Neighborhood Stabilization and Regrowth Strategies from Weinland Park and Beyond

June 29th, 2017

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Coordinator

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Last week, Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) staff attended the Columbus Metropolitan Club’s (CMC) session Lessons from Weinland Park. The session was moderated by Columbus Dispatch reporter Mark Ferenchik and featured guests Michael Wilkos of the Columbus Foundation, Carla Williams-Scott of the City of Columbus Department of Neighborhoods, and Eve Picker, a city planner and community development strategist from Pittsburgh. The CMC session followed the release of OSU’s Kirwan Institute’s release of its findings from a recent survey done on the redevelopment of Weinland Park, a Columbus neighborhood which sits just east of Ohio State’s campus.

Wilkos began by explaining the importance of focusing on both people and place simultaneously, as a means of successfully committing to revitalizing an underserved area. Too much effort to rebuild the physical environment of the area could lead to the displacement of residents who perhaps become priced out, while efforts with excessive focus on guiding residents themselves could lead to them leaving the neighborhood for new opportunities, which would leave behind others. Wilkos noted that the Weinland Park Collaborative has been critical in ensuring that Weinland Park’s revitalization has seen both people and place-focused approaches. Williams-Scott added that the City operates at neighborhood level with residents’ opinions as a top priority, which is a necessary feature of any successful revitalization strategy.

Despite all of Weinland Park’s progress over the last few decades, Wilkos stressed that there is still a lot of work to do in the neighborhood. In 2014, GOPC released, with support from the Columbus Foundation, Achieving Healthy Neighborhoods: the impact of housing investments in Weinland Park. That report found that the neighborhood has exhibited increased housing and overall economic stability but that it has a long way to go to become fully a sustainable area. Since 2013, the market has rapidly strengthened in Weinland Park, yet many challenges still persist for some residents, especially families who are still in poverty. On a positive note, the recent Kirwan study concluded that, in general residents believe that the neighborhood is improving.  However 51% of residents still rely on government assistance, and the high rate of people who rent is unchanged from 2010, when their last study was conducted. Wilkos emphasized that because incomes are generally stagnant, it is increasingly difficult for families to pay an affordable rate for housing in a market where living costs are constantly rising.

Lastly, Williams-Scott discussed the City of Columbus’ work in the neighborhoods of Linden and the Hilltop. While there are important lessons that can be learned from the Weinland Park undertaking, she noted there are unique circumstances in Linden and the Hilltop, such as the absence of having an anchor institution like Ohio State right in their backyard. In general, the City’s focus in underserved neighborhoods is on increasing employment opportunities and expanding access to transportation. GOPC works with state and local partners and supports policies that boost multimodal transportation systems and thus expand access to jobs. As Williams-Scott noted, it is of paramount importance that workers and potential workers have a reliable means of transportation in order to get to job sites.

 

Shrinking Cities Reading Series Part V: Sunburnt Cities

June 28th, 2017

By Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC Manager of Research and Policy

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In Sunburnt Cities, author Justin Hollander examines shrinking cities beyond the Rust Belt. After seeing the destabilization of neighborhoods in the Sunbelt brought on by the foreclosure crisis and Great Recession, Hollander argues that cities that have experienced nearly continual growth should acknowledge and plan for the possibility of decline. Hollander considers how deeply a reliance on growth is embedded in these cities – including economies that are dependent in part on the real estate business – but argues that the Great Recession has proven that this growth is not always reliable. Hollander acknowledges that declining populations and destabilized neighborhoods may be more of a blip for these cities than for their counterparts in the Midwest and Northeast, but encourages cities to at least shift their growth-only orientation to acknowledge the potential for shrinkage and adopt “smart decline” techniques that are similar to smart growth principles already embraced in some of these cities.

