Presenting & Learning Tools in Portugal for Optimizing Cities

July 8th, 2014

By Lavea Brachman, Executive Director of Greater Ohio Policy Center

Lisbon, Portugal—the site of La Fabrique de la Cité’s international conference, “Tools for Optimizing the City,” where I spoke about “Transforming America’s Legacy Cities for the Next Economy: Critical Next Strategies” (slides available here)—is a European city that has experienced trends similar to those of many U.S. legacy cities: depopulation, vacancy, and sprawling development to outer ring suburbs.

Lisbon, a beautiful city situated on the Tagus River that flows directly into the Atlantic Ocean, has many natural attributes as well as historic, Gothic-style, monumental buildings dating from Portugal’s Age of Discovery in the 16th century.  Lisbon city officials are taking a proactive approach to revitalization by targeting resources in historic neighborhoods that are focused on preserving buildings and attracting new populations.  One such neighborhood is Mouraria, where the authentic Portuguese music, Fado, was said to have its origins, and where gang and drug activity had more recently taken hold.

The Mouraria neighborhood in Lisbon, where the authentic Portuguese music, Fado, is said to have its origins.

Situated in an attractive, hilly part of Lisbon, the Mouraria neighborhood is seeing the fruits of public investments. Municipal and national government grants and incentives leverage private sector investments in the Mouraria neighborhood, which is adjacent to another historic neighborhood (Alfama) and anchored by a centuries old castle (an “anchor institution,” if ever there was one…) that stands atop of one of the many hills.

Mouraria in Lisbon, Portugal

With the scourge of crime eliminated, new younger populations are moving in and commercial enterprises are occupying once vacant spaces. Older residents are able to remain in the area as well, taking advantage of rent-stabilized arrangements.

Walking down a street in Lisbon, Portugal

When asked, city officials stated that demolition plays no role in their strategy and seemed puzzled by the idea, as they are most concerned with preserving and showcasing the unique, attractive qualities that distinguish their city from others.  They fear loss of structures would destroy the fabric of future preservation efforts.

While many aspects of Lisbon differ from American cities, certainly there are some lessons to be learned from our European colleagues.

 

Lavea Brachman to Present at International Seminar

July 2nd, 2014

By Raquel Jones, GOPC Intern

Lavea Brachman, Executive Director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center, will be attending and presenting at La Fabrique de la Cité’s international symposium in Lisbon, Portugal from July 2nd through July 4th.

This year, the topic of discussion will focus around the question, “What tools can be used to optimize the city?” Participants will evaluate new methods and tools that could possibly help to ease the economic, social, ecological, and energy-related concerns that currently face cities all over the world. This three-day event will host a variety of experts from around the globe who will lead discussions on related issues in hopes of sparking innovative ideas and solutions.

Brachman will be speaking on the last day of this conference on the subject of “Transforming Cities for the Next Economy.” She will use case studies of legacy cities in Ohio and throughout the U.S. to give this international audience workable models and tools for communities striving to fix many of the economic, social, and environmental problems that they face in this new age.

 

Government Growing Wild: Is Sprawl Exacerbated by Jurisdictional Fragmentation?

June 23rd, 2014

By Bryan Grady, Research Analyst at the Ohio Housing Finance Agency

An underappreciated element of what can make a location a good place to live – or not – is the regional governance structure: the number and configuration of counties, cities, townships, and special districts that comprise a metropolitan area. Across the country, there are substantial differences worth noting. I began looking at these issues when I was an intern at Greater Ohio ten years ago and now, as a doctoral candidate at Rutgers University and a research analyst at the Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA), I am studying the impacts that these forces have on housing outcomes. I worked with Judd Schechtman, a land use attorney and colleague at Rutgers, on developing some preliminary findings regarding the role of fragmented local government in generating sprawl.

Maps illustrating the correlation between sprawl and government fragmentation. Darker hues represent higher values.

