The Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium, a public initiative in Northeast Ohio that focuses on achieving a sustainable and resilient future for the region, is currently launching an extensive public engagement initiative that will take place over the next few months. Freshwater Cleveland reported recently that NEOSCC is beginning to create a sustainability plan for the region, and hopes to target key demographics like young professionals and urban planners for input on their strategic plan. The NEOSCC initiative is funded in large part by a $4.25 HUD Sustainable Communities Initiative grant from the Partnership for Sustainable Communities.
Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory is on a mission to support economic development in his city, and he’s using smart growth and downtown development strategies to accomplish that goal.
“People were slow to embrace some of the changes we were proposing because they didn’t necessarily see how, say, the development of a street car would lead to more jobs,” Mallory says in Smart Growth America’s first “Smart Growth Stories” video interview. “They didn’t necessarily see how investing so much money in downtown allowed for improvements in neighborhoods. So I’ve had to explain to people that downtown is the engine, the economic engine, for everything that happens in our entire region.”
Fox19 reports that Cincinnati Mayor Mallory joined by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Transit Administration Peter Rogoff to kick off construction of a new streetcar line partially funded by a DOT TIGER grant.
The new 3.6-mile streetcar line will connect Downtown and Over-the-Rhine.
The D.O.T. says it will spur Cincinnati’s efforts to revitalize its downtown core by improving access to major employers, the developing riverfront and many area attractions.
The Ohio Department of Development (ODOD) announced last week six communities that will participate in the state’s innovative Brownfields Action Plan Pilot Program, a new initiative designed to help communities with multiple brownfield sites create area-wide plans to address them.
ODOD launched the program in August of this year and selected the pilot communities after a four-month application and review process. The chosen communities will each receive technical assistance and a $50,000 grant to develop and implement their area-wide plans. The six communities selected include the cities of Fairborn, Newark, Piqua, Ravenna and Xenia, as well as the Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corporation.
ODOD’s initiative is an exciting milestone for brownfields redevelopment and will provide major benefits to Ohio communities. Area-wide planning is a smart growth strategy that looks at vacant and contaminated sites within a region comprehensively – rather than individually – and allows communities to address each site within the context of broader revitalization and economic development goals. This strategy is particularly helpful for communities plagued by sites that are too small or distressed to be viable for redevelopment individually. Addressed collectively, these sites can all become more attractive to potential developers and can ultimately catalyze community-wide revitalization.
Architect’s rendering of proposed Kent Central Gateway. Image via Kent State University.
When the federal government invests in infrastructure, the funds directly help communities with large, long-term projects. But these investments go beyond direct help: when the government invests in an area, private developers often follow its lead and invest as well. In doing so, these federal investments have an even bigger impact.
Downtown Kent, Ohio, is a great example of this. After many public meetings to create a vision for the city’s future, Kent is transforming its downtown into a vibrant public space. A $20 million TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (part of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities) has helped the town build a new multimodal transportation facility – and the city is now experiencing over $100 million in related development.
Last year, we wrote about a first-of-its-kind agreement forged by the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Land Bank and Fannie Mae, the national mortgage lender that owns dozens of foreclosed properties in Ohio. The Cuyahoga County Land Bank, like other land banks across the country, is a quasi-governmental entity with the capacity to attain and manage vacant properties in the greater Cleveland area.
Through that partnership, Fannie Mae agreed to sell its most troubled foreclosed homes to the Land Bank for a nominal fee, and to help cover the costs of demolition for properties that were too far gone for the land bank to salvage.
Since that time, the Cuyahoga County Land Bank has formalized relationships with a handful of additional lenders. Bank of America and Wells Fargo both joined the group this summer, pledging to donate vacant and foreclosed homes to the Land Bank and to help pay demolition costs ranging from $3,500 to $7,500.
This week, Ohio’s Department of Development (ODOD) announced the Brownfield Action Plan Pilot Program, an innovative new initiative aimed at helping communities impacted by multiple brownfields sites create area-wide plans to address them.
Area-wide planning is a smart growth strategy that looks at vacant and contaminated sites as a connected whole, rather than in isolation. The strategy links brownfields redevelopment goals to housing, transportation, and infrastructure goals to support comprehensive revitalization, and it can be particularly helpful for sites like abandoned gas stations that tend to be clustered in neighborhoods or along corridors. Many of these sites are too small or too distressed to be redeveloped individually, but by addressing several brownfields at once area-wide planning can make such properties more attractive to developers.
