to making new employees successful, the most popular answer among employers was employees showing up to work on time and being ready to work when they got there.

This is not to suggest that job hubs are bad things – as the Fund points out, when job hub are integrated into a regional growth strategy, they can improve economic competitiveness and increase opportunities for residents who are currently disconnected from jobs[i]. The biggest obstacle that job hubs present is ensuring that workers have access to these locations. The current pattern of growth that Northeast Ohio and other regions of the state have experienced is increased costs of both time and money for residents. Research by the Brookings Institute shows that the number of jobs within a typical commuting distance fell by 26 percent between 2000 and 2012, which is among the worse measurable rates in the nation[ii]. Furthermore, the research shows many Ohioans spend a disproportionate amount of their income on transportation as opposed to housing[iii].

Most concerning of all is that the Fund’s research shows that 25 percent of Cleveland residents do not have access either to a vehicle they own or, in increasing numbers, to public transportation[iv]. Hence, the challenge the Fund and others face is finding a solution to connect people who lack transportation to job locations, where employers find that their biggest struggle is finding workers who can get to work on time and be ready to work.

Transit agencies statewide are struggling to meet the ever-increasing demands for public transit. Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) is working with groups like Fund for Our Economic Future to ensure that sufficient funding is available for public transportation and that service is designed to ensure that workers can be connected with jobs. For more resources on GOPC’s work in this area, please see our Transportation Modernization webpage.

 

[i]  Fund for Our Economic Future: Why Job Hubs are Important

[ii]Fund for Our Economic Future: Job Access

[iii] Ibid.

[iv]Governing Magazine: Car Ownership Numbers

 

On the Road: Lorain and Elyria

July 18th, 2017

This summer, Greater Ohio Policy Center continues to travel across Ohio visiting legacy cities. We have heard the struggles these cities face, but also the opportunities that lie ahead in these smaller legacy cities.

Most recently, GOPC travelled to Lorain and Elyria. Both cities are located in Lorain County in the northeast part of the state, and Elyria is the county seat. We have taken some pictures from the downtown areas of both cities for you to enjoy.

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Lorain, Ohio

Lorain, Ohio

Lorain, Ohio

Lorain, Ohio

Lorain, Ohio

Elyria, Ohio

Elyria, Ohio

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Elyria, Ohio

Elyria, Ohio

Elyria, Ohio

 

 

 

 

Shrinking Cities Reading Series Part VI: Voices of Decline

July 13th, 2017

By Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC Manager of Research and Policy

In Voices of Decline, Robert A. Beauregard traces the national discourse about urban decline over the majority of the 20th Century. This is done primarily by reviewing historical sources like magazines, journal articles, and opinion pieces that discuss the current state of urban affairs. He traces how commentators and intellectuals discussed urban issues over time and how that served to create a collective set of narratives about declining cities. This discourse is not always based in objective reality, but Beauregard demonstrates how the discourse impacts public perception and potentially, the realities that cities themselves face.

Beauregard argues that the discourse over urban decline is rooted in American ambivalence about urban life which can trace its roots to the founding of the country. The tensions between the city and the countryside eventually morphed into the more contemporary tensions between central cities and their surrounding suburbs. Many of these tensions are related to space and migration – as either the city or the countryside/suburbs attract residents, they must leave the other place behind. Political power requires population, so shifts away from one location to another means a loss of political power as well. Due in part to this political reality, the discourse around cities is rarely neutral as to their value or their moral position.

Portsmouth Historic Buildings 2

Even in the 1920s before urban decline took hold, commentators focused on how congestion and slums made cities unappealing. At this point, some of the ambivalence about cities was due to their role in pulling youth away from rural areas. Still, for the most part, cities were still considered to be the centers of action and any dark clouds were still faint on the horizon. The discourse about cities really began to shift during and after World War II as the urban population losses created by wartime and the Great Depression were not reversed. Suburbanization that began during the 1920s was clearly an enduring trend, and commentators began to recognize the the growth of outlying areas came at the expense of the central cities. Still, many commentators believed that no clear change in the prospects of cities had occurred and that there were technical solutions to the problems at hand, such as annexation. Others began to call for a rethinking of what exactly constituted the city itself, claiming that the broader metropolitan region might be the essential urban unit.

