One Water Summit Showcases Innovative Solutions to 21st Century Water Challenges

June 20th, 2016

By Jon Honeck, GOPC Senior Policy Fellow

The U.S. Water Alliance is a coalition of water utilities, environmental engineering organizations, nonprofits, academics, and other groups interested in raising public awareness of challenges facing the U.S. water supply.  The group held its “One Water Summit 2016” in Atlanta, GA, in June, attended by GOPC Senior Policy Fellow Jon Honeck.  GOPC is engaged in a multi-year project to address water and sewer infrastructure needs in Ohio. 

Conference programming reflected the diversity of water-related challenges across the country.  Panelists at the opening plenary session discussed Atlanta’s attempt to address water supply and water quality issues brought about by decades of population growth, sprawl, and more recently, climate change.  The Atlanta metropolitan planning commission took the lead by integrating water with land use and transportation planning.  With changes in water pricing to promote conservation, the Atlanta metro region achieved a 10% water consumption decline in spite of population growth.   Water audits are now required for buildings with 25,000 ft2.  The Atlanta PACE program (Property Assessed Clean Energy) can provide commercial loans for water and clean energy efficiency that are paid back through property tax assessments.  Current efforts are aimed at improving water quality through green infrastructure.  The Turner Foundation is a major driver of this effort and a regional green infrastructure strategy is in the planning stages. 

One of the panels discussed the possibilities for implementing green infrastructure on a larger scale.  Green infrastructure has become a nationwide phenomenon with cities learning and sharing their experiences with each other.  Federal rules now require EPA-funded Clean Water state revolving funds to set aside an amount equal to 10 percent of their annual capitalization grant for green infrastructure projects.  Philadelphia has been considered a leader in this area as it implemented a plan to address combined sewer overflows under an EPA consent decree.   Atlanta has completed its CSO projects, but wants to continue to make progress in water quality to protect drinking water sources and to enhance recreational opportunities in urban areas.  Atlanta sent a large delegation to Philadelphia to learn from their experience.  The delegation included a multiple city departments and private sector groups, illustrating the breadth of the partnerships needed to carry out its goal of reducing runoff by 225 million gallons per year.   Panelists discussed the new mindset needed to implement green infrastructure, including treating natural vegetation as a capital asset and tracking long-term maintenance.  Philadelphia has no ROI information yet on its extensive green infrastructure installations because it is too soon to understand long-term maintenance costs, but green infrastructure is receiving about 3.5% of its annual capital budget.  In the Q&A session, other examples were brought up of cities moving ahead with green infrastructure, including the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District grants program, which provides assistance to private landowners with large surface parking lots (and large amounts of stormwater runoff), and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District, which aggressively pursuing green infrastructure for flood control and watershed management. 

One of many interesting panels discussed “Building a New Business Model for Water.”  Unlike most other countries, the U.S. water and wastewater industry is very fragmented, with 69,000 individual utilities nationwide.  David St. Pierre, CEO of the Chicago Water Reclamation District, discussed opportunities to think about larger structures through mergers, including the potential for cross-state mergers of public utilities.  This would entail putting in place a new regulatory structure that does not exist at present, but it would allow utilities to reap the benefits of economies of scale and learning that at present are only available to large international companies.  Often times, drinking water and wastewater utilities remain separate even in the same municipality.  Tony Parrot of the Louisville Metropolitan Sewer District discussed an inter-agency agreement to tie the operations of the MSD with the local drinking water utility, and how this led to the implementation of a new common billing system that will save operational costs.  The next step is to move to a full merger of the two systems.   Increasingly, some systems are turning to private companies to build or operate their facilities, and representatives of Veolia Water and MVP Capital discussed their experiences in partnering with public utilities. 

It is clear from the One Water Summit that there is tremendous energy and creativity in addressing water-related issues, and that the formerly sedate world of water utilities is changing fast.  Ohio cities have much that they can learn from their peers.  Other legacy cities, such as Louisville, are facing that challenges brought about by managing an infrastructure built for higher levels of water use.  Ohio’s capital city could also learn from growing cities like Atlanta that have combined land use and water infrastructure planning.  The issue of aging infrastructure, which is GOPC’s main concern, was brought up repeatedly by conference participants in panels and in informal conversation.  We are hopeful that GOPC’s forthcoming recommendations on financing mechanisms will not only be of use for Ohio but for other states across the nation. 

