Top Moments in Ohio: A Farewell Blog Post from Christina Cudney

June 3rd, 2014

By Christina Cudney, Project Coordinator at GOPC

When I first learned I’d be moving to Ohio I thought, “Ohio?! What does Ohio have other than cornfields?” The only Ohio city I had ever done more than pass through was Boardman, where my family used to drive from across the Pennsylvania border to eat at the Olive Garden some Sunday afternoons (hardly a notable Ohio experience). I had no idea that 7 of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas were located in the Buckeye state, each full of its own rich history, unique personality, and will for economic recovery.  The following 14 months were filled with lessons of rust belt regeneration and – despite the longest winter of my life – many positive memories, a few of which I’ll share with you in brief.

It’s hard to choose a favorite memory, but the moments that top the charts would be:

  1. Interviewing members of our Weinland Park Advisory Committee, particularly Susan Colbert at OSU Extension and Isabel Toth at Community Properties of Ohio. While many organizations are doing truly inspirational work empowering low-income families across Ohio, the passion and creativity of leaders in those two organizations will particularly stick with me.
  2. Meeting the unforgettable Robb Hankins, who presented at our Revitalizing Ohio’s Vacant Properties conference about the creative work Arts in Stark is doing to revitalize downtown Canton.
  3. Going on a self-guided walking tour on my first-ever trip to Detroit, prepared off the cuff by the one-and-only Alan Mallach.
  4. Being completely charmed by the historic districts and cultural assets of Dayton, Ohio, a city that deserves way more credit than it receives.
  5. Gaining an entirely new vocabulary related to foreclosures, bank walkaways, housing stock, land banks, demolition, and property acquisition as I worked with community leaders who regularly identify new and exciting approaches to leverage vacant properties as assets.
  6. Visiting the beautiful statehouse to watch colleagues give testimony for the Neighborhood Infrastructure Assistance Program and coming to understand that a vast amount of policy never makes it to the morning news, but nonetheless has impacts on our day-to-day lives in ways we may not even realize.  That is why it is critical that there are advocates and research institutions ensuring that policy does not have unintended negative impacts.
  7. Getting a tour from Jeff Raig of Slavic Village in Cleveland, a neighborhood that was once the poster child of the foreclosure crisis, but that is demonstrating resilience on its way to stability. It’s encouraging to see private, public, and nonprofit sector partners come together to think outside of the box and eradicate blight.
  8. And, while not a part of my professional life, hiking at the beautiful Hocking Hills. An experience every Ohio resident should regularly take advantage of.

I love cities. It’s been exciting to play a small role as a researcher on the revitalization of Ohio cities. I’ve learned a lot at Greater Ohio Policy Center and am sincerely disappointed my time in Columbus has been as short as it has been. I look forward to carrying the lessons to my new home in Morgantown, West Virginia and who knows, maybe one day I will be back!

Christina’s last day at GOPC is this Friday, June 6th. She will be missed!

GOPC Endorses HB 223

May 27th, 2014

The Policy Committee of the Greater Ohio Policy Center Board of Directors recently voted to endorse HB 223 (130th GA). HB 223 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 allows for property to be sold for less than 2/3 value to certified buyers in county sheriff sales.

HB 223 is sponsored by Representative Cheryl Grossman (R-Grove City) and Representative Mike Curtin (D-Marble Cliff).

This bill has a five year sunset, effectively creating a pilot program that GOPC anticipates will demonstrate great success.

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 Alison D Goebel, Associate Director at agoebel@greaterohio.org.

GOPC Co-hosts Roundtable on Regenerating Legacy Cities

May 21st, 2014

Mayors from post-industrial cities in the Northeast and Midwest have convened at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy today in Boston to begin a two-day workshop in strategies for revitalization.

The chief executives in attendance are Toledo, Ohio, Mayor Michael Collins; Gary, Ind., Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson; Syracuse, New York Mayor Stephanie Miner; Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto (who was featured in a recent article on innovative practices in cities in The American Prospect); Dayton, Ohio, Mayor Nan Whaley; and Huntington, West Va. Mayor Steve Williams.

The Roundtable on Regenerating Legacy Cities, organized by the Lincoln Institute, the Center for Community Progress, and the Greater Ohio Policy Center, also includes public and private sector practitioners, foundation leaders, and scholars. Alan Mallach, a leading authority on Legacy Cities, will be joined by Tamar Shapiro, president and CEO of the Center for Community Progress, and Lavea Brachman, executive director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center. Brachman and Mallach were co-authors of the Lincoln Institute Policy Focus report Regenerating America’s Legacy Cities, which recommends the approach of “strategic incrementalism” for cities wrestling with job and population loss.

