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!

GOPC Partner Preservation Rightsizing Network Releases Action Agenda

February 11th, 2016

The Greater Ohio Policy Center has been a long time contributor to and supporter of the Preservation Rightsizing Network (PRN).  PRN works in legacy cities to preserve local heritage and revitalize the built environment, bring market sensitive tools and solutions that leverage historic preservation for urban revitalization.

GOPC has long supported a holistic approach to legacy city revitalization—calling for a strategic and thoughtful mix of demolition, rehab, historic preservation and new development.  GOPC is pleased to share a video associated with the release of an Action Agenda for historic preservation in Legacy Cities.  GOPC co-sponsored the public event where the report was released and looks forward to supporting Ohio’s communities as they implement tools and policies contained in the Agenda.

Please take 5 minutes to watch this video to learn more about the Action Agenda.

GOPC’s 2015 Accomplishments & A Look Ahead

December 15th, 2015

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Pictured from left: Alison Goebel, Lindsey Gardiner, Lavea Brachman, Meg Montgomery, Torey Hollingsworth, Sheldon Johnson, and Alex Highley.

2015 has been an eventful year around Ohio and has been filled with achievement and promise for GOPC. As a leader in championing revitalization and sustainable growth, GOPC has accomplished a lot in the past year, including:

Led Dialogue on Revitalization and Sustainable Regrowth in Ohio

  • Summit on Restoring Neighborhoods, Strengthening Economiesthat brought together national experts, state policymakers, and local leaders to recognize outstanding leadership and practices in revitalizing Ohio’s cities and to discuss new strategies to sharpen the state’s economic edge.
  • Roundtable on Rebuilding Neighborhood Markets to further GOPC’s effort to connect small business growth to areas with commercial vacant properties. The Neighborhood Development Center in St. Paul, MN and ProsperUS in Detroit, MI presented their successful models for property reuse.
  • Participated in over 15 events as speakers, panelists, or moderators

Successfully Influenced State Policy

  • Advanced Two Reforms for a Diversified Transportation System. GOPC is working with leading planning organizations—as well as other regional leaders—to develop and advance policies to support additional funding for public transit systems and multi-modal options throughout the state, as well as investment in existing infrastructure.
  • Helped Create Service Stations Cleanup Fund Program. GOPC offered interested party testimony to the Senate Finance Workforce Subcommittee on the Service Station Cleanup Fund. GOPC supported the creation of this program because it leverages initial investment for future economic development.

Published Original Research

  • Assessed Current State of Land Banking in Ohio. In May, GOPC released Taking Stock of Ohio County Land Banks: Current Practices and Promising Strategies , which analyzes how land banks operate in the larger context of community revitalization. The report highlights promising county land bank programs that have the potential to greatly contribute to sustainable economic and community redevelopment throughout Ohio.
  • Identified Challenges and Initial Solutions for Water & Sewer Infrastructure Improvements. With support from the Ohio Water Development Authority, GOPC recently released an Assessment of Needs for redeveloping sewer and water infrastructure to identify innovative financing options to assist communities with infrastructure modernization. GOPC is working with financing experts and MORPC and will release its Phase II recommendations in late 2016.
  • Financing in Opportunity Neighborhoods Report. This report analyzes neighborhoods in Ohio that are showing signs of stability but struggle to attract traditional financing because of credit gaps and other challenges. In this report, GOPC outlines potential interventions and innovative financing tools and strategies that can stabilize the housing market in these neighborhoods.

Provided Education and Strategic Assistance to Ohio’s Communities

  • Strategic Advice on the Formation of a Youngstown Center City Organization. GOPC is working the Wean Foundation and local partners to develop a process for creating a Youngstown Center City Organization. The YCCO will catalyze and coordinate economic development and community investment in Youngstown’s Central Business District and adjacent areas.
  • Commercial Vacant Property Redevelopment Webinars. GOPC partnered with the Ohio CDC Association to present four webinars as a “how to” for local leaders of legacy cities faced with commercial vacancies. Topics for the webinars included redevelopment planning, identifying successful tools and strategies, and overcoming financial gaps.
  • Continued Outreach to Practitioners and Leaders in Ohio’s Cities.  GOPC met regularly with leaders throughout the state around needed revitalization policies and policy reforms that will assist with neighborhood regeneration and sustainable redevelopment.