 

To operationalize such an amorphous topic, we employed data published in Measuring Sprawl and Its Impact, which defined sprawl as a lack of four characteristics – residential density, mixed-use development, strong economic centers, and connected streets – and computed an index that incorporated all four elements. (A newer version, based on similar methods, was published earlier this year.) With regard to measuring regional governance, we used the Metropolitan Power Diffusion Index (MPDI). In short, MPDI encapsulates both the density of governments (e.g. how many incorporated areas and districts exist for every 100,000 people) and their relative budgetary influence, with a value of 1 representing a unitary regional government and increasing values indicating more diffuse political authority. A handful of other variables were included in the work as statistical controls, including population, manufacturing employment, per capita income, and educational attainment.

A quantitative analysis across 77 regions nationwide found that fragmentation and sprawl were directly correlated with one another at a statistically significant level. This was particularly true when evaluating the residential density component of the sprawl index, as well as the economic concentration component. Why? As Judd and I wrote,

Exclusionary zoning, as practiced by small municipalities, is specifically conceived to limit residential density in order to keep home prices and tax revenues high; reduced fragmentation would seemingly reduce the incentives to maintain such policies. Similarly, every city in a fragmented metropolis attempts to leverage agglomeration effects in office space and retail to their own advantage, whereas a single municipality that dominates a region would be able to channel development into a smaller number of commercial centers.

In short, in a region where dozens of localities are left to zone with only their own constituents in mind, land use patterns that are economically and spatially suboptimal are the direct result. A more regional approach to land use planning is necessary to ensure that money and land are not wasted chasing artificially-created shortages of various types of development.

The full study is available here. If you have any questions, feel free to email Bryan Grady. Please note that any opinions herein are the author’s, not those of OHFA or the State of Ohio.

Brownfield Grants Revitalize Columbus

June 17th, 2014

By Raquel Jones, Intern

The Columbus City Council is expected to approve grant money from their Green Columbus Fund sometime this year to redevelop vacant properties in the city. The Green Columbus Fund is a reimbursement grant program with a budget of $1 million that uses financial incentives to encourage sustainable development and redevelopment. Private businesses and non-profits can apply for grants to either redevelop Brownfield sites or to build green in Columbus.

In 2011, Columbus City Council accredited the first four grants under this program, utilizing almost one-fourth of the entire fund. These grants were awarded to two LEED projects and brownfield assessment work at two sites.

Potential developers of two properties now under consideration for a portion of the grant money hope to be able to conduct site assessment work to see whether or not they should go forward with their idea to build apartments on the site. Also under examination by the Columbus City Council is the former location of an old shoe factory on Front Street where the developer of apartments hopes to use the brownfield grant for asbestos remediation and underground tank removal.

GOPC Presents on Historic Preservation in America’s Legacy Cities

June 12th, 2014

Last Friday, on June 6th, GOPC Executive Director, Lavea Brachman, and Manager of Research and Communications, Marianne Eppig, traveled to Cleveland to present at the “Historic Preservation in America’s Legacy Cities” conference.

Marianne moderated a panel about strategic incrementalism (a term introduced in the Regenerating America’s Legacy Cities report) and resource targeting for the revitalization of legacy city neighborhoods. She presented as part of the panel with Alan Mallach, Senior Fellow at the Center for Community Progress, and Paula Boggs Muething, VP of Community Revitalization & General Counsel at the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority. Her presentation is included below:

Click the image above to view the presentation.

Lavea was a plenary panelist with Dr. Clement Price, an expert on African American history, Councilman Jeffrey Johnson of Cleveland’s Ward 10, and Emilie Evans of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Lavea presented on an integrated approach to stabilization and holistic preservation. Her presentation is below:

Click the image above to view the presentation.

In advance of the conference, Nicholas Emenhiser, an AmeriCorps Local History Corps volunteer for the Cleveland Restoration Society who was helping to organize the conference, asked Marianne a few questions about historic preservation in legacy cities.

