Advancing Ohio’s Urban Agenda

In Ohio and around the country, real estate developers and investors are recognizing pent-up demand for and a market shift toward sustainable, walkable urban places. Despite this paradigm shift and change in market momentum, many local, state and federal policies currently in place distort development incentives and hamper efforts to create the development consumers want and that support strong local economies. Urban developers and real estate and land use experts can align to provide state and national policy makers with expert advice on current consumer demand and the many benefits of urban and metropolitan growth strategies.

At three forums hosted by the Urban Land Institute district councils in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus, Greater Ohio Policy Center and the national non-profit LOCUS connected with developers from urban centers across the state to discuss the demand for sustainable communities. Here is what we learned:

  • Millennials (aka Generation Y) are shifting market demand and cities in Ohio must meet that demand for walkable, urban development in order to remain globally competitive.
  • As more walkable development (approximately 100-500 meters in diameter of mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development) is added to areas, their property values increase and the local market improves.
  • Transportation drives development. If developers build quality products in the right locations with access to urban-friendly transportation systems, they will get a price premium. Seventy percent of ballots across the nation to increase sales tax to fund public transportation have passed.
  • Parking is part of the transportation system. The space needed for cars can decrease with decked garages and underground parking. Parking ratios can decrease by encouraging double and triple uses of parking spaces at different times of the day and week with various activities and events.
  • In response to the high cost of living in walkable places for residents, developers should create more walkable places and include affordable housing.
  • Developing walkable urbanism often requires a private-public partnership. The role of “place management” (such as that of business improvement districts) cannot be overstated. The private sector can lead the way with support from the public sector.
  • Place-based and regional governance is needed to identify target areas for densification and investment. These areas should have the capacity, infrastructure and transportation systems to support dense, walkable development.
  • The right mix of residential, office and retail depends on the location and business cycle of the area. It’s a good idea to have a mix that encourages activity at all times of the day. Generally, retail follows residents. See Chris Leinberger’s presentation for the six typologies of walkable development; varying product types and mixes perform differently.
  • By reusing structures with “great bones,” reinvesting in central business districts, and updating our zoning and form based codes, we can solve many of our cities’ vacancy issues.
  • We need to stop subsidizing the kind of development that will not help us stay competitive and start strategically planning how to become what we would like to be in the future. Using comprehensive plans to make decisions and focus resources is important. As Chris Leinberger pointed out, we need to decide if we want to join the 21st century economy, and if so, and how we want to build. Each of us has the opportunity to be agents of change, each with our own respective roles.
  • GOPC and LOCUS can help developers and real estate professionals provide a voice for walkable, sustainable development in policy at the state and federal levels.

The discussions that ensued in each of the cities during these events brought up a diversity of topics, including the high cost of drivable suburban infrastructure, the importance of jobs and business attraction, the role of education, the effect of great public spaces, the market demand of the “creative class,” the impact of technology, and the roles that individuals can plan in creating change in Ohio’s cities.

The gatherings were a critical first step toward identifying ways to inform policymakers and ultimately help more communities across Ohio develop in ways that are sustainable for the environment, the people living in them, and their bottom lines.

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