Cities in the Rust Belt typically have worked to combat decline with growth. But Hollander makes the case about why this focus on growth is often counterproductive to these cities. Hollander cites literature that shows that economic development policies promoting growth in shrinking cities have rarely been effective in changing population or employment levels. A growing population is not always a sign of a healthy community, and at times economic development efforts have come at the expense of working to improve quality of life for remaining residents. With this in mind, Hollander suggests a different way forward for these cities – smart decline. Specifically, he explores two tools, Relaxed Zoning – which allows noncomforming uses in a high vacancy neighborhood for some period of time – and the identification of “Decline Nodes” through statistical modelling which can help identify areas that are likely to lose population in the future. In general, these tools challenge the commonly-held notion that communities must fight decline by rebuilding markets at the cost of producing more affordable housing or rebuilding quality of life for residents.

Nearly the remainder of the book looks at specific neighborhoods in Flint, MI and three Sunbelt cities to examine how shrinking populations have affected those places. Hollander uses Flint as a point of contrast to show how decline affects the physical and social fabric of neighborhoods differently. In comparing three neighborhoods in Flint, he argues that population decline does not always have to translate into lower quality of life for residents. In each of the Flint neighborhoods, and in the case study neighborhoods in the Sunbelt cities, he tracks changes in the density of occupied housing units as a way of quantifying physical changes in the neighborhood as population leaves. Yet he showed that different responses to decline and other factors in the neighborhood had bearing on changes in quality of life even given substantial population loss.

From here, Hollander explores each of the case study cities – Fresno, Phoenix, and Orlando – and neighborhoods that experienced population loss within them. All three cities had adopted some kind of smart growth policies in recent years, including significant regional growth plans in Fresno and Phoenix. As such, the population declines and neighborhood destabilization caused by the Recession came as a shock to these cities, who were largely unprepared to deal with the challenges. Fresno is the exception here, because the city had previously experienced population loss and had developed some tools, including an abandoned building registry and aggressive code enforcement, to help deal with vacant properties. In Phoenix, on the other hand, planners argued that decline was just momentary, and did little to leverage the federal funding provided by the Neighborhood Stabilization Program to plan for potential further decline. The city of Orlando had embraced New Urbanist principles earlier on, which may have helped the city to weather the crisis with more ease than in the other cities that experienced more out-of-control sprawl. Still, local planners did not see value in confronting the potential for decline – NSP money was not even handled by the planning department, who instead continued to plan for future growth in the city.

Hollander concludes by encouraging cities, even those that have been able to rely on the growth orientation in recent decades, to at least consider potential for future decline by embracing what he calls “strategic flexibility”. Essentially, cities should be ready to manage change of all types, including a no-growth future. Cities have little true control over their future growth or decline, as outside factors like federal policy do more to impact that. But they still can choose to set themselves up for success in case of future shrinkage. In order to do that, Hollander suggests ten strategies and policy recommendations that local officials should adopt to plan for decline. They are:

  1. Create barriers to new residential construction in high vacancy neighborhoods
  2. Compel property owners (or mortgage holders) to maintain vacant buildings
  3. Use land banks to facilitate quick transfer of tax delinquent properties to public ownership
  4. Promote programs that allow neighbors to buy adjacent tax delinquent properties at low cost
  5. Move quickly to demolish or rehab vacant buildings that are publicly controlled
  6. Subsidize rehabilitation or demolition of privately-owned vacant buildings
  7. Maintain publicly-owned vacant lots
  8. Provide incentives for owners in high vacancy areas to convert their properties into parkland or agricultural land.
  9. Implement Relaxed Zoning codes that allows for nonconforming uses in high-vacancy neighborhoods
  10. Help residents who want to relocate to move to areas with better employment prospects.

This article is part of a blog series exploring books and articles written about shrinking cities, or communities that are losing population and dealing with housing vacancy and abandonment. For more information on this series, see the first post “Reading Series on Shrinking Cities”. These summaries are provided only for educational purposes and opinions expressed in these summaries do not necessarily reflect those of Greater Ohio Policy Center.