The growing number of African-American migrants from the South moving to northern cities in search of jobs and an escape from Jim Crow presaged a rapid, racially-charged change in the discourse about urban decline. The prospects for recovery were no longer seen as being as bright, and some commenters began to argue that cities were no longer worth saving. Others, however, began to see the moral dimensions of allowing cities that were rapidly growing poorer to decay and sought to show the growing inequalities between the central city and the suburbs. Federal urban renewal programs provided some momentary enthusiasm about reversing decline, but an increasing focus on race and the clear failures of that program quickly deadened any predictions of an urban turnaround. At this point, the rhetoric around urban decline was not about physical deterioration, but shifted to a social and moral deterioration that was deeply rooted in racism. With the election of Richard Nixon, the federal government no longer took direct responsibility for dealing with urban problems and a new focus on replaced traditional anti-poverty programs aimed at rebuilding industrial cities that were continuing to lose jobs and population.

But then, beginning in the late 1970s but coming fully into view in the 1980s, things began to briefly turn around as some higher income people began moving back into the cities. As the service-based economy consolidated their headquarters into central cities, higher educated workers followed them and began to gentrify neighborhoods that had previously been abandoned by the white middle class. Although this trend continued only in fits and starts, it did signal a major change in the perceived function of central cities – they were no longer centers of production, but of consumption. Beauregard’s analysis ends in the early 2000s, but it is easy to see how this trend has extended on into today.

Beauregard concludes by pulling at a deeper meaning in the discourse about urban decline. He argues that urban decline is a central part of American identity and political economy because a He claims that and cities are the essential loci of this interaction. Beauregard argues that the focus of the discourse on the cities themselves shields the broader issues of capitalism from public view. As cities become symbols for broader social forces that cause anxiety, the decline of cities is viewed with ambivalence and even acceptance.

This article is part of a blog series exploring books and articles written about shrinking cities, or communities that are losing population and dealing with housing vacancy and abandonment. For more information on this series, see the first post “Reading Series on Shrinking Cities”. These summaries are provided only for educational purposes and opinions expressed in these summaries do not necessarily reflect those of Greater Ohio Policy Center.

 

GOPC On The Road: Springfield

July 5th, 2017

This summer, Greater Ohio Policy Center continues to travel across Ohio visiting legacy cities. We have heard the struggles these cities face, but also the opportunities that lie ahead in these smaller legacy cities.

Most recently, we traveled to Springfield, Ohio, the county seat for Clark County. Springfield is 45 miles west of Columbus and 25 miles east of Dayton. Springfield is home to Wittenberg University, a liberal arts college which was founded in 1845. Below is a collection of pictures we took on our trip as well as a historic image of Springfield circa 1900.

 

 

Springfield, OH

Springfield, OH

 

Downtown Springfield, circa 1900

Downtown Springfield, circa 1900

 

Springfield, OH

Springfield, OH

 

Springfield, OH

Springfield, OH

 

Springfield, OH

Springfield, OH


 

Neighborhood Stabilization and Regrowth Strategies from Weinland Park and Beyond

June 29th, 2017

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Coordinator

Cleveland and Dayton 052

Last week, Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) staff attended the Columbus Metropolitan Club’s (CMC) session Lessons from Weinland Park. The session was moderated by Columbus Dispatch reporter Mark Ferenchik and featured guests Michael Wilkos of the Columbus Foundation, Carla Williams-Scott of the City of Columbus Department of Neighborhoods, and Eve Picker, a city planner and community development strategist from Pittsburgh. The CMC session followed the release of OSU’s Kirwan Institute’s release of its findings from a recent survey done on the redevelopment of Weinland Park, a Columbus neighborhood which sits just east of Ohio State’s campus.