Coming in 2016…

In 2016, GOPC will continue working to ensure Ohio has robust, effective policies and practices that create revitalized communities, strengthen regional cooperation, and preserve Ohio’s green space by reducing sprawl. With partners from around the state and nation, GOPC will continue to investigate creative financing approaches to infrastructure improvements and neighborhood revitalization; advocate for a diversified transportation system, and support communities as they invest in themselves and their futures.

We believe GOPC offers strong leadership and unique skills to address critical issues and to ensure a prosperous future for the people of Ohio. And others agree; check out the New Video illustrating GOPC’s role in vital areas!

National Leaders Announce Release of Action Agenda for Historic Preservation in Legacy Cities

December 7th, 2015

Urban Leaders and Landmark Experts Celebrate Newark’s Hahne & Company Revitalization As Example of How Historic Preservation Can Spur Development and Strengthen Legacy Cities Across the Nation

Newark, New Jersey—Today, the Preservation Rightsizing Network (PRN) released a new Action Agenda for Historic Preservation in Legacy Cities, which lays out a wide-ranging plan to address urban challenges by advancing new development while protecting communities’ cultural heritage.

Tuesday’s release was accompanied by a public discussion co-hosted by Rutgers University – Newark with over 40 of the nation’s top urban development and historic landmark experts. As part of that discussion, PRN conducted a tour of the ongoing redevelopment of the historic Hahne & Company building, which is being highlighted as a  successful, collaborative approach that combined preservation and economic revitalization – a challenge in many legacy cities like Newark, Detroit, and more.

The Action Agenda for Historic Preservation in Legacy Cities — which can be accessed here — is a nine-point strategy that shapes a new approach to preservation, adapts existing tools and policies used by preservationists, and promotes place-based collaboration, especially in legacy cities like Newark, Detroit, and Cleveland (also known as Rust Belt cities or shrinking cities). By offering new strategies for protecting local cultural heritage, the Action Agenda serves as a guide for preserving the stories of Rust Belt cities and communities and make them more equitable, prosperous, and sustainable in the face of economic shifts. Using examples from Cincinnati, Buffalo, Detroit, and more, the Agenda offers suggested next steps, potential partners from preservation and allied fields, and financing and coalition-building toolkits for urban development and preservation advocates.

Emilie Evans, co-founder of Brick + Beam Detroit, an initiative that connects and supports building rehabbers in Detroit, said: “The Action Agenda provides clear steps legacy cities can take to leverage older buildings and local heritage as powerful assets for revitalization. It bolsters core tenets of Brick + Beam’s mission to support the rehabilitation of Detroit’s incredible older buildings, engage meaningfully with local property owners and tradespeople, and develop practical tools to move reinvestment projects forward.”

The Action Agenda was released in Newark in recognition of the leadership and partnerships demonstrated during the planning and redevelopment of the Hahne & Company building, which had sat vacant for over 30 years. The new development will include a full-line grocery store, affordable and market-rate housing, and a major arts program space and incubator conceived and implemented by Rutgers University-Newark and community partners including local artists, arts organizations, and other arts and culture anchor institutions in Newark.

Rutgers University Chancellor Nancy Cantor said: “The Action Agenda’s clarion call to carry forward the ‘legacy’ of legacy cities by preserving their stories entails an equally powerful call to amplify the voices of diverse new generations in retelling them. That is a challenge to all of us—in Newark and legacy cities like it everywhere—and it is precisely what we have in mind with our university-community collaboratory we are developing in the Hahne & Company building and precisely why we think the name of our collaboratory, ‘Express Newark,’ is so apt. We are thrilled to be working with the Preservation Rightsizing Network to advance this shared agenda.”

The Preservation Rightsizing Network meets annually to bring leading preservationists and allies together and supports local leaders in generating national conferences on historic preservation in legacy cities, including a previous conference held in Cleveland (2014) with another scheduled for Detroit (2016).

President of the Lucas County Land Bank, David P. Mann said: “Faced with unprecedented economic challenges and property abandonment, legacy cities must seize new tools and new strategies in order to preserve all that makes them special. This Action Agenda is a smart step in that direction, not just to help save historic assets, but to ensure that the voice of the historic preservation movement is heard in this important and ongoing conversation.”

