The Buzz about Cities

February 16th, 2011

Edward Glaeser’s new book, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier, has been generating a lot of buzz.

  • Last week New York Times Op-Ed Columnist David Brooks wrote an interesting article about The Splendor of Cities where he discusses the role that cities play in disseminating new ideas.  His argument stems from ideas brought forth in Glaeser’s new book.  Cities prosper due to their ability to offer face to face communication, which surprisingly comes to matter even more in the age of the internet.  The article explains that “Cities magnify people’s strengths […] because ideas spread more easily in dense environments. If you want to compete in a global marketplace it really helps to be near a downtown.”
  • On Monday Glaeser himself wrote a guest entry on the Freakonomics blog on the New York Times website.  His article, entitled To Get America Growing Again, It’s Time to Unleash Our Cities, offers the message that the key to economic development can be found in cities.  Glaeser claims that the secret to China’s success is its rapid urbanization, but luckily America is just as capable of investing in its cities too.

  • Glaeser was also recently interviewed by NPR to discuss the ways in which cities are actually greener and healthier than the rest of the country.  In the interview he describes what cities need to do in order to successfully adapt and evolve in order to remain competitive.
  • Glaeser even discussed the need to support cities by curtailing many of our country’s anti-urban policies while appearing as Monday’s guest on The Daily Show.

Greater Ohio is pleased to see this conversation spreading across the country.  As stated in our report, Restoring Prosperity: Transforming Ohio’s Communities for the Next Economy, Greater Ohio recognizes that Ohio’s multiple metropolitan areas – fully encompassing urban, suburban and rural places – house the resources and drivers of prosperity necessary to lead the state of Ohio into the next economy.  But these resources and prosperity drivers need to be leveraged.

If you want to support Greater Ohio’s work to leverage Ohio’s metropolitan assets with improved state policies, please sign up to become a Greater Ohio Supporter, and learn what you can do to help.

Spreading the Restoring Prosperity Message

February 3rd, 2011

In recent weeks, Greater Ohio Policy Center’s Executive Director Lavea Brachman has been a panelist or participant at various economic development-related conferences throughout Ohio.

At “Sustainable Hamilton County: Reinventing Our Communities,” Brachman focused on governance reform as an economic growth tool. Hamilton County has 88 local governments compared with the Ohio average of 41.3 and the national average of 27.9, but the region is at the forefront of innovation.  Brachman cited the Government Cooperation and Efficiency project in 2007, which helped cities, villages and townships save $1.5 million the first year, and Green County Schools’ shared-services program.

Panelists at “Regional Prosperity for Northeast Ohio: Growing Together,” a public forum at Cleveland State University, discussed how the communities of Northeastern Ohio can come together to create an environment for economic prosperity and the connections between job growth, economic development and government collaboration.

Brachman shared highlights of Greater Ohio’s report, Restoring Prosperity: Transforming Ohio’s Communities for the Next Economy, and their applications for leveraging brownfields and other assets to grow sustainably at the “2011 Ohio Brownfield Conference” sponsored by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Finally, on Jan. 26, Brachman participated in “The City in 2050: Creating Blueprints for Change in Columbus,” sponsored by the Urban Land Institute Columbus, in partnership with the City of Columbus, Franklin County, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission and The Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture. The kick-off event is the first of a series exploring how residents will live, work and play in Columbus in 2050.

For more information about Greater Ohio’s activities, click here to view additional media clips.

Policy Implications from the Building Prosperity in Greater Akron Forum

January 25th, 2011

On Tuesday January 18, 2011, Greater Ohio Policy Center co-hosted the Building Prosperity to Greater Akron Forum.  Over two hundred people attended this event and helped frame new approaches to ensure a strong future for the Akron Metro Region by preparing for the next economy.  The Akron Beacon Journal article from the event quoted Greater Ohio Policy Center’s executive director Lavea Brachman saying, ”We want to draw attention to great attributes and challenges of our cities and metropolitan areas […] What better place to do that than in Akron.”