 

Event Upcoming on Community and Economic Revitalization in Legacy Cities

May 9th, 2016

On May 20th, 2016, GOPC Executive Director Lavea Brachman will be speaking at an event in Chicago, titled Spurring Community and Economic Revitalization in Legacy Cities and Weak Market Communities. If you are in the Chicago area during this time, consider attending this informative event. Details are below; help spread the word!

 

Delta Legacy Cities Discussion

 

Water Resilient Cities Conference Offers Innovative Solutions to Water Infrastructure

May 5th, 2016

By Jon Honeck, Senior Policy Fellow, and Colleen Durfee, Research Intern

Greater Ohio Policy center recently attended Cleveland State University’s Water Resilient Cities conference. From April 21st to the 22nd professionals, practitioners, community development organizations, and academics gathered to discuss the current state of water infrastructure in the Great Lakes region. The innovations, needs, consequences, and potential growth of Great Lakes cities depend heavily on water infrastructure, its maintenance, modernization, and adaptation to more variable climate patterns. How do we protect our natural water bodies when faced with the desire for economic and community growth? The conversation between the themes of regional growth, natural resource protection, and looming effects of climate change is one of paramount importance when considering the future of the Great Lakes region.

The Water Innovation Keynote address was delivered by Hillary Brown, a Fellow at the American Institute of Architects and Professor at the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at CUNY.  Dr. Brown showed numerous examples of cities around the world are creating innovative solutions to water infrastructure needs while lowering the carbon footprint of a treatment facility or sometimes parts of a city.  Some of the most innovative practices include on-site reuse of wastewater and stormwater in large buildings and mixed use districts.  These areas are taken “off the grid” in terms of their water use and save energy through decentralized treatment systems that do not have to move water long distances.  Other examples showed treatment facilities finding ways to maximize opportunities for co-generating energy:

  • In Japan, a water utility placed acres of solar panels in its adjacent reservoir, generating electricity for the facility but also lowering evaporation from the reservoir.  The water also helps to cool the solar panels.
  • In Lille, France, a utility is recovering biogas from wastewater and other organic waste to produce biogas for the municipal bus system.
  • In Oakland, CA, a utility has constructed a biodigestion facility that generates electricity from sewage;
  • In Vancouver, Canada, heat from wastewater is being used to heat a residential district.
  • In Mankato, MN, treated wastewater is being used for cooling a traditional power plant.

In order to fully promote these types of opportunities, Dr. Brown advocates for the inclusion of specific clean energy principles in the award formulas of state infrastructure banks or state drinking water or wastewater revolving funds.  These principles include: supporting mixed land use, mitigating CO2 production, incorporating green infrastructure, integrating social and energy benefits, and including climate adaptation measures.

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In the third panel session, Professor Richard Norton from the University of Michigan demonstrated the variability and vulnerability due to climate change and development patterns on Lake Michigan’s shores. He made an interesting point that like the world’s oceans, the Great Lakes will change water levels due to climate change. However, these changes have a very different timeline than those of saltwater coastlines and therefore are more difficult to track. There is no daily tide on lakeshores as there is on our salt-water coasts. The Great Lakes ebb and flow at a variability of several meters over the course of a decade, not several hours. This variability is fairly normal. It’s the severity of the high and low levels that are anticipated due the accumulated effects of drier summers and wetter, warmer, winters over long periods of time. For example, between 1980 and 2000, Lake Michigan gained over 200 feet of beach frontage. Many property owners see this as a gain in real estate but each municipality on lakeshores has different zoning ordinances and city codes regarding lakeshore development practices.