Wilkos began by explaining the importance of focusing on both people and place simultaneously, as a means of successfully committing to revitalizing an underserved area. Too much effort to rebuild the physical environment of the area could lead to the displacement of residents who perhaps become priced out, while efforts with excessive focus on guiding residents themselves could lead to them leaving the neighborhood for new opportunities, which would leave behind others. Wilkos noted that the Weinland Park Collaborative has been critical in ensuring that Weinland Park’s revitalization has seen both people and place-focused approaches. Williams-Scott added that the City operates at neighborhood level with residents’ opinions as a top priority, which is a necessary feature of any successful revitalization strategy.

Despite all of Weinland Park’s progress over the last few decades, Wilkos stressed that there is still a lot of work to do in the neighborhood. In 2014, GOPC released, with support from the Columbus Foundation, Achieving Healthy Neighborhoods: the impact of housing investments in Weinland Park. That report found that the neighborhood has exhibited increased housing and overall economic stability but that it has a long way to go to become fully a sustainable area. Since 2013, the market has rapidly strengthened in Weinland Park, yet many challenges still persist for some residents, especially families who are still in poverty. On a positive note, the recent Kirwan study concluded that, in general residents believe that the neighborhood is improving.  However 51% of residents still rely on government assistance, and the high rate of people who rent is unchanged from 2010, when their last study was conducted. Wilkos emphasized that because incomes are generally stagnant, it is increasingly difficult for families to pay an affordable rate for housing in a market where living costs are constantly rising.

Lastly, Williams-Scott discussed the City of Columbus’ work in the neighborhoods of Linden and the Hilltop. While there are important lessons that can be learned from the Weinland Park undertaking, she noted there are unique circumstances in Linden and the Hilltop, such as the absence of having an anchor institution like Ohio State right in their backyard. In general, the City’s focus in underserved neighborhoods is on increasing employment opportunities and expanding access to transportation. GOPC works with state and local partners and supports policies that boost multimodal transportation systems and thus expand access to jobs. As Williams-Scott noted, it is of paramount importance that workers and potential workers have a reliable means of transportation in order to get to job sites.

 

Shrinking Cities Reading Series Part V: Sunburnt Cities

June 28th, 2017

By Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC Manager of Research and Policy

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In Sunburnt Cities, author Justin Hollander examines shrinking cities beyond the Rust Belt. After seeing the destabilization of neighborhoods in the Sunbelt brought on by the foreclosure crisis and Great Recession, Hollander argues that cities that have experienced nearly continual growth should acknowledge and plan for the possibility of decline. Hollander considers how deeply a reliance on growth is embedded in these cities – including economies that are dependent in part on the real estate business – but argues that the Great Recession has proven that this growth is not always reliable. Hollander acknowledges that declining populations and destabilized neighborhoods may be more of a blip for these cities than for their counterparts in the Midwest and Northeast, but encourages cities to at least shift their growth-only orientation to acknowledge the potential for shrinkage and adopt “smart decline” techniques that are similar to smart growth principles already embraced in some of these cities.

Cities in the Rust Belt typically have worked to combat decline with growth. But Hollander makes the case about why this focus on growth is often counterproductive to these cities. Hollander cites literature that shows that economic development policies promoting growth in shrinking cities have rarely been effective in changing population or employment levels. A growing population is not always a sign of a healthy community, and at times economic development efforts have come at the expense of working to improve quality of life for remaining residents. With this in mind, Hollander suggests a different way forward for these cities – smart decline. Specifically, he explores two tools, Relaxed Zoning – which allows noncomforming uses in a high vacancy neighborhood for some period of time – and the identification of “Decline Nodes” through statistical modelling which can help identify areas that are likely to lose population in the future. In general, these tools challenge the commonly-held notion that communities must fight decline by rebuilding markets at the cost of producing more affordable housing or rebuilding quality of life for residents.