Keynote speaker Paul Grogan, President and CEO of The Boston Foundation, discussed the innovative use of metrics to guide policy decisions and invest in city issues.  Other speakers included Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder, Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor, Congresswoman Betty Sutton, Carol Coletta of CEOs for Cities, Dr. Frank Douglas of the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron, Ross DeVol of the Milken Institute and Ned Hill of Cleveland State University.  For a complete list of speakers, please see the agenda.

Some of the key issues that were arose include the central importance of education and workforce development, the need for product development and jobs to attract residents to the Akron metro region, continued investment in Akron’s assets and areas of expertise (such as corrosion prevention), increased regional partnerships, the key role of Quality of Place as a business proposition, and better cooperation between the state and the Greater Akron area.

Some radical proposals were debated, such as: reduce the number of counties in the state by setting a minimum population of 750,000; review the cost of the judicial system; and return the oversight of welfare programs to the state instead of counties.

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But we want to hear what you think!  In your opinion, what is the most important issue?  What are key policies that need to be added or changed in order to help build prosperity in Akron?  What best practices need replication and support?  What state policy barriers do you face that need to be resolved?   As our work progresses, we want to include your thoughts and perspectives.  Thank you for sharing your ideas and working together to build prosperity.

Livable Cities Report by The Economist

December 16th, 2010

By Gene Krebs.

I recently discovered a very interesting report by the British publication The Economist entitled “Livable Cities: Challenges and Opportunities for Policymakers”.  It examines what makes a city livable through an international lens.

It is interesting to read since it is written from a different perspective than most American publications.  For example, the whole structure of the article varies from the typical Brookings Institution report.  Additionally, there are more than one or two odd spellings.

Among the people interviewed for this long piece is Gerald Frug, famous to lawyers for his textbook on local government law (which sits on my non-lawyer bookshelf).

Please share your comments on this report and let us know what you think.

Visiting Springfield, Ohio

November 23rd, 2010

By Dawn Larzelere.

I recently visited Springfield and made presentations to the Community Leadership Academy and representatives of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.  During my research leading up to the presentations, I was pleased to see how Springfield and Clark County have capitalized on so many of their prosperity driving assets that we define in our Restoring Prosperity report.

I was also fortunate enough to be invited to attend the Chamber’s groundbreaking for a new downtown park called National Road Commons.   The park, which has been in the works for several years, will eventually span down to Buck Creek and showcases how a community can seize on natural amenities and quality of life attractions to make its urban core stronger.  It is hoped the park will spark additional development including additional restaurants and office and retail space.  Work is expected to be completed by the next summer, in hopes of a formal dedication on July 4.

My presentation from the day can be found on slideshare if you are interested.

Why are our cities shrinking?

November 18th, 2010

The Urbanophile posted an interesting blog this week asking “Are People Really Fleeing Shrinking Cities?”.  By looking at data of both out-migration and in-migration, the finding is that out-migration rates in rust belt cities are actually lower than average out-migration rates for cities across the United States.  This means that people are not leaving Shrinking Cities in droves, which is often the vision conjured by the concept of “Shrinking Cities”.

The reason that these cities are shrinking is that they have an even lower in-migration rate (extremely low compared to other cities across the country).  Therefore, while the populations are undoubtedly shrinking, it’s not a result of a mass exodus from rust belt cities, but rather a result of very low numbers of new people moving in.  See the original blog post for more data and graphs.

This finding is very important for thinking about the needs and policy implications for these cities.  Clearly much still needs to be investigated and tested to figure out the right steps forward, but having an accurate understanding of the situation is a crucial starting point.