 

GOPC Presents Smaller Legacy City Work to Mayors Association of Ohio

June 22nd, 2017

On June 15th, GOPC’s Executive Director, Alison Goebel, gave the lunchtime address at the 2017 Mayors Association of Ohio, a member affiliate of the Ohio Municipal League.  Goebel shared highlights from GOPC’s ongoing work on smaller legacy cities in Ohio with the crowd of about 75 mayors.  Many of the attendees serve Ohio’s villages and smaller towns, such as Fostoria and Eastlake. Attendees responded positively to the recommendations GOPC makes for stabilizing and turning around smaller legacy cities, recognizing that these lessons have applicability to all communities, regardless of size.

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First Workshop of 2017 Ohio Transportation Academy Explores Regional Visions

June 21st, 2017

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Coordinator

In partnership with Transportation for America (T4A), Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) began the 2017 Ohio Transportation Local Leadership Academy last week, bringing together leaders from various cities and regions around the state to equip them with ideas for local transportation solutions. Private, public, and nonprofit-sector representatives from Akron, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Delaware, Hamilton, Lorain, and Toledo came together at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) headquarters in Columbus, for the first of six Academy sessions.

Workshop 1, titled “Achieving Regional Visions through Transportation,” opened with Beth Osborne, T4A Vice President for Technical Assistance, and Alison Goebel, GOPC Executive Director. Osborne highlighted the crucial role that transportation plays in today’s economy, noting demographic shifts, such as younger workers choosing to live in more walkable transit-rich areas, and also the reality that employers need broad access to workers. Goebel showcased some of the recent achievements of Ohio’s cities and regions, such as the doubling of jobs over a six-year period along Cleveland’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Health Line. In light of these recent successes, Goebel encouraged participants to think creatively locally, given that state and federal support for transportation is often unpredictable.

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Beth Osborne, of Transportation for America, speaking during the Academy

The Academy welcomed three engaging speakers from the Indianapolis area to discuss their region’s recent transportation reform via an initiative called IndyConnect. Former Mayor Greg Ballard and Mark Fisher of the Indy Chamber discussed their coalition-led project, culminating with a successful ballot initiative that allowed for the broadening and expansion of multimodal transportation, creating new electric BRT lines, and boosting support for other bus, bike, and pedestrian modes. Nicole Barnes of the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network (IndyCAN), an organization that was part of the coalition, then discussed the role of grassroots advocacy in terms of creating convincing messaging for different key audiences. All three speakers explained that convincing people to vote to expand modes of transportation that some voters perhaps personally may never use should rely on the underlying theme that improved transportation is a crucial economic development tool that connects more hardworking employees with jobs in a more efficient process, which in turn produces secondary benefits to the economy.

During various breakout sessions throughout the day, participants enthusiastically discussed their regions’ goals and how building stronger local transportation systems can help them achieve these goals. Future sessions will continue to build upon these shared goals and visions for Ohio’s regions. Thank you to all participants and staff for a successful first workshop. GOPC would also like to extend a big thank you to MORPC for graciously hosting the first Academy workshop.

GOPC On The Road: Marion, Hamilton, and Middletown

June 14th, 2017

This summer, GOPC staff will be traveling across Ohio as we engage in discussions with stakeholders in Ohio’s small and medium sized legacy cities. The GOPC On The Road photo series will be highlighting the rich history of these cities as the revitalization efforts that are currently being made. Over the past weeks, GOPC staff has already made trips to Marion, Hamilton, and Middletown.

 Marion, OH

Located in north-central Ohio, Marion is the county seat of Marion County. As of the 2010 census, Marion’s population was  36,837.  Former U.S. President Warren G. Harding was a resident of Marion for much of his adult life..