Dr. Norton showed an example of a property owner’s development decision that highlights the vulnerability of lake shore development and the conflicts that sometimes manifest between private property owners and city zoning officials and planners. It is difficult to dissuade someone from developing on their property when for the past several years they had access to hundreds of feet of lakeshore frontage. Dr. Norton showed satellite images of Lake Michigan’s shoreline from the 1930s, 1960s, and 2000s. They varied by hundreds of feet of beach frontage – about two meters change in lake depth. The property owner decided to build a multimillion-dollar home closer to the shoreline but against the city’s guidance. Years later, the shoreline rose and nearly ran right up against the outside walls of the home. The homeowner asked for permission to build a sea wall to protect his home against the rising water and the city denied it. Eventually, the home was lifted from its foundation and moved further back from the shoreline to avoid flooding. If the water level continued to rise as it very well might, the home would be almost completely under water. The take away from Dr. Norton’s presentation is that lakeshore coasts and their communities need to understand the variability and timeline of water levels for great lakes. Development along lake shorelines is very different from that of saltwater coastal areas and in the coming decades of higher variability, lakeshores will be even more vulnerable to severe rises and falls in the water lines.

GOPC is in the midst of a multi-year project on Ohio’s water and sewer infrastructure.  The Phase I report, released in Fall 2015, analyzed infrastructure needs and gaps, and our recent report on “green” infrastructure describes how cities in Ohio and around the country are using innovative and less costly approaches for stormwater control. Our current work focuses on identifying best practices in infrastructure financing that can be adapted to Ohio.   Some examples of financing tools include credit enhancements or loan guarantees for cities without debt capacity, state infrastructure banks or other methods to pool financing needs, additional state investments in revolving loan funds or grant programs, incentives for regionalization and shared services among water and sewer systems, improved funding for integrated watershed management, and public-private partnerships.

 

GOPC Staff Attends the 2016 Ohio Brownfields Conference

April 20th, 2016

By Lindsey Gardiner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

Earlier this month GOPC staff attended the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s 2016 Ohio Brownfields Conference. The two day conference included beginner-friendly and advanced presentations, making the event attractive to attendees from a number of different disciplines such as environmental consultants, economic development, brownfield and other municipal officials, state government officials, developers, and various nonprofit community organizations.

The Abandoned Gas Station Cleanup Fund Program was one of the headlining topics during the keynote portion on the first day. GOPC played an instrumental role during the creation of the program nearly one year ago. The program was designed to offer funding for the cleanup and remediation of abandoned gas stations and enable environmentally safe and productive reuse of the sites. The program was established in conjunction with the Ohio Development Services Agency (ODSA), the Ohio EPA, and the Department of Commerce, Bureau of Underground Storage Tank Regulations (BUSTR). For more information on the Abandoned Gas Stations Cleanup Program, please visit here

Brownfields Conf

Photo by Ohio EPA

The presentations throughout the conference offered creative ways to take the problem of brownfields, and utilize them so they are part of the solution for Ohio communities. Some solutions include building green infrastructure on contaminated sites to tackle combined sewer overflows in urban areas, or turning contaminated materials into value-added engineered materials. It is clear that leaders in the brownfield industry see these contaminated sites as opportunities for growth. Presentations from out-of-state industry leaders offered a valuable education to attendees about what has worked for their state, and how their rules and regulations compare to Ohio’s. GOPC looks forward to incorporating information gained from the Ohio EPA’s 2016 Brownfields Conference to create more opportunities for brownfield remediation in Ohio.

Boston Professor Discusses Fundamental Importance of Affordable Housing

October 1st, 2015

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate

Dr. Megan Sandel, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Boston University spoke this week to the Columbus Metropolitan Club about the importance of housing as a solution to many health and educational concerns. Sandel and EJ Thomas, the chief executive of Habitat for Humanity MidOhio, spoke for about an hour underscoring the idea that access to affordable, decent housing is the most critical foundation for leading a healthy life and should be prioritized in discussions of solving related problems. At a time when many people are struggling to pay rent, Greater Ohio Policy Center recently studied national models emerging in Ohio that seek to rebuild neighborhoods tainted with abandoned homes. GOPC’s assessments of projects in Columbus’ Weinland Park and Cleveland’s Slavic Village show that Sandel and Thomas’ vision of rehabilitating blighted properties into safe and affordable housing can be successful.

Sandel explained that the link between housing and health is not at all a new concept; in fact, a report was published in 1911 confirming housing’s vital role as a basis for good health. In the modern era, this relationship still exists but historical worries such as fire hazards and threats of tuberculosis have subsided thanks to modern building codes. Instead, the affordable housing gap between wages and rents is the most pressing cause for unease. Even in a state where housing is generally considered cheap, a quarter of Ohio residents pay at least half of their income on rent alone. Moreover, of the 54,000 families in central Ohio, there are 1,500 people experiencing homelessness.