The Roundtable is set to be an open, pragmatic conversation about strategies to foster sustained revitalization of our nation’s older industrial cities. The dialogue centers on three central themes: fostering neighborhood change and revitalization; building effective community and anchor institution partnerships; and building effective regional strategies for economic development. Participants will learn from experts and each other, and return home with new ideas, strategies and insights.

The conference began on the evening of May 20 with a presentation by Xavier De Souza Briggs, Vice President of Economic Opportunity and Assets, at the Ford Foundation. The next day begins with a workshop led by Stephen Goldsmith, former mayor of Indianapolis, and currently director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy is a leading resource for key issues concerning the use, regulation, and taxation of land. Providing high-quality education and research, the Lincoln Institute strives to improve public dialogue and decisions about land policy. Lincoln Institute on Twitter: @landpolicy Hashtag #LegacyCities

GOPC’s Executive Director, Lavea Brachman, and Associate Director, Alison Goebel, will both be presenting and are providing live coverage of the event on our @GreaterOhio Twitter account.

The Release of the Guidebook for Redeveloping Commercial Vacant Properties in Legacy Cities

May 6th, 2014

In the wake of the mortgage foreclosure crisis and the long-term abandonment of older industrial cities and their regions, communities and neighborhoods have been increasingly burdened with vacant and abandoned properties. Organizations and municipalities are now more systematically addressing vacant residential properties. However, for years there was very little guidance for the redevelopment of commercial vacant properties, which are equally prevalent — especially throughout older industrial regions.

Commercial and residential vacancy at the county level for legacy cities. Data collected on the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2013. Data source: US Postal Service. Data aggregates vacant and no-stat addresses.

 

Today, Greater Ohio Policy Center is releasing its new guidebook, Redeveloping Commercial Vacant Properties in Legacy Cities: A Guidebook to Linking Property Reuse and Economic Revitalization, which is the first of its kind to offer a comprehensive set of tools and strategies for redeveloping commercial vacant properties and business districts in legacy cities.

The guidebook, developed in partnership with the German Marshall Fund of the United States and with support from the Center for Community Progress, is designed as a “How To” manual for local leaders, identifying practices and policies that take advantage of the link between available commercial properties and needed economic re-growth strategies in legacy cities.

The tools and strategies provided can be used by local leaders and practitioners no matter where they are in the process of commercial property redevelopment, from data gathering and planning to real estate acquisition and redevelopment, and from tenant attraction and support to business district management.

The guidebook includes the following tools:

  • Guidance on planning & partnering for commercial revitalization
  • Methods for analyzing the market
  • Advice on matching market types & strategies for commercial revitalization
  • Legal tools for reclaiming commercial vacant properties
  • Funding sources for overcoming financial gaps
  • Menu of property reuse options
  • Ways to attract & retain business tenants
  • Methods and models for managing a commercial district
  • Strategies for building markets in legacy cities

While the tools, strategies, and policy recommendations within the guidebook are particularly relevant for legacy cities and their communities, they are also applicable to all cities and regions that seek to reuse commercial vacant properties with the purpose of enhancing community stability and economic development.

Click here for more information and to download the guidebook.

 

Lessons for Small City Revitalization: The Regeneration of Ohio’s Smaller Legacy Cities

April 29th, 2014

By Alison D Goebel, Associate Director

This morning I had the pleasure of giving the keynote address at the Annual Meeting of the Springfield Center City Association.  In my presentation, I discussed how Springfield, Ohio is faring across a number of demographic indicators and how it compares to peer cities.

Click the image above to view the presentation.

GOPC’s research finds that medium- and small-sized cities in Ohio are comparable or even out-performing some of their larger legacy city peers.  However, we know that medium and small cities face significant challenges due to their smaller populations, tax bases, and markets and so much of the presentation included strategies smaller cities can implement, which have demonstrated success in larger legacy cities across the country.

Thank you again to Springfield  Center City Association for the invitation!

A Primer on State Issue One

April 28th, 2014

By Raquel Jones, Intern

On May 6th, voters will choose whether or not to renew the state’s program for funding public infrastructure capital improvements by permitting the issuance of general obligation bonds. If renewed, this vote authorizes the state to continue selling bonds (for another 10 years) to fund much-needed improvement projects all over the state, such as construction on local roads, bridges, and water-supply systems.

Since the program was approved by voters via a constitutional amendment in 1987, it has helped to rebuild more than 11,500 local road, bridge, sewer, water and solid-waste projects, in all of Ohio’s 88 counties. The program provides up to 50 percent funding for new construction projects and up to 90 percent for repair-and-replacement projects.