Trumbull County Forms Land Bank

November 11th, 2010

Congratulations to leaders in Trumbull County who this week voted to approve the formation of a county land bank. This announcement marks the third county land bank formed in Ohio, following both Cuyahoga County and Lucas County.  Trumbull county plans to initially use the land bank to assist in the county’s vacant side lot program, which allows residents to purchase vacant land next to their property.  They also hope to work with contractors to help rehabilitate homes in the land bank and place them back up for sale to get them back on the tax rolls. To read more please check out an article from the Warren Tribune Chronicle

State Auditor Launches Shared Services Website

November 9th, 2010

The State Auditor recently launched an interactive web-based tool for exploring examples of local government and school shared service partnerships.  The Shared Services Idea Center, developed in partnership with Kent State University, pulls together information provided by local governments, school systems and other community organizations throughout Ohio.  Greater Ohio believes transformative governance reform is part of a three part strategy, along with building on local and regional assets and engaging the federal government, to strengthen Ohio’s regions and restore prosperity to Ohio.  State policies should more aggressively encourage these innovative shared service partnerships as both a way to save money and enhance efficiency. 

Please check out the Auditor’s site for more information:   http://www.auditor.state.oh.us/sharedservices/

On the GO in Youngstown

November 2nd, 2010

By Alison D. Goebel.

Last week I spent two days in Youngstown talking with residents about its downtown.  I hadn’t been to Youngstown since 2005 and I was pleasantly surprised by how much it had changed in the last five years.  I remembered downtown Youngstown as a city with lots of buildings and no people—this trip I had trouble finding parking for all my meetings!  Everywhere I ate, there was a line and every time I got lost, there was someone on the street who pointed me in the right direction.

(This is a photo of Youngstown’s oldest restaurant, Cassese’s MVR is a local institution not to be missed.  In the background, in the center of the photo is new privately developed housing for YSU students and to the far right with the plaza space, lights and white pergola is Harrison Common—the cornerstone of the Smoky Hollow neighborhood redevelopment project.)

As a city in transition, Youngstown, and Mahoning Valley more generally, have done a lot to capitalize on their assets. They are taking seriously the need to enhance their quality of place to attract businesses and retain residents.

Catalyzing Local Government Collaboration

October 27th, 2010

Pundits and media reports, including several articles in the Columbus Dispatch this past weekend, calling for significant changes to Ohio’s governance structure indicate increasing attention being paid to governance reform recommendations outlined in Greater Ohio’s Restoring Prosperity to Ohio agenda.  Governance reform – including recommendations such as rewarding localities that adopt innovative service delivery and shared services — is a major thrust in the Greater Ohio agenda, and is an area that needs to be addressed urgently and boldly, particularly in light of the current budget problems the state is facing.

To capture this growing recognition of the need for local governance reform, we further recommend re-establishment of the former State and Local Government Commission as a logical next step to the Local Government Reform and Collaboration recently released report.

This newly established Commission would research and outline ways to implement key state and local government reforms, such as encouraging shared service delivery collaboration and making regional tax sharing permissive, intended to lead to great cost savings for Ohio taxpayers.

After reviewing the Local Government Reform and Collaboration’s underwhelming final report, we looked around the state and country, where we found numerous places taking local government reform seriously. New York recently provided 20 highly specific recommendations focused on seven different areas of governance reform. In neighboring Indiana, a commission issued 27 bold recommendations that included townships and school districts.

In Ohio, we too, have examples of innovative governance reform, albeit smaller in scale:

  • Montgomery County takes a portion of each year’s sales tax revenue to provide grants for economic development projects through it ED/GE program. Any increased property and income tax revenues collected are shared with program members.
  • A 16-county group in northeastern Ohio is developing a structure for coordinated regional land use planning and tax sharing.

With a biennial budget gap of approximately $8 billion looming and data from our recent Restoring Prosperity report showing that local government payroll in Ohio is 17.5 percent above the average of peer states, the time for change is now. We encourage the next administration to make local government reform a high priority starting with the re-establishment of the former State and Local Government Commission, support the nascent efforts under way in our state and follow the lead of other states.  As we have met with stakeholders and local interest groups throughout Ohio, we have found great interest in the re-establishment of this Commission and appreciate all the feedback and advice we have collected.

Our work has just begun – and there is much more work to do. The gap between costs and revenues at the local level continues to widen. We must act now to pave the way for Ohio’s entry into the competitive next economy. If we hold back now, we will pay later.