Cleveland City Councilman Jeffrey Johnson said: “Historic preservation is vital in the revitalization of Cleveland. Our history, as told through the older buildings and neighborhoods, is the foundation on which our community must rebuild.”

Steubenville Summit Generates Ideas to Reinvigorate Historic Downtown

November 6th, 2015

Guest Post by Evan Scurti, Executive Director of the Jefferson County Port Authority

This past October, the City of Steubenville, Board of Jefferson County Commissioners, and the Jefferson County Port Authority took the first step in a long-term journey of sustainable growth and reinvestment in historic downtown Steubenville. “Investing in the Ville–A Real Estate and Business Development Summit” was created through the collaborative efforts of the three local governments, a steering committee of passionate citizens, and sponsorship money and services from local merchants. The event exceeded expectations by welcoming over 100 local and regional developers, investors, building owners, and interested citizens. Organizers agreed that this successful inaugural event is only the beginning of a series of interconnected strategies focused on reinventing the CBD of a historic city that is striving to reposition itself in a new global economy. While the old steel mills employing tens of thousands on both sides of the Ohio River no longer exist as an anchor to support bustling downtowns, there is currently great potential for Ohio Valley growth as new industries like oil and gas extraction emerge. Steubenville’s leaders are focused on guiding that growth back to the historic and large urban core of the city.

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Aerial shot of Steubenville, Ohio

The event featured Keynote Speaker Franzi Charen, Executive Director of the Asheville Grown Alliance, a nonprofit supporting grassroots development and local entrepreneurship efforts in Asheville, North Carolina’s downtown. Franzi’s message resonated with the Steubenville crowd, as Asheville has also had to adapt to industrial economy changes in sectors like textiles. Through the vision of creative local developers and entrepreneurs, Asheville has diversified its economy and strengthened its tourism trade, which are both goals that Steubenville is beginning to adopt as its own. To help make downtown Steubenville a renewed destination for locals as well as visitors, the City administration has developed an exciting streetscape and civic plaza vision for the heart of the CBD. Consultants’ overviews of these plans followed Franzi’s address. The event culminated in an inspiring address by a longtime downtown business owner and resident who emphasized the safety and strong potential of the CBD and a walking tour of prime development opportunities that are ripe for new visions.

Event organizers have agreed that this should be the beginning of an annual effort to celebrate successes, invite and brainstorm building reuse ideas, track the CBD’s vacancy rate, and reassess the overall downtown plan. Downtown Steubenville is a special place with a large, impressive built environment. Local leaders are showing great commitment to current and future generations by engaging in the best kind of smart economic development–rebuilding and reusing the infrastructure and wonderful buildings erected by past generations. We firmly believe in, and will work toward, this event growing into a regional movement to renew one of Ohio’s most unique places with enormous potential.

The Detroit Story: Are there Lessons Learned in Revitalization of Ohio Cities?

October 23rd, 2015

Lavea Brachman, Executive Director of Greater Ohio Policy Center, recently published a book review on the website The National Book Review. The review, titled “Detroit was a Golden City Once – And It Can Be Again,” explores Detroit’s recent revitalization strategies and describes practices that legacy cities in Ohio could replicate.

GOPC participates in Roundtable on Small and Medium sized Legacy Cities

October 13th, 2015
 
By Alison Goebel, GOPC Associate Director

Last week, GOPC participated in a Roundtable on Leveraging Local Assets in Small and Medium Sized Cities, sponsored by the Center for Community Progress.  This small Roundtable brought together leaders from a number of sectors who work in Flint, Dayton, Youngstown, and Syracuse. Through a neighborhood tour, presentations, and conversations over meals, GOPC learned about cutting-edge strategies that these medium sized legacy cities implement to accelerate their revitalization and return to vibrancy.

At the beginning of the Roundtable, GOPC presented preliminary research findings generated from analysis of current conditions and trends of a number of small and medium-sized cities in the Midwest and Northeast. GOPC also described promising and innovative urban stabilization and revitalization strategies has found through collaborative research with CCP Senior Fellow Alan Mallach.  One of the most valuable components of the Roundtable was learning firsthand of incredible work underway in these four representative cities.

