Don’t Miss GOPC’s Upcoming Webinar on Ohio’s Small and Mid-Sized Legacy Cities

October 12th, 2016

In conjunction with the Ohio CDC Association, GOPC will co-host a Webinar on October 27th, 2016 from 10:00-11:30am that will examine how smaller legacy cities, from Akron to Zanesville, have fared over the last 15 years. GOPC will share best practices that smaller legacy cities throughout the Midwest and Northeast used to jumpstart revitalization and that community development practitioners can catalyze and implement.

GOPC recently presented on its latest work on small and mid-sized legacy cities at the Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference in Baltimore. To learn more about this, please check out our October 2016 Newsletter.


We hope you join us for the Webinar on October 27th – click here to sign up!


Ohio CDC



Remaking Cities After Abandonment Lecture Emphasizes Role of Community Efforts

September 16th, 2016

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate

This past Wednesday, the Knowlton School of Architecture at the Ohio State University hosted a lecture by Margaret Dewar, a University of Michigan professor teaching at the Taubman College of Architecture. Dewar focuses her research on economic development, housing, and urban planning and she investigates the ways planners seek to ameliorate population and employment loss. During the lecture, Dewar outlined three main questions that she seeks to answer as part of her research:

  • What does a city become after abandonment?
  • What makes a difference in what a city becomes after abandonment?
  • What should a city become after abandonment?

The theme of Dewar’s research findings is that even in the cases of extraordinary shock marked by the collapse of government and a plunge in housing values, social groups and institutions make significant strides in community building. According to Dewar, this concept is important to understand given that prior research had only concluded that community efforts could produce smaller-scale change, such as inducing a decrease in crime.

Dewar lamented that during the mortgage foreclosure crisis in Detroit during the last decade, local leadership demonstrated little in the way of support for citizen resilience. Instead of imploring citizens to stay in their homes and rebuild their communities in the midst of a widespread crisis, the previous Detroit mayor tried to clear people out of their houses because city services were so insufficient. In Dewar’s view, these services should have been restructured so that people would have more incentive to remain and persevere in rebuilding their neighborhoods. For instance, citizens could have found creative ways to combine their garbage each week in order to have more efficient garbage collection services when cuts needed to be made.

Dewar highlighted the need for governments to prioritize community development corporations (CDCs) when seeking to rebuild neighborhoods that have suffered from recent abandonment. GOPC partners with CDC associations around Ohio and likewise recognizes the important work they contribute to community investment and redevelopment. Dewar also stressed the cost savings that cities can benefit through transitioning to green stormwater infrastructure. GOPC is constantly researching and discovering new ways for local governments to finance and modernize their sewer and water infrastructure.

DetroitSkyline wikicommons Cropped

Detroit, Michigan. Source: Wikicommons


Social Impact Bonds for Urban Redevelopment and Green Infrastructure Break New Ground

September 6th, 2016

By John Honeck, GOPC Senior Policy Fellow

Social impact bonds (SIBs) or “pay for success” models are debt arrangements established by a public agency or nonprofit organization in order to finance an innovative service or program with an uncertain rate of return.  Investors are paid back in full only if the project succeeds in meeting its goals.  In this way, public agencies are incentivized to take a more flexible approach to problem-solving.  Until recently, social impact bonds were mainly tried in social service and criminal justice fields to test approaches with significant risk.  For example, Cuyahoga County is using a SIB to test a new approach to reduce foster care placements of children with homeless parents.

Two recent deals show that the social impact bond approach can be used in infrastructure and urban redevelopment.  In Hamilton County, the Port Authority of Greater Cincinnati has been looking for ways to redevelop sites for manufacturing firms seeking to locate or expand within the county.  Although the county has many abandoned industrial sites, they are often contaminated and have outdated buildings and infrastructure.  The lack of suitable locations for manufacturing expansion puts the county at a significant disadvantage with respect to greenfield development. 

To help remedy the situation, in June, 2016, the Port Authority issued bonds with a principal amount of $7 million for the acquisition and remediation of contaminated sites in the county.[1]  The bonds were purchased by local businesses and high net worth individuals that have an interest in economic development but are willing to provide a source of long-term patient capital.  Investors hope to make a profit when the land is sold, but if the deal does not work out as planned they are only guaranteed a miniscule annual rate of return of 0.15 percent.  If the approach is successful, the Port Authority may seek an additional $13 million from other investors.  This financing strategy may provide an example for other older post-industrial cities in Ohio and the rest of the nation. 