Read on for the Q&A:

  1. How is revitalization different in larger Legacy Cities as opposed to smaller Legacy Cities?

Whether a city is large or small, access to and availability of resources is a key factor in revitalization. Just as important, the scale of vacancy and abandonment is a determining factor. That’s why we see such different outcomes between cities even when they are similar sizes, like Pittsburgh and Detroit. For cities of all sizes, revitalization requires a strategic, targeted approach to maximize available resources. The panel I’ll be on (“Strategic Incrementalism & Resource Targeting for the Revitalization of Legacy City Neighborhoods” on Friday at 1:30pm) will discuss how to target resources effectively to revitalize legacy city neighborhoods of all sizes.

  1. What kind of scale are we talking about with vacant and abandoned properties in Ohio? Surrounding states?

At the state level, Ohio has about 13% vacancy as of the 4th quarter of 2013. Pennsylvania also has around 13% vacancy and Michigan has around 16.5% vacancy. What may be more telling for states with legacy cities, though, may be vacancy in their major metropolitan areas. I’ve included a chart below that provides vacancy rates for counties containing major legacy cities.

Vacancy at the county level for legacy cities. Data source: US Postal Service, 2013 Q4.

  1. Are there any photos that best illustrate research and/or solutions that have come out of the Greater Ohio Policy Center?

That’s a good question. Instead of photos, I would actually point you to several of Greater Ohio’s recent reports (they include lots of images and charts!): “Regenerating America’s Legacy Cities” by Alan Mallach and Lavea Brachman for the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and “Redeveloping Commercial Vacant Properties in Legacy Cities: A Guidebook to Linking Property Use and Economic Revitalization,” which I wrote with Lavea Brachman and the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. These reports provide both the theory and the practical tools for revitalizing legacy cities – and they’re both free!

Lavea and Marianne greatly enjoyed the conference and want to thank Cleveland for being a wonderful host, as always!

Top Moments in Ohio: A Farewell Blog Post from Christina Cudney

June 3rd, 2014

By Christina Cudney, Project Coordinator at GOPC

When I first learned I’d be moving to Ohio I thought, “Ohio?! What does Ohio have other than cornfields?” The only Ohio city I had ever done more than pass through was Boardman, where my family used to drive from across the Pennsylvania border to eat at the Olive Garden some Sunday afternoons (hardly a notable Ohio experience). I had no idea that 7 of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas were located in the Buckeye state, each full of its own rich history, unique personality, and will for economic recovery.  The following 14 months were filled with lessons of rust belt regeneration and – despite the longest winter of my life – many positive memories, a few of which I’ll share with you in brief.

It’s hard to choose a favorite memory, but the moments that top the charts would be:

  1. Interviewing members of our Weinland Park Advisory Committee, particularly Susan Colbert at OSU Extension and Isabel Toth at Community Properties of Ohio. While many organizations are doing truly inspirational work empowering low-income families across Ohio, the passion and creativity of leaders in those two organizations will particularly stick with me.
  2. Meeting the unforgettable Robb Hankins, who presented at our Revitalizing Ohio’s Vacant Properties conference about the creative work Arts in Stark is doing to revitalize downtown Canton.
  3. Going on a self-guided walking tour on my first-ever trip to Detroit, prepared off the cuff by the one-and-only Alan Mallach.
  4. Being completely charmed by the historic districts and cultural assets of Dayton, Ohio, a city that deserves way more credit than it receives.
  5. Gaining an entirely new vocabulary related to foreclosures, bank walkaways, housing stock, land banks, demolition, and property acquisition as I worked with community leaders who regularly identify new and exciting approaches to leverage vacant properties as assets.
  6. Visiting the beautiful statehouse to watch colleagues give testimony for the Neighborhood Infrastructure Assistance Program and coming to understand that a vast amount of policy never makes it to the morning news, but nonetheless has impacts on our day-to-day lives in ways we may not even realize.  That is why it is critical that there are advocates and research institutions ensuring that policy does not have unintended negative impacts.
  7. Getting a tour from Jeff Raig of Slavic Village in Cleveland, a neighborhood that was once the poster child of the foreclosure crisis, but that is demonstrating resilience on its way to stability. It’s encouraging to see private, public, and nonprofit sector partners come together to think outside of the box and eradicate blight.
  8. And, while not a part of my professional life, hiking at the beautiful Hocking Hills. An experience every Ohio resident should regularly take advantage of.

