NYC Traffic Engineer Discusses Benefits Cities Accrue from Investments in Walkable, People-Friendly Communities

September 30th, 2016

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate

 Last week, Greater Ohio Policy Center attended a lecture given by Sam Schwartz at the Ohio State University. Schwartz is one of the world’s most famous traffic engineers and has recently published a book called Street Smart: The Rise of Cities and Fall of Cars. Known as the “Jane Jacobs of Traffic” and in Canada as the “Wayne Gretzky of Traffic Planning,” Schwartz works with communities to develop more walkable, people-friendly environments that reduce people’s reliance on cars. Like, Schwartz, GOPC advocates for policies that strengthen Ohio’s public transportation systems as well as multimodal systems, which include biking and walking, in order to strengthen neighborhoods and cities.

 Schwartz showed projection graphs from a few decades ago that predicted driving would increase over time. Data show that miles travelled on the road actually began to decline ten years ago. Interestingly, this wane actually began in 2004, thus ruling out the theory that it might have been the Great Recession that caused this decline and instead suggesting that people have become less interested in driving. Even though drivers have travelled fewer miles since 2004, federal budgets for highways and bridges have still risen because they were based on the original projections that driving would increase as well. Thus, an increasing amount of tax revenue has been spent on expanding roads and highways across the country, which Schwartz believes has done very little to improve transportation problems that persist today.

Sam Schwartz

For example, study after study concludes that highway expansion does not actually reduce congestion on the road in the long term. GOPC emphasizes this in much of its policy work and supports methods of highway system preservation rather than expansion, which is especially appropriate in a state that is not substantially adding new population. Schwartz indicates that the concept of induced demand comes into play when roads are widened, whereby people are then more likely to use the road when they know it has been expanded, thus perpetuating the problem that there are an excessive number of vehicles on the road. Instead, in environments where people can choose to bike, walk, or take transit, space opens up and congestion is ameliorated.

Culturally, it seems to Schwartz that young people today are looking to branch out to using multimodal options. He believes that part of this stems from people spending so much time as kids in the backseat of a car going from school, home, and soccer practice. Whereas freedom a few decades ago was seen as owning and using a car, these days he believes it means having a phone app where you have access to many different types of transportation, such as Uber and Lyft, or information on when and where the next bus will arrive. Moreover, much of Schwartz’s work emphasizes the health dangers posed to people who are not active. By building people-friendly environments where people can move around, communities will help reduce the risk factors for many non-communicable diseases caused from inactivity.

Interestingly, Schwartz believes that transit will only be properly funded once the well-to-do start to use it in that particular state or city. Once a community shows that users along the spectrum of socio-economic statuses are using the service, then the mode will likely receive more attention and will generate more resources.

Schwartz’s talk reinforced GOPC’s vision for Ohio—a modernized, well-funded transportation system that adequately supports transit rider, bicyclists, walkers, and drivers.

 

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

 

Neighborhoods in America’s Legacy Cities: A Dialogue in Detroit

August 4th, 2016

Greater Ohio Policy Center is excited to cosponsor a four-day event next month on the historic preservation of America’s legacy cities. The Michigan State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSDHA), will convene an interdisciplinary meeting in Detroit, Michigan September 13-16, 2016 to discuss the role of historic preservation in revitalizing legacy cities, where long-term population loss and economic decline present significant challenges for the future of the urban built environment.

Feedback from the  Historic Preservation in America’s Legacy Cities conference held at Cleveland State University in 2014 strongly demonstrates a need to continue and strengthen this important conversation among key stakeholders and decision-makers from legacy cities throughout the country.  At this crucial juncture, there are difficult questions about what role preservation can and should play in shaping the future of legacy cities, how to identify and leverage historic assets, what benefits and impediments exist in integrating preservation into community and economic development, and how we make decisions about what we save and what we destroy.  Detroit, a true legacy city that is rebuilding after years of disinvestment, will provide the perfect setting and context in which to raise these questions.

DetroitSkyline wikicommons Cropped

Photo Credit: Wikicommons

The conference will bring together preservationists, community developers, economic developers, urban planners, urban policymakers, urban designers, and others.  It will be an opportunity to cross-collaborate, share ideas, and devise solutions with the goals of launching a more integrated approach to planning for the future of Legacy Cities, bringing historic preservation into urban policymaking and crafting a 21st century preservation profession that is responsive to the needs and conditions of Legacy Cities.

Go Here to learn more about this Event

 

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.

GOPC Legislative Update February 2016

February 26th, 2016

By Lindsey Gardiner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

The following grid is designed to provide you with insight into the likelihood of passage of the legislation we are monitoring. Please note that due to the fluid nature of the legislative process, the color coding of bills is subject to change at any time. GOPC will be regularly updating the legislative update the last Thursday of every month and when major developments arise. If you have any concerns about a particular bill, please let us know.