Nearly the remainder of the book looks at specific neighborhoods in Flint, MI and three Sunbelt cities to examine how shrinking populations have affected those places. Hollander uses Flint as a point of contrast to show how decline affects the physical and social fabric of neighborhoods differently. In comparing three neighborhoods in Flint, he argues that population decline does not always have to translate into lower quality of life for residents. In each of the Flint neighborhoods, and in the case study neighborhoods in the Sunbelt cities, he tracks changes in the density of occupied housing units as a way of quantifying physical changes in the neighborhood as population leaves. Yet he showed that different responses to decline and other factors in the neighborhood had bearing on changes in quality of life even given substantial population loss.

From here, Hollander explores each of the case study cities – Fresno, Phoenix, and Orlando – and neighborhoods that experienced population loss within them. All three cities had adopted some kind of smart growth policies in recent years, including significant regional growth plans in Fresno and Phoenix. As such, the population declines and neighborhood destabilization caused by the Recession came as a shock to these cities, who were largely unprepared to deal with the challenges. Fresno is the exception here, because the city had previously experienced population loss and had developed some tools, including an abandoned building registry and aggressive code enforcement, to help deal with vacant properties. In Phoenix, on the other hand, planners argued that decline was just momentary, and did little to leverage the federal funding provided by the Neighborhood Stabilization Program to plan for potential further decline. The city of Orlando had embraced New Urbanist principles earlier on, which may have helped the city to weather the crisis with more ease than in the other cities that experienced more out-of-control sprawl. Still, local planners did not see value in confronting the potential for decline – NSP money was not even handled by the planning department, who instead continued to plan for future growth in the city.

Hollander concludes by encouraging cities, even those that have been able to rely on the growth orientation in recent decades, to at least consider potential for future decline by embracing what he calls “strategic flexibility”. Essentially, cities should be ready to manage change of all types, including a no-growth future. Cities have little true control over their future growth or decline, as outside factors like federal policy do more to impact that. But they still can choose to set themselves up for success in case of future shrinkage. In order to do that, Hollander suggests ten strategies and policy recommendations that local officials should adopt to plan for decline. They are:

  1. Create barriers to new residential construction in high vacancy neighborhoods
  2. Compel property owners (or mortgage holders) to maintain vacant buildings
  3. Use land banks to facilitate quick transfer of tax delinquent properties to public ownership
  4. Promote programs that allow neighbors to buy adjacent tax delinquent properties at low cost
  5. Move quickly to demolish or rehab vacant buildings that are publicly controlled
  6. Subsidize rehabilitation or demolition of privately-owned vacant buildings
  7. Maintain publicly-owned vacant lots
  8. Provide incentives for owners in high vacancy areas to convert their properties into parkland or agricultural land.
  9. Implement Relaxed Zoning codes that allows for nonconforming uses in high-vacancy neighborhoods
  10. Help residents who want to relocate to move to areas with better employment prospects.

This article is part of a blog series exploring books and articles written about shrinking cities, or communities that are losing population and dealing with housing vacancy and abandonment. For more information on this series, see the first post “Reading Series on Shrinking Cities”. These summaries are provided only for educational purposes and opinions expressed in these summaries do not necessarily reflect those of Greater Ohio Policy Center.

 

GOPC Presents Smaller Legacy City Work to Mayors Association of Ohio

June 22nd, 2017

On June 15th, GOPC’s Executive Director, Alison Goebel, gave the lunchtime address at the 2017 Mayors Association of Ohio, a member affiliate of the Ohio Municipal League.  Goebel shared highlights from GOPC’s ongoing work on smaller legacy cities in Ohio with the crowd of about 75 mayors.  Many of the attendees serve Ohio’s villages and smaller towns, such as Fostoria and Eastlake. Attendees responded positively to the recommendations GOPC makes for stabilizing and turning around smaller legacy cities, recognizing that these lessons have applicability to all communities, regardless of size.

