Sprawl costs Ohio’s families and its regional economy, new report shows

The twelve counties that make up Northeast Ohio are home to a community that prides itself on its public art, theaters, parks and hiking trails, and home-grown businesses. Now, a new vanguard of engaged residents are working with a local organization to make Northeast Ohio even better.

The first step in this process is to examine what’s working in Northeast Ohio’s communities, and a new survey from the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium (NEOSCC) does just that. NEOSCC released its Conditions & Trends platform on Tuesday, during the Consortium’s monthly meeting in Youngstown. The extensive inventory of Northeast Ohio’s assets, challenges and year-over-year trends provides a comprehensive assessment of how the region could improve.

Prominent among the findings is the fact that Northeast Ohio has spread out over the past several decades, and that this trend is damaging the region’s economy. Between 1979 and 2006, the average number of people per acre of developed land in Northeast Ohio declined by 22.96%, with many residents moving from urban areas like Cleveland and Akron to more sparsely populated ones.

The region’s economy has faced challenges as a result. Cities and towns in the region are struggling to support the cost of roads and sewers in this sparse development, as these expenses have far outpaced public revenues from employment growth, per capita wage growth, and property value increases. The region’s housing market is weak, as supply exceeds demand and many homes stand vacant. Yet there’s a shortage of housing that meets the needs of people with disabilities and elderly residents, and the area’s sparse population distribution makes public transportation difficult to support. In addition, as many residents move to the suburbs low-income families who cannot afford to move are often left in areas that now struggle to afford public services. All of this weighs on taxpayers. As the Cleveland Plain Dealer explained today, the region’s development strategy of recent decades has imposed “higher costs of living on Northeast Ohioans through longer commuting distances to work, gas taxes, user fees, sales taxes and other outlays.”

These findings are meant to inform the region’s planning, and the NEOSCC’s platform also provides a way forward. The platform encourages visitors to weigh in and discuss the issues online, and provides space for visitors to comment on each of the substantive issues areas.

NEOSCC’s work is made possible by a Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD’s grant program is part of the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a collaboration between HUD, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency to coordinate federal spending in smarter ways, to bring local government spending under control and to help regions understand the true cost of long-term decisions on where development should occur.

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