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.


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.


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.


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.

flint 3

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.

A Prescription for Urban Regeneration Part I

August 17th, 2015

The History and Consequence of Ohio Cities’ Development Patterns

By Raquel Jones, GOPC Intern

Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus have more in common than their location in the buckeye state. Together, these three metropolises have the largest concentration of the state’s population. Unfortunately, they also have the highest levels of neighborhood inequality in terms of income, education, homeownership rate, and housing values. In Worlds Apart, a new report released by the Urban Institute in June of this year, an index intended to calculate this form of inequality was developed and utilized, and ultimately supported this conclusion. The neighborhood inequality score, indicating the overall degree of inequality within each region, is calculated by subtracting the average neighborhood advantage score (a composite score of the four indicators mentioned above) of the areas’ bottom census tracts from the average of its top census tracts.  Columbus tops off with a neighborhood inequality score of 5.54, while Cleveland and Cincinnati are not far behind with scores of 5.26 and 5.17, respectively.

Accordingly, all of these cities are geographically segregated, with the majority of the poor inhabiting the urban core and those who are more privileged residing in the suburbs. However, in two of these municipalities, suburban-like development exists within city limits, disbanding the conventional association of cities with urban development. This is the case in both Columbus and Cincinnati. In Columbus, the suburbs account for sixty percent of the households in the municipality, while Cincinnati is forty-nine percent, or nearly half, suburban.* Although the wholly urban city of Cleveland is an outlier in this examination of city density, it remains evident that Ohio cities are heavily suburbanized and at the same time greatly segmented.

To be able to fully analyze and comprehend the present inequality and density within these regions, it is necessary to put it into a larger context within the history of suburban sprawl and the discriminatory practice of redlining, which carved up cities into desirable (i.e. white), average and undesirable (neighborhood of color) areas. The end of the Second World War signified the start of a new era as new cultural norms and demographic changes diffused across the nation. The baby boom that followed the war led to an increase in the number of families seeking housing who were aided by house-buying subsidies included in the GI Bill. This led to the development of new subdivisions on the outskirts of metropolitan areas, many which had restrictive covenants restricting the sale of homes to desirable (i.e. white) residents inserted into the subdivision’s incorporation articles and often transferring over to the deed of the house. The growing popularity and affordability of the automobile facilitated the feasibility and creation of these car-dependent societies. Furthermore, gas taxes subsidized major road construction projects, including the interstate highway system, providing a faster commute between suburban regions and the downtown area.

These developments also coincided with the “white flight” movement that embodied the large-scale migration of white people of various European descents out of the urban core and into suburban or exurban communities. Businesses and industries followed suit, resulting in a rapid decline in the number of jobs available to those who remained in the core of the city and expansive urban decay. The minority groups within the inner city had little hope of escaping poverty, as it was near impossible for residents of these areas to obtain mortgages or loans from banks, who unfairly refused to provide their services to these people. This continued until the passage of The Home Mortgage Disclosure Act of 1975, and it was not until the Community Reinvestment Act was passed by Congress in 1977 that the harsh effects of the so-called redlining began to be reversed.

Tomorrow, I will discuss the possibilities latent in our cities and the opportunities to overcome and transform this history.

*Percentages were calculated by dividing the number of households within zip codes determined to be suburban by an analysis of its development density out of the total number of households in the zip codes with half or more of its territory within city limits.

Redefining Cities: How Much of Our Cities are Suburban?

July 28th, 2015

By Raquel Jones, GOPC Intern

Cities are typically defined as centers of population, commerce, and culture. For this reason, they are often associated with dense urban development. However, there are many cities across the nation that do not conform to this description.

In a recent dataset compiled by Jed Kolko, the former chief economist of the real estate website Trulia, zip codes across the county were classified into three categories: urban, suburban, or rural. These classifications were developed using a series of metrics, including the density of households, business establishments, and jobs, as well as the share of auto communities and single-family homes in the specified area. Since the United States has no official definition of a suburb (even the U.S. Census Bureau lumps together urban and suburban neighborhoods in how it defines urban areas), these measures help to quantify the notion of a suburb as a mostly residential, car-dependent society consisting of single-family homes, as opposed to a more compact urban center.

According to this data, three of America’s largest cities – Phoenix, San Antonio, and San Diego – are predominantly suburban. Columbus, Ohio’s largest and most populous city and the fifteenth largest city in the U.S., similarly displayed a majority of suburban areas within the city limits. Moreover, the new census population data shows that the fastest-growing large cities tend to be more suburban.

Density Chart

*Only zip codes that have half or more of their territory within city limits were included in these calculations. For a complete list of the zip codes for each city utilized in this dataset, please see below.

Analysis of two of Ohio’s other major cities, Cleveland and Cincinnati, unveil different trends. By calculating the share of suburban and urban households in the city, Cincinnati was found to be nearly divided with 51% of households in urban settings and 49% in the suburbs. Cleveland was determined to be entirely urban, as is also true of Chicago and New York.

The notable differences in the density of Ohio’s three largest cities are representative of the diverse make-up of cities across the state. As the physical structure of cities continues to evolve and expand, it’s imperative that we continue supporting sustainable growth in our cities and regions so that the state can remain economically competitive in the 21st century.

Trulia Resources:,,, (

This blog post was inspired by research conducted by Community Research Partners for their July 2015 DataByte on Columbus’ density, which was featured in the Columbus Dispatch. To read more about density in America’s cities, take a look at the original blog post by Trulia’s former chief economist, Jed Kolko, here




  • Cincinnati: 45202, 45203, 45204, 45205, 45206, 45207, 45208, 45209, 45211, 45212, 45213, 45214, 45216, 45217, 45219, 45220, 45223, 45224, 45225, 45226, 45227, 45229, 45230, 45232, 45237
  • Cleveland: 44102, 44103, 44104, 44105, 44106, 44108, 44109, 44110, 44111, 44113, 44114, 44115, 44119, 44120, 44127, 44128, 44135
  • Columbus: 43085, 43201, 43202, 43203, 43204, 43205, 43206, 43207, 43209, 43210, 43211, 43212, 43213, 43214, 43215, 43219, 43220, 43221, 43222, 43223, 43224, 43227, 43228, 43229, 43231, 43232, 43235, 43240

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 Endorses SB 40

June 26th, 2015

The Policy Committee of the Greater Ohio Policy Center Board of Directors is proud to announce its endorsement of SB 40, which provides tax credits to individuals and for-profit corporations that invest in place-based catalytic neighborhood projects with non-profit organizations across Ohio. SB 40 has experienced the same bipartisan support it did in the last General Assembly. Please see the following link for coverage of the bill when it was originally introduced.

For more information on GOPC’s endorsement, please contact Lindsey Gardiner, Manager of Government Affairs at


GOPC Endorses HB 134

June 26th, 2015

The Policy Committee of the Greater Ohio Policy Center Board of Directors recently voted to endorse HB 134 (131st GA). HB 134 would expedite the foreclosure and transfer of unoccupied, blighted parcels in cities with Housing Courts (Cleveland and Toledo) or Environmental Courts (Columbus/Franklin County).  The bill also allows for property to be sold for less than 2/3 value to certified buyers in county sheriff sales.

HB 134 is sponsored by Representative Cheryl Grossman (R-Grove City) and Representative Mike Curtin (D-Marble Cliff), who also introduced this legislation as HB 223 in the last General Assembly.

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

For more information on GOPC’s endorsement, please contact Lindsey Gardiner, Manager of Government Affairs at