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First Workshop of 2017 Ohio Transportation Academy Explores Regional Visions

June 21st, 2017

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Coordinator

In partnership with Transportation for America (T4A), Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) began the 2017 Ohio Transportation Local Leadership Academy last week, bringing together leaders from various cities and regions around the state to equip them with ideas for local transportation solutions. Private, public, and nonprofit-sector representatives from Akron, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Delaware, Hamilton, Lorain, and Toledo came together at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) headquarters in Columbus, for the first of six Academy sessions.

Workshop 1, titled “Achieving Regional Visions through Transportation,” opened with Beth Osborne, T4A Vice President for Technical Assistance, and Alison Goebel, GOPC Executive Director. Osborne highlighted the crucial role that transportation plays in today’s economy, noting demographic shifts, such as younger workers choosing to live in more walkable transit-rich areas, and also the reality that employers need broad access to workers. Goebel showcased some of the recent achievements of Ohio’s cities and regions, such as the doubling of jobs over a six-year period along Cleveland’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Health Line. In light of these recent successes, Goebel encouraged participants to think creatively locally, given that state and federal support for transportation is often unpredictable.

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Beth Osborne, of Transportation for America, speaking during the Academy

The Academy welcomed three engaging speakers from the Indianapolis area to discuss their region’s recent transportation reform via an initiative called IndyConnect. Former Mayor Greg Ballard and Mark Fisher of the Indy Chamber discussed their coalition-led project, culminating with a successful ballot initiative that allowed for the broadening and expansion of multimodal transportation, creating new electric BRT lines, and boosting support for other bus, bike, and pedestrian modes. Nicole Barnes of the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network (IndyCAN), an organization that was part of the coalition, then discussed the role of grassroots advocacy in terms of creating convincing messaging for different key audiences. All three speakers explained that convincing people to vote to expand modes of transportation that some voters perhaps personally may never use should rely on the underlying theme that improved transportation is a crucial economic development tool that connects more hardworking employees with jobs in a more efficient process, which in turn produces secondary benefits to the economy.

During various breakout sessions throughout the day, participants enthusiastically discussed their regions’ goals and how building stronger local transportation systems can help them achieve these goals. Future sessions will continue to build upon these shared goals and visions for Ohio’s regions. Thank you to all participants and staff for a successful first workshop. GOPC would also like to extend a big thank you to MORPC for graciously hosting the first Academy workshop.

GOPC On The Road: Marion, Hamilton, and Middletown

June 14th, 2017

This summer, GOPC staff will be traveling across Ohio as we engage in discussions with stakeholders in Ohio’s small and medium sized legacy cities. The GOPC On The Road photo series will be highlighting the rich history of these cities as the revitalization efforts that are currently being made. Over the past weeks, GOPC staff has already made trips to Marion, Hamilton, and Middletown.

 Marion, OH

Located in north-central Ohio, Marion is the county seat of Marion County. As of the 2010 census, Marion’s population was  36,837.  Former U.S. President Warren G. Harding was a resident of Marion for much of his adult life..

Marion Mural

Marion Mural

Downtown Marion

Downtown Marion

Marion Palace Theatre

Marion Palace Theatre

Main Street

Main Street

 

Hamilton, OH

Originally founded in 1791 as Fort Hamilton, the City of Hamilton is located in Ohio’s southwest corner. Hamilton is the county seat of Butler County, and part of the Cincinnati metropolitan area. As of the 2010 census, Hamilton’s population was 62,447. 

Downtown Hamilton

Downtown Hamilton

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Inside the historic Mercantile Building

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Historic Mercantile Building

Hamilton Mural

Mural of Alexander Hamilton

 

Middletown, OH

Middletown is located in Butler and Warren counties in SW Ohio. Middletown was incorporated by the Ohio General Assembly on February 11, 1833, and became a city in 1886. As of the 2010 census, Middletown’s population was 48,694. Recently Middletown received national attention from J.D. Vance’s New York Times bestseller “Hillbilly Elegy”, in which Vance describes his life in Middletown.

Port Middletown Mural

Port Middletown Mural

Chalk Art in Middletown

Chalk Art in Middletown

Main Street Middletown

Main Street Middletown

Mural in Middletown

Mural in Middletown