The Ohio Public Works Commission currently allots $150 million each year to this program, however, under the new amendment, the state would increase the size of bonds to provide more money: $175 million in each of the first five years and $200 million in each of the next five years. That is a 39 percent increase in the money that local road and water-supply construction projects currently receive. Furthermore, it is projected that this program would create an estimated 3,500 additional construction and related jobs over the next decade.

The passage of this issue is especially critical at this time since the state’s current authorization to issue bonds against the state’s tax revenue expires in 2015 or whenever the state has maxed out the amount approved in the last bond issue. If this program were to expire, it would cut off a source of money for municipal construction projects and the estimated 35,000 workers employed on the projects.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce, local governments, and nonprofits around the state have endorsed Issue 1.  For more information, the Ohio League of Women’s Voters has provided non-partisan, in-depth information here.

Gray v. Green Infrastructure

April 10th, 2014

By Raquel Jones, GOPC Intern

As the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) sets out on a $3 billion tunnel project, questions have been raised as to whether enough focus is being spent on a possibly cheaper and greener alternative to tunnels. Rates continue to increase to cover the cost of these expansive projects, but some ratepayers are not convinced that this is the best solution to their water and sewage issues. Some argue that green infrastructure (such as rain gardens, permeable pavement, and bio-infiltration installations) can often provide more sustainable benefits at a lesser cost than single-purpose gray infrastructure. Furthermore, building green infrastructure could possibly improve the overall aesthetic quality of some of Cleveland’s most blighted neighborhoods, by turning vacant lots into lush rain gardens and building more parks. These sort of green projects support property values by beautifying the surrounding areas, while also stimulating the economy by providing landscaping and maintenance jobs.

Although the NEORSD had originally agreed to include green infrastructure in their water and sewer system, they are now planning to spend 97.5% of project funds on seven large tunnels. Some arguments in favor of this decision include the fact that many green projects come with high barriers, such as the EPA requirement that the sewer district have full control over the land in perpetuity, so that it can be properly maintained. Sewer district Executive Director Julius Ciacca and his team have also argued that much of the green infrastructure technology is still unproven in large-scale applications and would be much more time-consuming, which could prove to be a risky move when aiming to meet a series of strict federally mandated benchmarks. This is due in part to the case that green infrastructure is often capable of capturing only the first inch of rainfall and diverting it from the sewer, so that in heavier rains, water retention features become overwhelmed, and the overflow defaults to the combined sewer system.

Although green infrastructure may be difficult to implement in the short term, the lasting effects of going green are undeniable. More and more cities are continuing to pursue green alternatives, such as Philadelphia’s recent projects, as green infrastructure continues to prove to be both sustainable and inexpensive in comparison to gray infrastructure. In many ways, it also adds property value to localities, as it works to beautify deteriorating and impoverished communities. Due to its many benefits, when used in the right locations, green infrastructure can add great value to both the existing water and sewer infrastructure and to surrounding neighborhoods.

Where Ohio is Sprawling and What It Means

April 2nd, 2014

Some areas in Ohio are sprawling, some are building in compact, connected ways, and the difference between the two strategies has implications for millions of Ohioans’ day-to-day lives.

Measuring Sprawl 2014, released today by national advocacy group Smart Growth America, ranks the most sprawling and most compact areas of the country. The new report evaluates development patterns in 221 major metropolitan areas and their counties based on four factors: density, land use mix, street connectivity and activity centering. Each metro area received a Sprawl Index score based on these factors.*

Here is how regions in Ohio ranked:

Metropolitan Statistical Area National Rank Composite (total) score
Canton-Massillon, Ohio 93 106.99
Akron, Ohio 111 103.15
Dayton, Ohio 116 101.48
Toledo, Ohio 117 100.90
Columbus, Ohio 138 93.00
Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, Ohio 153 85.62
Cincinnati-Middletown, OH-KY-IN 166 80.75
Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA 175 78.08

* The four factors were combined in equal weight to calculate each area’s Sprawl Index score. The average Index is 100, meaning areas with scores above 100 tend to be more compact and connected, and areas with scores below 100 are more sprawling. Visit Smart Growth America to view the full rankings >>

The new report also examines how different development patterns relate to the quality of life in these areas—and the differences are startling. People in compact, connected areas have greater upward economic mobility than their peers in sprawling areas. That is, a child born in the bottom 20% of the income scale has a better chance of rising to the top 20% of the income scale by age 30.