Marion Mural

Marion Mural

Downtown Marion

Downtown Marion

Marion Palace Theatre

Marion Palace Theatre

Main Street

Main Street

 

Hamilton, OH

Originally founded in 1791 as Fort Hamilton, the City of Hamilton is located in Ohio’s southwest corner. Hamilton is the county seat of Butler County, and part of the Cincinnati metropolitan area. As of the 2010 census, Hamilton’s population was 62,447. 

Downtown Hamilton

Downtown Hamilton

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Inside the historic Mercantile Building

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Historic Mercantile Building

Hamilton Mural

Mural of Alexander Hamilton

 

Middletown, OH

Middletown is located in Butler and Warren counties in SW Ohio. Middletown was incorporated by the Ohio General Assembly on February 11, 1833, and became a city in 1886. As of the 2010 census, Middletown’s population was 48,694. Recently Middletown received national attention from J.D. Vance’s New York Times bestseller “Hillbilly Elegy”, in which Vance describes his life in Middletown.

Port Middletown Mural

Port Middletown Mural

Chalk Art in Middletown

Chalk Art in Middletown

Main Street Middletown

Main Street Middletown

Mural in Middletown

Mural in Middletown

“State Government and Urban Revitalization”: New Paper Outlines Principles for State Engagement with Revitalizing Cities

June 13th, 2017

By Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC Manager of Research and Policy

A new working paper written by researcher Alan Mallach and released by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy explores how state governments can support lasting and inclusive urban revitalization. By law, cities are subject to significant intervention by state governments, even in states where municipalities have home rule authority. To greater or lesser extents, states set guidelines about what cities may or may not do, which can bolster or limit their ability to build stronger economies and neighborhoods. States also typically have access to greater resources, meaning their financial and programmatic support – or lack thereof – for urban revitalization efforts can make a significant impact. In Ohio, cities have home rule authority, which allows for a degree of autonomy from state authority. But the state can still broaden or limit municipalities’ powers, including their capacity to raise revenue, or as seen recently –can choose to reduce state revenue sharing.  Municipalities’ fates are not determined by state policy alone – but state policy can be a headwind or tailwind for cities seeking to turn things around.

Mallach defines urban revitalization as a series of processes that together can create transformative change. Specifically, he identifies five key elements of the broader urban revitalization process: fiscal and service delivery capacity; healthy real estate markets; healthy neighborhoods and quality of life; economic competitiveness; and human capital development. While each element requires unique strategies and interventions, the elements are so interdependent that cities must work on all of them in concert to make real progress.

These elements are also subject to what Mallach calls an “inclusivity screen,” which measures the extent to which the benefits of growth and revitalization are available to all of the city’s residents. As discussed in the recent report “Looking for Progress in America’s Smaller Legacy Cities,” which was summarized in an earlier blog post, many revitalizing cities have struggled to make new prosperity broadly accessible to residents. But evidence suggests that more inclusive growth leads to greater economic gains and less political turmoil, underscoring the importance of viewing all revitalization efforts through the inclusivity lens.

By examining states’ roles in impacting the five elements of urban revitalization and inclusivity, Mallach derives principles that should guide state policy in supporting successful revitalization.

  • “Support cities’ efforts rather than attempt to substitute for them”: Urban revitalization efforts will only be successful if they are driven by local leadership. State governments must recognize that local officials have the best understanding of their communities’ needs, and that constraints placed on programs or spending at the state level often hinder the local creativity necessary to successfully revitalize.
  • “Neutral is not neutral”: Jurisdictions do not begin on an even playing field, which means that places that start off stronger benefit more from “neutral” policies than those that began in a disadvantaged position. States should target their resources to jurisdictions that need them most and should reexamine policies that disadvantage central cities that are in need of revitalization.
  • “Integrate urban revitalization into a regional framework”: Cities and the suburban and exurban regions that surround them make up a single economic unit, and as such, any revitalization efforts championed by state governments should encourage greater cooperation among jurisdictions in fragmented regions.
  • “Break down silos and integrate revitalization elements”: A lack of coordination among government agencies and departments is a widely acknowledged problem. States should not only encourage local governments to remove internal barriers to coordination, they should also ensure that state agencies are organized in a way that promotes collaboration with local governments.
  • “Build an inclusivity framework into state policies and programs”: Many of the challenges related to poverty and inequality are outside of a city’s immediate ability to control, and many cities fall short of addressing even those they can impact. States have an important role to play in increasing access to economic opportunity for residents, either by enacting state policies that directly benefit low-income people or by explicitly enabling or encouraging cities to create inclusive policies.