Bills Available Online at www.legislature.ohio.gov

Bills Available Online at www.legislature.ohio.gov

Updates on Key Bills:greater-ohio-flag

greater-ohio-flag  HB 182 UPDATE: HB 182 continues to move smoothly through the legislative process. On February 10th, the bill, which proposes to allow local governments to establish Joint Economic Development Districts (JEDDS) for development purposes, unanimously passed out of the House. Since then the bill has been introduced in the Senate and referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee where it will receive final review. GOPC expects members within the Senate will aptly receive the bill.

greater-ohio-flag  HB 233 UPDATE: Since our last report, HB 233 received its customary third hearing within the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The bill, which proposes to authorize municipal corporations to create downtown redevelopment districts (DRDs) and innovation districts for the purposes of promoting the rehabilitation of historic buildings and encourage economic development, had several witnesses attend committee to offer support earlier this month. Proponents of HB 233 included Chillicothe Mayor Luke Feeney, the Ohio Municipal League, Heritage Ohio, the Springfield Port Authority, and Greater Ohio Policy Center. GOPC suspects HB 233 will receive a fourth and final hearing before being sent to the Senate Floor for third consideration.

greater-ohio-flag  SJR3 UPDATE: Senate Joint Resolution 3, which is one of numerous efforts geared towards addressing Ohio’s “clean water” issue, received its very first hearing on February 10th in the Senate Finance Committee. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) offered testimony asking the committee to consider his plan to expand sewer and water improvements for municipalities, counties, townships, and other government entities. During the hearing Senator Randy Gardner (R-Bowling Green), who is also Chair of the Lake Erie Caucus, told Senator Schiavoni that he agrees that the state needs to tackle this issue and that SJR3 could be part of the strategy.

New Bills & Explanation of Bill Impact on Economic Development within Ohio:

HB 463 is sponsored by State Representative Johnathan Dever (R-Madeira). This bill proposes to establish expedited actions to foreclose mortgages on vacant residential properties. You may recall our coverage on another bill (HB 134), which offers similar reformative measures to the foreclosure process. HB 463 does indeed amend sections of the Ohio Revised Code akin to HB 134, but there are variances. HB 463 is distinctive in three ways: 1) proposes to allow judgement creditors the right to elect a public selling officer (county sheriff) or a private selling officer to sell the property; 2) orders the state to create and maintain a statewide sheriff’s website where auctions can be managed and conducted; 3) allows a person not in possession of an instrument the right to enforce the instrument if there is proof of entitlement.

Representative Dever’s approach to remedy the issues that exist within the current mortgage foreclosure process pushes the foreclosure process to become more modernized via the creation of an online website. GOPC is continuing to review the potential consequences of the bill, , but we are fully supportive of the principle and overall objective of expediting mortgage foreclosure on vacant and abandoned properties.

 

For more details and information on legislation that GOPC is tracking, please visit our Previous Legislative Updates.

GOPC Presents on Complete Streets and Active Transportation Policies

February 18th, 2016

The Greater Ohio Policy Center supports the establishment and implementation of a statewide complete streets policy.  Such a policy, also sometimes called an active transportation policy, means that roadways are sensitive to context and designed for all users. Roads with a complete streets treatment have sidewalks (with curb cuts), bike sharrows or lanes, safe and accessible public transportation stops, and traffic calming designs that keep motorists to the posted speed limit.

Currently Ohio does not have a robust statewide complete streets policy, although fifteen local municipalities and four metropolitan planning organizations have passed resolutions or local ordinances in support of complete streets.

For more information, please see GOPC’s recent presentation on the topic:

http://www.slideshare.net/greaterohio/active-transportationcomplete-streets-policies

State Lawmakers Should Leverage Treasury Funds for A Fully Revitalized Ohio

January 21st, 2016

By Lavea Brachman, Executive Director

In the final hours of 2015, the Congressional spending bill redirected $2 billion of unspent mortgage relief funds for demolition programs that target blight in residential neighborhoods.  As much as $100 to $200 million in funding could come to Ohio — thanks to advocates, such as Jim Rokakis at the Thriving Communities Institute in Cleveland.

The Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) applauds the federal recognition that legacy cities, such as those older industrial cities that populate Ohio, need special attention and investments to support their long climb back to prosperity.  However, demolition is one tool in the toolbox local leaders need to eliminate those properties that encourage blight, destroy surrounding property values, and pose significant health and safety hazards. Mitigating residential blight through demolition must be accompanied by other measures, such as the preservation, renovation and rehabilitation of functional homes and commercial properties as well as reclaiming and reusing the many industrial sites located in our older communities. Pilot projects underway in Cleveland (e.g. Slavic Village) and Cincinnati (e.g. Evanston) neighborhoods suggest that a balanced approach combining rehab, demo and other neighborhood improvements can both provide affordable homes to those who need them and stem the tide of blight and abandonment. These constructive measures will go far to help our communities return to vibrancy.

sidewalk

While the thousands of acres of abandoned residential and commercial properties, decaying factories, abandoned gas stations, boarded-up strip malls and contaminated land that dot the Ohio landscape are eyesores and burden market recovery, they are also the assets of rebuilding our neighborhoods for tomorrow.  We need a balanced approach that both retains neighborhood fabric yet eliminates those properties that are significantly devaluing their blocks and causing the most egregious harm.  GOPC’s research has found that investments in these types of commercial and industrial opportunities can produce over $4 in additional economic activity for every $1 invested by the state and one more additional job for every one created through direct remediation.

We encourage local and state policymakers to think boldly about the ways to leverage new inflow of demolition dollars. GOPC, which specializes in the study and crafting of statewide revitalization policy, firmly believes that comprehensive revitalization strategy that addresses all types of blight and opportunity in our cities, villages, and townships will lead to a prosperous, sustainable Ohio.

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.

flint1

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.

flint2

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.

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)