In Washington, D.C., a ground-breaking deal showed the potential for social impact bonds for infrastructure.[2]  The DC Water and Sewer Authority announced in early September that it will seek between $20 – $30 million in financing from investors to support the installation of “green” infrastructure such as porous pavement or rain gardens to manage stormwater flowing into the Potomac River and Rock Creek watersheds.  DC Water hopes to avoid using expensive deep tunnels or other major infrastructure work that would otherwise be necessary to address a federal mandate to stop combined sewer overflows.  Like many other cities in the Eastern U.S., the older parts of Washington’s sewer system combine wastewater and storm water runoff into the same pipes, which overflow when it rains, discharging raw sewage into rivers and streams.  Investors will be repaid according the degree of stormwater control that the project achieves. 

Greater Ohio Policy Center is currently in the midst of a year-long study of innovative financing techniques for water and sewer infrastructure and brownfield redevelopment.  These two issues are critical needs for cities in Ohio and across the nation, as discussed in our earlier report.  Although social impact bonds cannot be expected to provide most of the financing needed to tackle these issues, it can promote innovative approaches to test the application of new programs.  In the long run, these arrangements can also help to build a network of stakeholder organizations that see themselves as partners in addressing a significant environmental or economic problem.  SIBs are not just about financing, they also help to focus public attention on an issue. 



[1] Press release, Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, “Port Authority Issues Impact Investment Debt To Fund Industrial Site Revitalization; Closes $7.0 Million In First Round,” June 16, 2016.

[2] Kyle Glazier, “D.C.’s Social Impact Bond Deal Will Fund Infrastructure,” The Bond Buyer, 9-2-16,

In Time for the RNC, Cleveland’s Public Square Renovation Showcases Fine Center-City Redevelopment

July 25th, 2016

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate

The redesign of Cleveland, Ohio’s Public Square, which was completed in June 2016 and just in time for the Republican National Convention (RNC), demonstrates impressive investment in a legacy city’s downtown core, to the long-term benefit of the public. The remodeling of the area has transformed the area from a mere intersection of traffic to an exemplary planning case study of intelligently recreated urban space for refined functionality and imagery. By creating more green spaces with park benches, walkable paths, the artistically-modeled area now exudes an atmosphere that is welcoming for visitors and passers-by.

Along with newly paved walkways, fresh green spaces, newly planted trees, and a fountain for kids to play in, the refurbished square features a brand new outdoor café for visitors to enjoy. Statues of the city’s founder and a former mayor have been preserved and repositioned in the square. For special events, as the RNC demonstrated, Public Square acts as the central hub where citizens can congregate to absorb ranging opinions at the “speakers’ platform” on the south end of the park.

Cle Public Square

Cleveland Public Square revitalized. Photo credit: The Group Plan

The renovation of Public Square, overseen by the nonprofit city-county Group Plan Commission, in total cost $50 million. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, $37 million was spent on landscaping and $13 million was spent on reconstruction underground. A combination of government and private sources contributed to this project. As Greater Ohio Policy Center’s reports have argued, urban core investment will substantially improve the downtown area in many ways. Firstly, by attracting people who otherwise wouldn’t visit the area, commercial activity in the surrounding businesses will improve. Property values in the area will likely rise due to the public good of improved amenities such as green spaces. Lastly, as we saw with the RNC, the new area should act as a venue of bringing people together for events, such as the upcoming Cleveland Orchestra concert, where Clevelanders and visitors can interact and enjoy themselves.


Reflecting on a Successful Fellowship on Legacy City Revitalization at UChicago’s Institute of Politics

June 15th, 2016

By Lavea Brachman, GOPC Executive Director

I have recently returned from a two month fellowship at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, a new nonpartisan entity designed to ignite a passion in students for politics and public service, where I taught the seminar, “Can America’s Older Industrial Cities Pull Off a Second Act?”  I drew heavily on the research and advocacy work that GOPC is doing with its many partners to drive economic prosperity in Ohio’s legacy cities (or older industrial cities), where quality of life and regrowth are challenged.

The seminar raised questions such as: how to distribute scarce resources for neighborhood revitalization; what is the role of large anchor institutions, like universities and hospitals, in generating neighborhood or economic development when that is not their primary mission; how are massive transportation and sewer and water infrastructure needs going to be financed; and how do we tailor policies and practices to account for the differences between large and small legacy cities.

But the challenge – either implicit or explicit — underlying all of these questions is that of the existing and growing economic divide in Ohio’s cities as well as other legacy cities, like Detroit, Gary, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Philadelphia, as the percentage and numbers of middle income residents continue to decline.