I love cities. It’s been exciting to play a small role as a researcher on the revitalization of Ohio cities. I’ve learned a lot at Greater Ohio Policy Center and am sincerely disappointed my time in Columbus has been as short as it has been. I look forward to carrying the lessons to my new home in Morgantown, West Virginia and who knows, maybe one day I will be back!

Christina’s last day at GOPC is this Friday, June 6th. She will be missed!

GOPC Endorses HB 223

May 27th, 2014

The Policy Committee of the Greater Ohio Policy Center Board of Directors recently voted to endorse HB 223 (130th GA). HB 223 would expedite the foreclosure and transfer of unoccupied, blighted parcels in cities with Housing Courts (Cleveland and Toledo) or Environmental Courts (Columbus/Franklin County).  The bill also allows for allows for property to be sold for less than 2/3 value to certified buyers in county sheriff sales.

HB 223 is sponsored by Representative Cheryl Grossman (R-Grove City) and Representative Mike Curtin (D-Marble Cliff).

This bill has a five year sunset, effectively creating a pilot program that GOPC anticipates will demonstrate great success.

GOPC’s Policy Committee has endorsed this bill because many communities continue to struggle to mitigate the impact of blighted properties in their neighborhoods.  Providing a framework to shorten the foreclosure timeline will help move properties from “limbo” to responsible end users.  In particular, the ability to buy property at less than 2/3 value at sheriff sales, acknowledges the value of sweat equity in turning around neighborhoods and provides a pathway for interested parties to buy and renovate properties for owner occupancy.

For more information on GOPC’s endorsement, please contact Alison D Goebel, Associate Director at agoebel@greaterohio.org.

Lessons for Small City Revitalization: The Regeneration of Ohio’s Smaller Legacy Cities

April 29th, 2014

By Alison D Goebel, Associate Director

This morning I had the pleasure of giving the keynote address at the Annual Meeting of the Springfield Center City Association.  In my presentation, I discussed how Springfield, Ohio is faring across a number of demographic indicators and how it compares to peer cities.

Click the image above to view the presentation.

GOPC’s research finds that medium- and small-sized cities in Ohio are comparable or even out-performing some of their larger legacy city peers.  However, we know that medium and small cities face significant challenges due to their smaller populations, tax bases, and markets and so much of the presentation included strategies smaller cities can implement, which have demonstrated success in larger legacy cities across the country.

Thank you again to Springfield  Center City Association for the invitation!

Gray v. Green Infrastructure

April 10th, 2014

By Raquel Jones, GOPC Intern

As the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) sets out on a $3 billion tunnel project, questions have been raised as to whether enough focus is being spent on a possibly cheaper and greener alternative to tunnels. Rates continue to increase to cover the cost of these expansive projects, but some ratepayers are not convinced that this is the best solution to their water and sewage issues. Some argue that green infrastructure (such as rain gardens, permeable pavement, and bio-infiltration installations) can often provide more sustainable benefits at a lesser cost than single-purpose gray infrastructure. Furthermore, building green infrastructure could possibly improve the overall aesthetic quality of some of Cleveland’s most blighted neighborhoods, by turning vacant lots into lush rain gardens and building more parks. These sort of green projects support property values by beautifying the surrounding areas, while also stimulating the economy by providing landscaping and maintenance jobs.