Mallach concludes that states are important actors in revitalization activities, and provides a long list of more concrete recommendations for how they can promote cities’ success. These recommendations include allowing for diversified municipal revenue sources, providing state dollars to seed catalytic redevelopment projects, and “fix-it-first” and multi-modal transportation policies. A full list of recommendations is available beginning on page 49 of the report.

 

Shrinking Cities Reading Series Part IV: “What Helps or Hinders Nonprofit Developers in Reusing Vacant, Abandoned, and Contaminated Land?” In The City After Abandonment

June 7th, 2017

By Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC Manager of Research and Policy

Margaret Dewar discusses the differences in capacity in the community development field in Detroit and Cleveland in her article “What Helps or Hinders Nonprofit Developers in Reusing Vacant, Abandoned, and Contaminated Land?” The article, published in 2013, is focused around a central question – why are developers in Cleveland, where challenges related to demand for land that are nearly identical to Detroit, so much more successful in reusing vacant property? Although Cleveland is a smaller city, nonprofit developers there bought three times as many vacant properties as their peers in Detroit and completed twice as many projects on purchased land.

Dewar concludes that organizational capacity within community development corporations (CDC) is what separates the experiences of Cleveland from Detroit. Cleveland CDCs benefit from an established community development system that supports their actions and makes them more likely to succeed. A critical actor in this system is the city of Cleveland itself, which works closely with CDCs to enact its own neighborhood goals and provides the organizations with substantial funding through the Community Development Block Grant program. In Detroit, on the other hand, the relationship between the city and community development organizations was less collaborative and could be openly hostile. Detroit also provided a much smaller share of their CDBG dollars to local community development groups, something that Dewar concludes may be due to the city council’s at-large method of representation instead of a ward-based system that encourages spreading money across different neighborhoods. Additionally, the city of Cleveland was more effective in transferring property to nonprofit developers through its land bank while Detroit struggled to efficiently hand over land, particularly with a clear title.

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Detroit, Michigan (source: Wikicommons) and Cleveland, Ohio (source: GOPC). 

Beyond city government, Dewar argues that CDCs in Cleveland have other significant advantages. Perhaps most importantly, a network of support organizations arose to help neighborhood-level CDCs take on more complex projects. Neighborhood Progress, Inc. (now known as Cleveland Neighborhood Progress) is particularly important, as they work directly on building local CDCs’ capacity and take on projects that would be hard for small CDCs to do alone. The Cleveland Housing Network can also help CDCs approach more complex or risky projects by serving as a developer and arranging financing. Detroit has neither of these kinds of organizations, although there is a trade association for local CDCs that has been moderately helpful in illuminating the challenges local CDCs are facing.

According to Dewar, personal relationships are also a challenge in Detroit more so than in Cleveland. In Cleveland, representatives of the community development industry report that most actors work collaboratively and focus on solving systemic problems together. Although a history of strained race relations exists in both cities, representatives of nonprofit developers in Detroit mentioned race as an ongoing issue in the local community development industry. According to these stakeholders, leadership in the industry is disproportionately white for a majority black city.  

Dewar concludes that the differences in the evolution of Detroit and Cleveland’s community development sectors have played out visibly in their abilities’ to reuse vacant and abandoned land. She suggests that stakeholders in Detroit can work to create a more robust community development system by reforming the city’s CDBG program, developing a local intermediary like Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, or create a regional, large scale non-profit housing developer like Cleveland Housing Network.