    LB chicago

This phenomenon is not limited to legacy cities in this country, but the economic contrast is particularly stark in them and has profound societal and political consequences. For instance, UChicago, situated in the thriving Hyde Park neighborhood, is also a stone’s throw from other parts of Chicago’s South Side with remnants of older industrial past– closed manufacturing plants, some still operating factories —  resembling other Midwestern legacy cities.   If you didn’t know you were in America’s third largest city – and the largest and most prosperous city in the Midwest –  then you would think you were transported to a legacy city neighborhood with high levels of economic distress.  Contrast that with Chicago’s downtown and many of its adjacent neighborhoods with thriving commercial and residential districts.   Like legacy cities, Chicago, too, is experiencing increasing extremes in residential income levels and neighborhood conditions.

This trend is of deep concern not only for the residents living in these neighborhoods but also for residents in the more prosperous areas in the rest of Chicago as well as in these other cities — and our country. As our legacy cities rebound, let’s demonstrate economic regrowth practices that intentionally address this increasing economic gap, so they can be the leaders in solving and reversing this growing, pernicious national trend.   

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Publishes GOPC Article on Revitalization of Legacy Cities

June 6th, 2016

By Lavea Brachman, GOPC Executive Director and Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC Researcher

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston has published a Greater Ohio Policy Center article on the revitalization of America’s small- and medium-sized legacy cities. Beginning on page 7 of its Summer 2016 Communities and Banking magazine, the article describes several promising resilience strategies for legacy cities, based on GOPC’s data analysis. The article also highlights Case Studies from Worcester, Massachusetts; Kalamazoo, Michigan; Syracuse, New York; and Akron, Ohio of recent economic recovery practices.

Visit the Article Here

Downtown overhead

This article is part of broader research that GOPC is conducting on the health of small- and medium-sized legacy cities across the country.

To read the Article, please go Here



Legacy of Poindexter Village Celebrated in Columbus

May 27th, 2016

By Sheldon K. Johnson, Urban Revitalization Project Specialist

On Wednesday March 18th, Greater Ohio Policy Center attended Columbus Metropolitan Club’s (CMC) event to commemorate the history and legacy of Poindexter Village. Constructed in 1939, Poindexter Village was the first public-housing project in the city of Columbus. All but two of the 35 buildings that housed 414 units were demolished by the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) in 2013. The 26 acre site will be redeveloped in several phases. The first phase, a 104 unit senior apartment complex called Poindexter Place, is nearing completion. The occasion last week, though, was not about planning for the future, but celebrating and remembering the past.

Poindexter Village was named for the Rev. James M. Poindexter, a prominent leader in Columbus’ 19th century black community.  Rev. Poindexter was the pastor of Second Baptist Church from 1862-1898, became the first African-American elected to the Columbus City Council in 1880, and served on the Columbus Board of Education from 1884-1893. Poindexter Village was significant not only in name, but also for its location. Prior to the establishment of CMHA the area between Long Street and Mount Vernon Avenue was known as the Blackberry Patch. It was home to low-income African-Americans who lived in low quality housing.

Poindexter Village offered not only quality housing with modern amenities, but allowed for the creation of a community. The neighborly atmosphere of Poindexter Village was an important part of the discussion between panelists Myron Lowery, Memphis (TN) City Council Chairman, Curtis J. Moody, president and CEO at Moody Nolan, and Leslie J. Sawyer, retired civil servant. Mr. Lowery, who lived in Poindexter Village for 4 years, and Ms. Sawyer, who attended Poindexter Village Preschool while her father managed the complex, both spoke of how important community was to their childhood.

Several audience members shared memories of their time living in Poindexter Village and urged that the legacy of the complex not be forgotten. Though details of what will happen in the next phases of redevelopment weren’t discussed this event speaks to the importance of the built environment. The presence, or lack thereof, of surroundings such as buildings, greenspace, and infrastructure can have both positive and negative effects on a community. Balancing the revitalization of bricks and sticks for the future while celebrating the special culture of a specific neighborhood or city is important work that many Greater Ohio Policy Center partners are currently undertaking.


CMC Forum Explores Urban Revitalization

May 2nd, 2016

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate

Last week, Greater Ohio Policy Center attended Columbus Metropolitan Club’s panel on the way cities are working to attract and retain talent, and thrive in today’s economy. The session was moderated by OSU History Professor David Staley, who asked questions to Lee Fisher, President of CEO for Cities and Steve Schoeny of the Columbus Department of Development.