People in compact, connected metro areas spend less on the combined expenses of housing and transportation. Housing costs are higher in compact, connected areas, but these higher costs are more than offset by lower transportation costs. People in compact, connected metro areas also have more transportation options. People in these areas tend to walk more, take transit more, own fewer cars and spend less time driving than their peers in sprawling areas.

Finally, people in compact, connected areas have longer, healthier, safer lives. Life expectancy is greater in compact, connected areas, and driving rates (and their associated risk of a fatal collision), body mass index, air quality and violent crime all contribute to this difference.

Outcomes like this are why Greater Ohio Policy Center is dedicated to helping Ohio’s regions develop in a more sustainable way. Helping people in Ohio live healthier, wealthier, happier lives is why we do the work we do, and smarter development is a key part of making that happen.

Read the full findings of Measuring Sprawl 2014 and see how every major metro area in the country compares when it comes to sprawl at www.smartgrowthamerica.org/measuring-sprawl.

Governing Magazine Article Cites GOPC

April 1st, 2014

Last week, GOPC was quoted in Governing Magazine on the topic of the country’s urban/rural divide and how that division is playing out in the 21st century. The article by Alan Greenblatt, titled “Rural Areas Lose People But Not Power,” details the ongoing struggle between urban and rural politics, despite shrinking populations in rural areas.

GOPC Executive Director Lavea Brachman was included in the article, saying:

“While it seems that the urban/rural divide is diminishing because of demographics—and there are certainly less purely rural districts—the ideology and the stances legislators take do reflect an urban/rural divide.”

Ohio, with its numerous urban areas and large rural expanses, exemplifies the current nature of politics in the United States.  The results of this evolution in politics are evident in our cities, which struggle to thrive after years of per capita under-investment. As Greenblatt’s article notes, cities are gaining numbers, and thus importance in regional and national economies.  GOPC’s work to advance sustainable development in Ohio is intended to strengthen our cities, which can work to enhance and expand the state’s overall economy.

Meeting the Infrastructure Challenge in Legacy Cities

March 31st, 2014

By Jacob Wolf, Research Associate

Combined sewer overflows (CSO) stink—both environmentally and economically—for Ohio’s cities. In many urban areas built up in the 19th and early 20th centuries, stormwater runoff drains into the same pipes that carry raw sewage to treatment facilities. Most days, all of the combined sewer and storm water makes it safely to the treatment plants. However, when there is heavy rainfall, the systems overload, and the excess untreated water gets diverted into rivers and lakes. This is referred to as a CSO event. Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and other cities around Ohio and the rest of the country are under mandates from the United States E.P.A. to reduce or eliminate the amount of CSO discharged into their waterways.

The strategies the affected cities are developing to reduce their CSO can be broadly categorized as either “gray infrastructure” or “green infrastructure.” “Gray” refers to building new pipes and tunnels underground to hold the excess water. “Green” involves using plants, gardens, and open space on the surface to reduce the amount of storm water runoff that gets into the pipes in the first place. The Plain Dealer recently ran a series of articles that analyzed the pros and cons of both approaches, focusing on the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD)’s $3 billion project to build new underground tunnels.

Green infrastructure has many benefits for urban revitalization. It commonly appears as street-side landscaping features or open, undeveloped space. It can also mean “daylighting” previously covered streams and waterways. Some green infrastructure projects transform vacant or abandoned property into “rain gardens.” All these forms of green infrastructure have great aesthetic benefits that improve the quality of urban places as they capture storm water and keep it out of the sewers.

The City of Philadelphia is leading the charge for green solutions to the CSO problem. Philadelphia’s 25-year, $2.4 billion CSO reduction plan will spend roughly 70% of the program’s budget on 8,000 to 12,000 acres of green projects. Officials estimate that this will eliminate about 8 billion gallons of sewage overflow per year. By contrast, the NEORSD tunnel project devotes only 2.5% of its $3 billion budget to green infrastructure.

However, NEORSD leaders and other critics argue that green methods alone will not prevent enough overflow events. Even if Philadelphia’s plan succeeds, it will still produce more gallons of overflow than Northeast Ohio does now. Furthermore, Philadelphia is not under an EPA consent decree, so it does not have the same stringent benchmarks to meet that NEORSD and other Ohio districts have.

Reducing and eliminating CSO discharge is key for economic development in legacy cities. Cleaner waterways create more desirable places that people want to live, work, and play. As it performs its utilitarian function of mitigating stormwater runoff, green infrastructure beautifies neighborhoods and creates vibrant, new public spaces. It can increase property values and provide a tool for disposing of vacant and abandoned residential property. Even if green infrastructure isn’t the only solution for CSOs, it should be at least be part of the solution due to the additional benefits it provides.