Why Revitalization is Important for Ohio

I recently produced a series of videos for Greater Ohio Policy Center about city revitalization and to give you a teaser, here is the first video of the series:

Enjoy!

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Mayor Coleman Calls for an Urban Agenda

As reported by the Columbus Dispatch, Mayor Coleman of Columbus gave the following remarks at the Restoring Neighborhoods, Strengthening Economies Summit on June 9th:

“We need a state legislature that understands cities are economic engines, not economic drains,” Coleman said during his keynote speech at the Greater Ohio Policy Center’s summit on urban innovation and sustainable growth.

Coleman wants to see better public transit — both within cities and connecting Ohio’s urban areas. He wants the state help to create more-walkable neighborhoods and fight blight, and he wants the legislature to renew a state fund to clean up polluted industrial sites so they can be redeveloped.

“We’ve come to the point where we need a statewide urban agenda,” he said at the Westin Columbus hotel Downtown.

The Summit also included a plenary panel of leading mayors from across the state: Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton, Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson of Toledo, Mayor Randy Riley of Wilmington, and Mayor John McNally of Youngstown. Highlighting recent successes in their cities, the mayors struck an optimistic tone on the future of cities in Ohio and each noted the unique relationship their city had with its surrounding region and the state. Discussing challenges facing their cities—including the difficulty of blight and connecting workers to jobs and opportunity—the mayors cautioned that the state of Ohio could do more to support cities.

An urban agenda would support the revitalization of neighborhoods and cities throughout the state, help connect workers to employment centers, create vibrant communities of choice, and strengthen Ohio’s economy.

The Water & Sewer Infrastructure Crisis: Potential Paths Forward

By Marianne Eppig and Samantha Dawson

Our nation and its legacy cities are facing an impending infrastructure crisis: water and sewer systems are failing and require reconstruction and modernization as soon as possible. Most of these water and sewer systems were built immediately following WWII, meaning that they are approaching the end of their useful life. In some places, the infrastructure is already beginning to fail, leading to water main breaks, housing floods, sewage overflows into the environment, and public health crises.

While the national bill to upgrade this infrastructure has been estimated at around $1 trillion, costs for addressing Ohio’s existing water and sewer system deficiencies are estimated to be around $20.84 billion, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

To meet federal clean water mandates, cities must find ways to finance these needed infrastructure overhauls in short order. So far, many cities around Ohio have been ratcheting up water and sewer rates. The city of Akron, for example, has increased rates by 71% in one year. Other cities around Ohio have raised rates between 30% to 50% or more within the last two years.

Greater Ohio Policy Center is currently looking into other financial tools that can be used to restore Ohio’s water and sewer infrastructure systems. We will be discussing these tools with a panel of experts at our upcoming 2015 Summit on June 9th during the following session:

Finding Solutions to Ohio’s Water Infrastructure Challenges

Ohio cities, large and small, must address the critical behind-the-scenes challenge of modernizing their water and sewer infrastructure to avoid potential serious public health crises and environmental degradation, and to create capacity to attract and support businesses and residents.  However, Ohio’s cities are struggling to find ways to finance the complicated infrastructure overhauls needed to address these challenges, comply with federal mandates, and even support on-going maintenance. On this panel, experts will discuss the scope of these infrastructure challenges along with innovative financing approaches and sustainable solutions necessary for Ohio’s cities to function smoothly and accommodate regrowth.

For more information about the Summit agenda and to register, click here.

Ohio Cities: Stabilize the Population Outflux by Attracting & Retaining the Millennial Generation

Between the years 1970 and 2013, the city of Cleveland lost almost half of its population. In fact, most cities in the region have also witnessed a decline in population. However, this recent trend seems to have less to do with the location and more to do with the layout of these cities. The most evident reason for this rapid decline may point to the fact that young, educated Millennials favor core cities, as opposed to sprawling communities.

According to research conducted by the Pew Institute and Urban Land Institute, Millennials are driving less than previous generations. However, the Millennials are not alone in this recent trend, as the Baby Boomers are also eager to take advantage of urban amenities and walkable communities. A key component to attracting Millennials to cities is the availability and quality of transportation options. According to a recent survey, “55% of Millennials have a preference to live close to transit” (Yung). With more than half of those polled in favor of such an option, it is obvious that the demand for a multimodal city is real.

One of the most compelling arguments supporting this growing rejection of a car-dependent society points heavily at the financial strain induced by the costly upkeep of a car. With gas prices rising and car loans becoming harder to obtain, and as Millennials find themselves buried in a heap of college debt, owning a car no longer seems to be practical. For this reason, many are shifting to urban areas, where there are multiple transportation options and where almost everything that could be wanted or needed is only a short distance away.

Ohio City Populations

Millennials

Millennial Percentage

In Ohio, we need to do more to take advantage of these trends and to continue attracting and retaining populations that are interested in urban living in order to strengthen the economies of these cities and their surrounding regions. Some of Ohio’s cities are seeing more positive trends–attracting a greater percentage of Millennials–but in the context of ongoing population shrinkage in all of our major cities except Columbus, it is clear that Ohio’s work is not done. The state’s ability to leverage market demand for inner city living and further incentivize—and remove legislative barriers to—infill development within its cities will help determine Ohio’s future prosperity.

Collective Impact in the Rust Belt

“Large-scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination, yet the social sector remains focused on the isolated intervention of individual organizations.” John Kania & Mark Kramer

The term Rust Belt hints at some of the pervasive problems of our great region. Here, we don’t need to be reminded of the need for innovative solutions to inner city foreclosure, neighborhood vacancy and blight, homelessness, unemployment, the achievement gap in education, fresh water contamination, health disparities, and much more.