Fisher began the session by declaring that in the coming years, urbanization will be the single most important demographic change in the coming years, with many people choosing to move to cities. Today many cities struggle to provide the vehicles to fully use their talent, despite there being plenty of talent available. Attracting new talent, however, can only happen if cities have the tools for people to collaborate. Moreover, Schoeny believes that retaining talent is a big challenge for cities, as many young, educated people will look to move elsewhere. Schoeny emphasized the need to create places that connect housing with jobs, because people often choose to where to live before they decide where to work. This idea reflects GOPC’s support for place-based investment, to build off existing resources, and the idea that players should take advantage of the assets that already exist in Ohio’s cities.

CMC urban revitalization 4.20

Schoeny believes that successful cities share three common features: they are dense, active, and connected. One key ingredient to all of these is having lively public spaces, such as parks and bike paths, where people can meet each other and share ideas. Fisher echoed this sentiment, declaring that active cities have at least 10 public spaces, which ultimately improve our health. Moreover, active communities, according to Schoeny, are incumbent on robust public transportation systems by expanding choices for everyone. GOPC concurs with this assessment and has been working in recent months to boost resources for multimodal transportation options.

A Look Back on my Internship at GOPC

April 22nd, 2016

By Addie DesRoches, GOPC Intern

As my time as an Intern is winding down at the Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC), I have taken some time to look back on my experience as part of the organization. After anxiously waiting to begin my internship at GOPC, Deputy Director Alison Goebel helped me feel more at ease on my first day. She introduced me to many of the staff members and then took me into her office to discuss what I would be doing at GOPC. I then met with Sheldon Johnson and Colleen Durfee, who showed me how to track conferences and call for submission deadlines on a spreadsheet. Later, Lindsey Gardiner introduced me to a project where I would sort through House and Senate bills that involved rural, suburban, and urban revitalization, which she ultimately presented to the House.  I also helped create a list of contact information of representatives running for House in the next cycle who are involved with Lindsey’s bill.

A few months later, I met Dr. Nobuhisa Taira of Seigakuin University in Japan, who had come to learn about Ohio land banks. Following our meeting, I wrote a blog post on his plans to apply research on Ohio land bank models in Japan. While working on these projects, I also created one-page documents that briefly describe GOPC’s areas of work. Because I really enjoyed this design work, I created an updated GOPC press release banner. I also found out that I thoroughly enjoyed working on spreadsheets when I was involved with two projects. For one project, I helped Alex Highley and Sheldon update Ohio newspaper contact information and the second involved helping Lindsey locate all the Brownfield locations in Ohio in order to draw up a live map.

I have learned a lot from my colleagues at GOPC and enjoyed my time working with them. They have given me so much insight on how a nonprofit organization works and tools that can be used to improve Ohio’s cities. For instance, before I came to the GOPC I had no idea what a Land Bank or Brownfield was, let alone what they can be used for. Being able to read GOPC reports and seeing the success of Ohio’s Land Banks gave me new knowledge about solutions I was not aware of.  Now knowing and understanding how to utilize these and other tools in improving the community, I feel as though I will bring an alternative outlook to policy creation and action in my future endeavors.

The First Step to Revitalization

February 18th, 2016

By Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC Graduate Intern

This week, GOPC released a study called the62.4 Reporton urban health and competitiveness in Akron. The report, whose title refers to the city’s square mileage, realistically acknowledges that the city is facing challenges, but also finds that Akron is in a strong position to deal with them. GOPC’s work on small- and medium-sized legacy cities nationwide has found that for many cities, the first step of recovery and revitalization is understanding and accepting their current situation. This may have been more challenging for Akron, because unlike many of its peers, it has not had a clear moment of hitting “rock bottom” when a major economic sector completely left town. Instead, change in Akron has been slower, with a steady stream of residents and businesses leaving the central city for the suburbs and a more gradual shift from a manufacturing-based to service-based economy. Without a major crisis, the alarm bells never rang, even though conditions in the city were declining.

Downtown overhead

Akron, Ohio

Fortunately, many stakeholders in Akron are willing to take a hard look at where Akron is now to plan for where the city can be. Kyle Kutuchief, program director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation – which grew out of Akron and funded the study, compares the report to diagnostic testing required when going to the doctor. Once the city knows what is wrong, it can start making a plan for getting better.

Akronites are excited about making that plan. GOPC Executive Director Lavea Brachman and Graduate Intern Torey Hollingsworth travelled to Akron this week to present the report’s findings. At meetings with stakeholders, they had productive conversations about what the city could do to reposition itself as a vibrant, competitive city where people want to live and work. Despite the sobering data, there was clear energy about Akron’s future and resolve to do what it takes to get the city there. Now that the city has taken the tough first step of finding out what needs to change, Akron is even better positioned for recovery. 

Go here to read the report!