These stats make for grim reading but Sandel and Thomas believe pulling together ideas and resources from nonprofits, policymakers, and business leaders will allow communities to more successfully and cost-effectively identify housing needs and enable struggling families to afford a roof over their heads. GOPC’s report found that collaborative investments in Weinland Park totaling $80 million by philanthropy groups, government agencies, and other stakeholders have contributed to the area’s increased stability. In fact, housing values in Weinland Park are more evenly distributed between low and high prices than before intervention, while subsidized housing helps protect vulnerable residents from being priced out of the market.

During her talk, Sandel emphasized that interventions should embrace devoting resources to entire neighborhoods at a time, rather than individual homes. GOPC documented that the Slavic Village Recovery Project strategy targeted a “critical mass” of over 300 properties to renovate and demolish, which reflects Sandel’s more holistic approach to revitalization. Finally, Sandel said her response to people who are unconvinced that communities can afford greater investment in reasonably priced housing is: “can you afford not to?” As a result of shrinking availability of affordable housing, we are already paying too much in terms of health services, special education, and fighting crime.

GOPC is On the Go this Fall!

September 17th, 2015

The Greater Ohio Policy Center will be championing the revitalization of Ohio’s communities and metros at a number of conferences this fall including:

  • The Summit on Sustainability, presented by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.  (October 2, Columbus).  GOPC will be a panelist discussing proposed and potential state policies that support sustainability in Ohio.
  • Heritage Ohio Annual Revitalization and Preservation Conference (October 5-7, Columbus).  GOPC will be moderating a panel on strategies to motivate redevelopment and beautification in historic downtowns.
  • Roundtable on Leveraging Assets in Small and Medium sized Legacy Cities, presented by Center for Community Progress (October 8-9, Flint, MI). GOPC will discuss factors that have supported small and medium sized legacy cities in regenerating and flourishing.
  • Ohio Transportation Engineering Conference (October 27-27, Columbus).  GOPC will be a contributor to a panel on the recent Transit Needs study and what it means for Ohio’s communities.
  • Annual Meeting of Municipal Finance Officers Association of Ohio, presented by the Ohio Municipal League (October 29-30, Dublin).  GOPC will discuss Ohio’s changing demographics and their impact on Ohio’s cities.
  • Ohio Housing Conference, presented by Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing and the Ohio Housing Finance Agency (December 1-3, 2015)

 

GOPC Staff Attends the 2015 Urban GOP Leadership Conference

August 17th, 2015

It is without a doubt that the first Republican Presidential Debate was the headlining event within the City of Cleveland last week. Along with the debate, the first Urban GOP Leadership Conference co-hosted by the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County (RPCC) and City GOP made quite a stir in the city as well.

The Conference brought together GOP Committeemen, State Chairs, and party activists and provided a platform to discuss opportunities to develop and grow their party in urban communities. One of the more notable discussions relevant to GOPC was the discussion during the “Youth Engagement Panel”. During the panel, it was good news to hear that both sides of the aisle will be fiercely competing for urban voters as we get closer to the 2016 Presidential Election.

Urban GOP Leadership Conference "Youth Engagement Panel"

Urban GOP Leadership Conference “Youth Engagement Panel”

Panelists acknowledged America’s urban cores are places of increasing in-migration and reinvestment. It was also noted that millennials in particular, adults between the ages of 18 and 34, have been the primary population responsible for this “reurbanization.” These changing demographics impact policy with ramifications in housing, transportation, and many other aspects included within economic development policy.

GOPC is excited to hear that urban voters are a top priority for both parties and is looking forward to learning their plans to improve the lives of those living in urban centers. It will be interesting to see how each party plans to win the hearts of urban voters and respond to economic development challenges so many cities in  America encounter.

Growing Legacy City Populations: GOPC Moderates at the Welcoming Economies Annual Convening

July 13th, 2015

In the mid-twentieth century, Ohio’s population growth was strong, adding almost a million new residents every decade. Since the 1970s, however, Ohio’s population growth has stagnated and as of 2013, Ohio is 47th in the nation in terms of population growth.