And yet, despite widespread knowledge of the complexity of these challenges, many of us—including funders, social enterprises, governments and non-profits—continue to seek solutions in individual programs or organizations. It took much more than a single or even a few organizations to create these problems, and it’s going to take more to solve them.

Scaling up single, albeit innovative, programs and replicating them won’t be enough. Neither will short-term public-private partnerships or collaborations. What we need is something more powerful, adaptive, and sustained.

Collective Impact is a meme that began spreading with an article by John Kania and Mark Kramer in the Winter 2011 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review. David Bornstein covered the topic shortly after in several New York Times articles. It is a method through which a group of key players from different sectors commit to a common agenda in order to solve a specific social problem. But it is no ordinary collaboration.

Collective Impact initiatives are long-term commitments marked by:

  • A common agenda
  • A shared measurement system
  • Mutually reinforcing activities
  • Ongoing communication
  • An independent backbone organization

In short, it is a method by which the whole can become more than the sum of its parts. Best practices of Collective Impact include:

  • Strive, an initiative that has brought together 300 education-related organizations in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region to develop common goals, evidence-based strategies, and shared metrics for regional impact,
  • The 100,000 Homes Campaign, which coordinates efforts to place the chronically homeless in permanent supportive housing,
  • Shape Up Somerville, a community-wide effort to reduce weight gain among children in Somerville, MA,
  • The Elizabeth River Project, a cross-sector initiative to restore the Elizabeth River in Portsmouth, VA, and
  • The Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions, which connects 16 conservation organizations in the U.S. and Canada to build a sustainable seafood industry.

The idea of Collective Impact has taken off to the degree that is the theme of the upcoming United Front conference on October 6th in St. Paul, Minnesota:

Despite the clear benefits of strengthening the efficiency, knowledge, and effectiveness of an entire system that affects complex social issues—including the possibility of building viable and lasting solutions—the task remains daunting for some. In response to a reader who asked how to get top-level leaders to agree to volunteer time and resources, Bornstein wrote simply, “By getting the right people together.”
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Northeast Ohio’s Notable Nine

What is better than a “Top Ten” or a “Year in Review” list?  The Notable Nine, of course.  A whiz-bang combination of both, and yet unique in number, the Notable Nine have managed to multiple-handedly change the game in Northeast Ohio.

Without further ado, I present…

The Notable Nine

9.  Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Action and Resources Guide: In the second year of its decade-long endeavor, this mayor-led initiative has published a report on how to move forward.

8.  The Restoring Prosperity Report: A collaborative effort between the Greater Ohio Policy Center and the Brookings Institute, this report offers policy recommendations for improving Ohio’s long-term prosperity.

7.  The Northeast Ohio Green Map: You can add sustainable organizations, initiatives and infrastructure to it too!

6.  Water|Craft Urban-Infill Vol. 3: This book by the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative’s PopUp City is jam-packed with ideas on regional water issues and new urban design approaches to tackle them.

5.  NEORSD Project Clean Lake:  No one likes Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs), including the US EPA.  CSOs allow untreated sewage to go into our otherwise beautiful watershed and Great Lake.  The NEORSD is now going to do something about it.

4.  Trust for Public Land: Taking the reigns for completing the Towpath Trail and connecting it to Lake Erie, the Trust for Public Land is making it possible to build a greenway through downtown Cleveland.

3.  Flats East Bank Loan Guarantee from HUD: The redevelopment of the Flats East Bank is perhaps not so far off after all.

2.  Reimagining Greater Cleveland: The Cleveland Botanical Garden is using the $167,000 grant they received from the Great Lakes Protection Fund to help transform vacant land in Northeast Ohio into ‘green’ infrastructure.

1.  Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant and the Regional Prosperity Initiative: There’s nothing quite like getting federal dollars for sustainable community building in Northeast Ohio!

(Continue reading for Honorable Mentions and Maybe Next Times)
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Federal Funding Opportunities

Here’s a list of federal funding opportunities that could be especially helpful for post-industrial communities that are willing to collaborate on a regional level to reinvent themselves.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Choice Neighborhood Pre-Notice
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development posted the Choice Neighborhood FY 2010 Notice of Funding Availability Pre-Notice to give potential applicants guidance prior to the actual Choice Neighborhoods funding notice that will be published this summer. The guidance offers advance details regarding the application process to compete for funds through this pilot program.  More here.

Tiger II Discretionary Grants Program: Deadline August 23
The Department of Transportation is soliciting applications for the “TIGER II” discretionary grant program, a $600 million competitive transportation grant program for surface transportation projects. More here.

Sustainable Communities Grants: Deadline August 23
The U.S. Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development have joined together to award up to $75 million in funding–$35 million in TIGER II Planning Grants and $40 million in Sustainable Community Challenge Grants–for localized planning activities that ultimately lead to projects that integrate transportation, housing, and economic development. More here.

HUD Sustainable Regional Planning Grant: Deadline August 23
The U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development is seeking applicants for their $100 million Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant program. The program is designed to create stronger, more sustainable communities by connecting housing to jobs, fostering local innovation, and building a clean energy economy. The grant is part of the DOT, HUD, EPA partnership. More here.

EDA Innovation in Economic Development Competition: Deadline August 27
The Economic Development Administration announced funding for projects that advance innovation, boost competitiveness, and create jobs. Grants will be given to innovations in commercialization, regional innovation clusters, global export promotion, and green technology. More here.