Decades of underinvestment in regular repair have left many states’ roads in poor condition, and the cost of repairing these roads is rising faster than many states can address them. These liabilities are outlined in a new report by Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense, released today, which examines road conditions and spending priorities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report recommends changes at both the state and federal level that can reduce future liabilities, benefit taxpayers and create a better transportation system.
Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads found that between 2004 and 2008 states spent 43 percent of total road construction and preservation funds on repair of existing roads, while the remaining 57 percent of funds went to new construction. That means 57 percent of these funds was spent on only 1 percent of the nation’s roads, while only 43 percent was dedicated to preserving the 99 percent of the system that already existed. As a result of these spending decisions, road conditions in many states are getting worse and costs for taxpayers are going up.
“Federal taxpayers have an enormous stake in seeing that our roads are kept in good condition,” said Erich W. Zimmermann of Taxpayers for Common Sense at a briefing earlier today. “Billions of precious tax dollars were spent to build our highway system, and neglecting repair squanders that investment. Keeping our roads in good condition reduces taxpayers’ future liabilities.”
“Spending too little on repair and allowing roads to fall apart exposes states and the federal government to huge financial liabilities,” said Roger Millar of Smart Growth America. “Our findings show that in order to bring their roads into good condition and maintain them that way, states would collectively have to spend $43 billion every year for the next 20 years – more than they currently spend on all repair, preservation and new capacity combined. As this figure illustrates, state have drifted too far from regular preservation and repair and in so doing have created a deficit that is going to take decades to reverse.”
The high cost of poor conditions
According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, every $1 spent to keep a road in good condition avoids $6-14 needed later to rebuild the same road once it has deteriorated significantly. Investing too little on road repair increases these future liabilities, and with every dollar spent on new construction many states add to a system they are already failing to keep in good condition.
State and federal leaders can do more to see that highway funds are spent in ways that benefits driver and taxpayers. More information about the high cost of delaying road repair, how states invest their transportation dollars and what leaders can do to address these concerns is available in the full report.
Last month, the State of Ohio took some important steps to support localities looking for better ways to redevelop abandoned gas stations and other contaminated land in their communities. Ohio officials met with community-based organizations from across the state to discuss starting a pilot state area-wide planning program that could kickoff as early as this summer.
Area-wide planning is a smart growth strategy that helps communities understand the combined impact of multiple brownfield sites. By looking at vacant and contaminates sites as a connected whole, rather than in isolation, communities can better plan for housing, transportation and infrastructure projects that support the entire community. An area-wide approach can help foster a new vision for communities impacted by brownfields and support the revitalization of all of the properties there. This is particularly useful for some sites, like abandoned gas stations, which may be more difficult to redevelop individually because of their smaller size.
Recognizing the benefits of this process, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched an Area-Wide Planning Pilot Program last year, which will provide the 23 communities selected for assistance with financial and technical support to implement area-wide planning strategies to revitalize the empty gas stations, closed landfills and abandoned factories inhibiting investment in their neighborhoods.
Too frequently, towns and cities seek economic growth by chasing the latest fad, without considering how those short-term decisions will impact their long-term economic health. On Monday, the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program held a forum presenting three pilot projects that helped communities create long-term evidence-based business plans.
Yesterday’s speakers included Bob Weissbourd of RW Ventures, LLC; Brad Whitehead of the Fund for Our Economic Future, Northeast Ohio Pilot Program; Eric Schinfeld of the Puget Sound Regional Council; Mayor R.T. Rybak of Minneapolis; Mayor Chris Coleman of St. Paul; Mayor Ray Stephanson of the City of Everett and Puget Sound Regional Council; Derek Douglas of the White House Domestic Policy Council; Daniel Malarkey of the Washington State Department of Commerce; Kim Nelson of Microsoft; and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
In cooperation with Brookings, leaders in Northeast Ohio, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and the Puget Sound region have created strategic business plans to promote resilient economic development for each region. The metropolitan business plans will help these regions capitalize on local strengths and increase capacity, allowing each local economy to better weather short-term cyclical economic fluctuations.