The state of Ohio estimates that in the next twenty five years, the state will experience a net gain of 85,000 residents. During that same time period (2015-2040) the nation as a whole is projected to gain another 60 million residents.

Ohio’s population has shifted around the state, leaving behind half-populated neighborhoods in our older communities and thousands of abandoned homes. To repopulate our cities and to make them as vibrant, economically strong, and attractive as before, Ohio cannot depend on “growing its own.”

Greater Ohio Policy Center joined dozens of other organizations at the Welcoming Economies Global Network Annual Convening last week in Dayton, Ohio, to discuss strategies for attracting and retaining new populations, specifically immigrant and refugee groups. Legacy cities across the country—including Detroit, Buffalo, Cleveland, and Dayton—are actively working to create welcoming environments for new residents. These residents are renovating abandoned houses, starting businesses, farming urban plots, shopping in local stores, and contributing to the regeneration of legacy city neighborhoods.

GOPC moderated the panel, “Neighborhood Revitalization: The Immigrant/Refugee Opportunity” and opened a discussion by briefly discussing Ohio’s current demographics. That information can be found here.

Panelists then spoke about programs in Detroit that are working to help place people in land bank-owned homes in three diverse working class neighborhoods, how the city of Dayton is supporting Ahiska Turks who are revitalizing the Old North Dayton neighborhood, and plans the city of Cleveland has in development to build a refugee-focused neighborhood around a school that serves students who are learning English.

In each city, immigrants are pumping millions of dollars into the economy, creating energy and nodes of economic activity that will be critical for the “come back” of these cities.

More information about the Welcoming Economies Global Network can be found here.

 

GOPC Discusses Ohio’s Demographic Trends with Township Administrators

July 10th, 2015

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Last month, Greater Ohio Policy Center’s Associate Director Alison D. Goebel presented “Ohio’s Changing Demographic and Their Impact on Townships” to the Ohio Township Administrators Network, hosted by the Ohio Townships Association.

Discussing current characteristics of Ohio’s population and where different demographic trends are headed, the presentation provided useful strategies and state-policy recommendations on how to strengthen existing communities and prepare for future needs and demands.

Administrators from around the state attended and represented a range of townships, including urban, suburban, and ex-urban townships.

The presentation can be found here.

 

Join the kickoff event: A look at companies moving to downtowns

June 16th, 2015

Over the past five years, hundreds of companies across the United States have moved to and invested in walkable downtowns. Why did companies choose these places? And what features did they look for when picking a new location? On June 18, national non-profit Smart Growth America will release new research that seeks to answer both these questions.

“Core Values: Why American Companies are Moving Downtown” surveys nearly 500 companies that have moved to or invested in walkable downtowns over the past five years, and includes interviews with more than 40 senior-level staff at those companies. There are 53 companies in Ohio’s urban cores included in the analysis, including General Electric, BrownFlynn, Dakota Software, Nationwide and Deloitte. Ohio metropolitan areas mentioned in the report include Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo.

As part of the launch of this new research, Smart Growth America will hold a kickoff panel discussion in Washington, DC. The event will be livestreamed on the web, and you can watch it as it happens on Thursday, June 18, 2015 starting at 9:00 AM EDT. Register to join:

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Joining the panel will be Geoff Anderson, President and CEO of Smart Growth America; Paula Munger, Director of Business Line Research and Brian Dawson, Senior Managing Director and Market Leader for the Washington, DC region for Cushman & Wakefield; Michael Deemer, Executive Vice President, Business Development at the Downtown Cleveland Alliance; Mark Fisher, Vice President of Government Relations and Policy Development for the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce; Brad Lacy, President & Chief Executive Officer of the Conway, AR Chamber of Commerce; Jim Reilly, Vice President, Corporate Communications at Panasonic; and Amy Ronneberg, Chief Financial Officer at Be the Match.

The conversation in the report as well as on the panel will provide an overview of why these companies chose to move downtown, and what they looked for when considering a new location. The event will also provide ideas for cities about how they can create the kinds of places these companies seek.

Have questions for the panelists ahead of time? Tweet them to @SmartGrowthUSA or use the hashtag #CoreValues.

We hope you’ll join us for the live event on June 18.