Although the NEORSD had originally agreed to include green infrastructure in their water and sewer system, they are now planning to spend 97.5% of project funds on seven large tunnels. Some arguments in favor of this decision include the fact that many green projects come with high barriers, such as the EPA requirement that the sewer district have full control over the land in perpetuity, so that it can be properly maintained. Sewer district Executive Director Julius Ciacca and his team have also argued that much of the green infrastructure technology is still unproven in large-scale applications and would be much more time-consuming, which could prove to be a risky move when aiming to meet a series of strict federally mandated benchmarks. This is due in part to the case that green infrastructure is often capable of capturing only the first inch of rainfall and diverting it from the sewer, so that in heavier rains, water retention features become overwhelmed, and the overflow defaults to the combined sewer system.

Although green infrastructure may be difficult to implement in the short term, the lasting effects of going green are undeniable. More and more cities are continuing to pursue green alternatives, such as Philadelphia’s recent projects, as green infrastructure continues to prove to be both sustainable and inexpensive in comparison to gray infrastructure. In many ways, it also adds property value to localities, as it works to beautify deteriorating and impoverished communities. Due to its many benefits, when used in the right locations, green infrastructure can add great value to both the existing water and sewer infrastructure and to surrounding neighborhoods.

Meeting the Infrastructure Challenge in Legacy Cities

March 31st, 2014

By Jacob Wolf, Research Associate

Combined sewer overflows (CSO) stink—both environmentally and economically—for Ohio’s cities. In many urban areas built up in the 19th and early 20th centuries, stormwater runoff drains into the same pipes that carry raw sewage to treatment facilities. Most days, all of the combined sewer and storm water makes it safely to the treatment plants. However, when there is heavy rainfall, the systems overload, and the excess untreated water gets diverted into rivers and lakes. This is referred to as a CSO event. Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and other cities around Ohio and the rest of the country are under mandates from the United States E.P.A. to reduce or eliminate the amount of CSO discharged into their waterways.

The strategies the affected cities are developing to reduce their CSO can be broadly categorized as either “gray infrastructure” or “green infrastructure.” “Gray” refers to building new pipes and tunnels underground to hold the excess water. “Green” involves using plants, gardens, and open space on the surface to reduce the amount of storm water runoff that gets into the pipes in the first place. The Plain Dealer recently ran a series of articles that analyzed the pros and cons of both approaches, focusing on the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD)’s $3 billion project to build new underground tunnels.

Green infrastructure has many benefits for urban revitalization. It commonly appears as street-side landscaping features or open, undeveloped space. It can also mean “daylighting” previously covered streams and waterways. Some green infrastructure projects transform vacant or abandoned property into “rain gardens.” All these forms of green infrastructure have great aesthetic benefits that improve the quality of urban places as they capture storm water and keep it out of the sewers.

The City of Philadelphia is leading the charge for green solutions to the CSO problem. Philadelphia’s 25-year, $2.4 billion CSO reduction plan will spend roughly 70% of the program’s budget on 8,000 to 12,000 acres of green projects. Officials estimate that this will eliminate about 8 billion gallons of sewage overflow per year. By contrast, the NEORSD tunnel project devotes only 2.5% of its $3 billion budget to green infrastructure.

However, NEORSD leaders and other critics argue that green methods alone will not prevent enough overflow events. Even if Philadelphia’s plan succeeds, it will still produce more gallons of overflow than Northeast Ohio does now. Furthermore, Philadelphia is not under an EPA consent decree, so it does not have the same stringent benchmarks to meet that NEORSD and other Ohio districts have.

Reducing and eliminating CSO discharge is key for economic development in legacy cities. Cleaner waterways create more desirable places that people want to live, work, and play. As it performs its utilitarian function of mitigating stormwater runoff, green infrastructure beautifies neighborhoods and creates vibrant, new public spaces. It can increase property values and provide a tool for disposing of vacant and abandoned residential property. Even if green infrastructure isn’t the only solution for CSOs, it should be at least be part of the solution due to the additional benefits it provides.