Flint has recently completed an amazing master plan, Imagine Flint, which includes 13 different zoning districts that acknowledge the reality of current land use and prepare the city to maximize its assets for the future.  The plan is sensitive to the current market and responds to what residents want for the future.  For example, during our neighborhood tour we visited a newly zoned site consisting of work and residential buildings.

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Habitat for Humanity-Flint is helping a family rebuild a new home and retail space where people can play tabletop games, like Dungeons and Dragons.

Syracuse described a highly successful partnership between St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Care, a workforce development program, and community revitalization program.  Through St. Joseph’s leadership, the surrounding neighborhood is being revitalized, hospital employees are living in the neighborhoods, and the hospital is achieving an unprecedented retention rate among local residents who participate in the workforce program.

Dayton discussed the advantages of utilizing a non-profit, CityWide Development Corporation to direct redevelopment around key anchors in the city—including a new elementary school and a hospital.  CityWide, as the lead entity for this public-private partnership, is spearheading three major redevelopment projects that are tied to key anchor institutions.

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Downtown Flint is revitalized and populated. The Flint Weather Ball is also visible in this picture.  It turns red when the temperatures are predicted to rise and blue when the temperature is expected to go down. The night of the picture, the temperature was remaining steady and so the ball was yellow.

Roundtable participants were excited by a new strategy Youngstown is piloting, which they call micro-planning.  The Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation (YNDC) has identified key schools, churches, and other community facilities that can potentially be a catalyst for neighborhood regrowth and YNDC is now directing its resources to the blocks that surround these smaller institutions.

The challenges these cities have faced—and the ability to master and leverage these challenges into opportunities—was inspiring and reaffirmed the resiliency and strength of these places.

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Ridgway White, CEO of the C.S.Mott Foundation was our host for the Roundtable.  Over dinner we swapped stories and received advice and suggestions from peer cities on different revitalization strategies.

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.

A Prescription for Urban Regeneration Part II

August 17th, 2015

Opportunities for Ohio’s Cities

By Raquel Jones, GOPC Intern

Yesterday, I discussed Ohio’s development patterns and how suburban development (i.e. lower-density development) and high rates of racial and economic inequality exist in Ohio’s three largest cities: Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.  While inequity and low density development continue to some extent, these historic trends are beginning to subside as there has been a renewed interest in an urban lifestyle by two key demographics. Millennials, the cohort of people born between 1980 and the mid-2000s, and empty nesters appear to prefer to live in urban areas where there is increased walkability and mixed-use development. However, this in-migration of members of the middle-class and affluent people into these areas has arguably led to the displacement of poorer residents through the process of gentrification. However, with many of Ohio’s cities having lost a tremendous number of citizens since its peak population, such as Cleveland, where only half the number of the original population remains, there is obviously room for everyone. Therefore, the displacement of vulnerable populations— people of color, people living in poverty, elderly people—can benefit only if the repopulation of our cities is done thoughtfully.

Cities are once-again beginning to prosper and grow, however, there remains more to be done to ensure that they continue to thrive and stand as a place where people want to live and work. An urban agenda must be put in place to prioritize sustainable urban regeneration. Mayor Coleman of Columbus recently made a call for such an action plan to state lawmakers during his keynote speech at the GOPC’s summit on urban revitalization and sustainable growth in early June of this year. He outlined the plan as including increased access and diversity of public transit options – both within cities and connecting Ohio’s urban areas. He also noted the sustained need to fight blight in Ohio’s urban centers, as well as the renewal of a fund to provide for the redevelopment of brownfields, or polluted industrial sites. Finally, he emphasized the need for the state legislature to increase local government funds, which have been cut in recent years, to be able to support the many services that cities provide to the general public.

An urban agenda must also include smart-growth strategies to combat the spread of the uncontained suburban growth covered in the previous post. One possible solution includes the implementation of urban growth boundaries. While this approach may not be as applicable or feasible in Ohio as it may be in other states, it has been established in the state of Oregon. Regardless, infill development should take place first in order to utilize open space already available in urban centers. Further options include the transfer of development rights to allow for higher-density development in some areas and lower-density development in other places, open-space zoning, and conservation easements for the long-term protection of natural areas and farmlands from urban development. Together, these policies stand to provide for the revitalization of Ohio’s economic engines in order to be competitive in the 21st century.