This article is part of a blog series exploring books and articles written about shrinking cities, or communities that are losing population and dealing with housing vacancy and abandonment. For more information on this series, see the first post “Reading Series on Shrinking Cities”. These summaries are provided only for educational purposes and opinions expressed in these summaries do not necessarily reflect those of Greater Ohio Policy Center.

 

Guests of Ann Fisher Show Discuss Emerging Land Use Trends Revealed in New ULI Report and Implications on Housing Affordability, Transportation

June 5th, 2017

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Coordinator

The Urban Land Institute (ULI) has issued a new national report titled Housing in the Evolving American Suburb, which assesses general trends in housing, income, demographics within urban and suburban areas throughout the country. Stockton Williams, an author of the report, recently appeared on the All Sides with Ann Fisher radio show to discuss emerging patterns in housing and land use and to offer insight on the report findings’ implications for Ohio, and Columbus in particular. Williams was joined on the show by Rob Vogt of Vogt Strategic Insights, who emphasized the value of boosting transportation options in Ohio as a means of confronting suburbanization challenges detailed in the report.

As many analyses have shown, the growth of suburbs came largely at the expense of downtown areas in the post-war years; one of the main discoveries of the ULI report is that today many regions exhibit suburban and urban growth simultaneously. Speakers on the show mentioned that Columbus, for instance, has seen job and population increases largely throughout suburban and city areas over the past few years. While this rise often manifests in many large cities, Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) has found that over the last few decades, many smaller cities in Ohio have seen a decline in key indicators of economic health in both suburban and urban areas. GOPC’s 2016 report From Akron to Zanesville: How Are Ohio’s Small and Mid-Sized Legacy Cities Faring?, which analyzes the economic health of smaller and mid-sized cities in Ohio, shows that this dual suburban-urban growth has yet to take off in many Ohio cities. In fact, the state’s smaller legacy cities and their surrounding metro areas experienced declines in population and labor force participation along with increased poverty rates during pre-(2000-2009) and post-recession (2009-2014) time periods.

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Contrary to some popular thought, suburban areas in the US are still highly inhabited. In fact, 79 percent of the US population lives in suburbs, according to the ULI report. However, as a result of the growing popularity for the younger generation to move to urban environments, urban living costs have generally gone up, and thus many families in Ohio in turn are forced to re-locate into less-costly suburban neighborhoods. As a result of this movement, speakers on the radio show explain that transportation challenges represent a substantial barrier for many families who now live in Ohio’s suburbs, because public transportation is generally less comprehensive in these areas. GOPC strongly supports policies to build a robust network of public transportation throughout Ohio’s cities and metros as a tool for economic development, whereby potential workers have a reliable means of getting to a job. To do this, Williams emphasized the need to explore ways to improve bus service and build on current public transportation systems. Guests also discussed multimodal transportation’s related benefits, such as a relaxed demand for parking and lower traffic congestion.

A discussion of the changing housing patterns and preferences along with increasing home prices and rents also feature heavily in ULI’s report. During the radio show, Fisher referred to a statistic in a report GOPC co-authored with the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio (AHACO) titled The Columbus and Franklin County Affordable Housing Challenge: Needs, Resources, and Funding Models, noting that there are over 46,000 renters in central Ohio who pay over 50% of their income on housing costs. According to Vogt, this staggering number of people considered to be “severely housing cost burdened” is reflected throughout the country, and is a function of both the price of housing and annual incomes. To narrow this gap, one example of an affordable housing solution that Williams recommends is inclusionary zoning. This tool enables a local government to incentivize a private developer to build market rate housing with some mix of below-market units in a specific area. The report GOPC co-authored with AHACO highlights inclusionary zoning and developer incentives in Denver, Colorado as successful and potentially replicable models for expanding affordable housing.

Read ULI’s Report Here