It's the Sprawl, Stupid -- The Budget Buster No One's Talking About
Suburban sprawl is the source of most of our big ticket long term budget liabilities. So, why aren't we talking about it?
Suburban sprawl is the source of most of our big ticket long term budget liabilities. So, why aren't we talking about it?
I couldn't agree further. As for where to begin, I would suggest the folks at the Strong Towns network. They have a number of well-written, well-researched resources and articles. They also run an ongoing series of events/presentations centered around what they call the Curbside Chat which in their words is:"A candid talk about the future of America's cities, towns and neighborhoods"
They also have published a companion booklet to the "Curbside Chat," which I have attached here as a PDF, but is also available to download for free on their website.
Dayton Daily News: City Residents' Taxes Subsidize Townships
“Between 41 and 55 percent of [Wisconsin’s] road money comes from non-users”
According to a study by 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin
Florida taxpayers pay $1.39-$2.45 for every tax dollar paid by new development.
Ok here's an article that illustrates the inefficiency associated with sprawl perfectly. A 19-mile, 40-minute driving commute (Richfield, Hudson, Avon, Brunswick, Medina) translates into $19 per day in direct costs, plus 80 minutes of time, the equivalent of adding an additional work day per week!
If we had "exclusive" communities that were located in more convenient locations for commuters (Bratenahl, Shaker Heights) we could be returning all that money, all that lost productivity to our own economy.
At Sprawldfest, I agreed to look for some reading materials. While no teachers seemed to have anything approaching a course syllabus, everyone seemed to talk about “Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas about Cities’’ by architect and University of Pennsylvania planning professor Witold Rybczynski. Below are links to some of the more substantial reviews that offer some insight on his thinking that I wanted to share:
Here is an article that attempts to break down the additional costs of sprawling development. I know this is something that is on the discussion agenda for Wednesday. Maybe it will help.
This is a direct quote: "Daniel Hartley and Kyle Fee of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland compared changes in population density in the Chicago and Cleveland metropolitan areas between 1950 and 2010. They concluded that "the big question for Cleveland is to what degree population loss at its core is a cause or consequence of its overall population loss."
This is kind of fun I think. I am not the only one that hates sprawl. I think there is a very widespread dissatisfaction with the type of communities we've been building for the last few decades. If nothing else, among musicians ...
You've hit on something very important. And I think it is something that just about all of us can agree on. When you strip away the debates over where to spend public money, or which political units are more "deserving" (in some abstract sense), there is a deep dissatisfaction out there with the American way of living - and "sprawl" is a big part of that. Lots of everyday people sense it, and musicians and artists have done a good job of capturing it - because it is something that speaks to the heart and the soul, rather than just the body and the mind.
I think that there is something very unnatural about the way that we live in this country and the way that we have structured our urban environments over the past six decades is a part of that - perhaps a symptom, perhaps a cause, perhaps both. We've done it because we COULD do it, but there wasn't much discussion back then as to whether we SHOULD do it. We've lost most of our sense of community as a result, and we've ended up with some pretty ugly places - in inner cities as well as suburban areas.
Place, and pride of place really matters. I think we lose something as a society when we build places that don't have any lasting value. Houses are not built to last, stores and offices are built in a fly-by-night fashion, and when they are abandoned, they bear mute witness to their own irrelevance. We have an ugly mass culture, and it is no surprise that we end up with lots of ugly places.
Here are a few other musical references to our disconnected way of life:
Bleed American, Jimmy Eat World; Country House, Blur; The Suburbs are Killing Us, My Favorite; Fake Plastic Trees, Radiohead; Tiny Cities Made of Ashes, Modest Mouse
And my personal favorite, by the Secret Sound of the NSA:
The song, and our way of life, remind me of the poem "Ozymandias", by Shelley:
ROUND TWO: FOOD AND DRINKS MEET-UP
In our first attempt to schedule a meet-up we found that some of our community members were not available to meet on August 11th. We are floating a few dates, please pick the ones that best fit your schedule using the poll below.
Perhaps this study will be a good resource for formulating goals.
Another example of federal funds flowing disproportionately to the suburbs. :(
I really like this framing.
Too often, the government's involvement in housing (and other social net issues) is framed in the context of entitlement programs - specifically those folks who didn't work as hard as I did are still entitled to subsidized housing, food stamps, Medicaid, etc. and we need to end the entitlement programs because we can no longer afford to carry all those freeloaders.
This article specifically makes the link across the spectrum of federal monetary involvement in one of those areas (housing individuals), and makes the point that federal subsidies for housing run the gamut from public housing, to rent subsidies, to deductible mortgage interest and property taxes, to tax credits for making your home more energy efficient. All of those reflect choices we make about where we spend our (collective) tax money - whether it is money going out - or giving me a pass on the income taxes I would otherwise owe if I didn't own a home.
That is a very useful way to look at it that may help move the discussion beyond pitting the haves and have nots against each other. Both ends of the spectrum are subsidized, so instead of cutting the subsidy only from those receiving money flowing out - perhaps my subsidy (the tax breaks I get) ought to be cut as well.
I suppose, in the context of sprawl, you could restructure the mortgage interest deduction to encourage migration back to the urban core by boosting the deduction for homes located in core urban areas - although I would want that carefully structured in a way that would discouraged predatory gentrification - which forces the relocation of the current lower income residents from the nicer (more gentrifiable) areas of the urban core.
FOOD COFFEE AND DRINKS?
Thank you all for participating so passionately in this important conversation. We’d like to help you take all that passion and begin to turn it into action.
We’ve set aside a date of August 11th at 6pm in our offices at Trinity Commons to get all participants in this conversation and other guests together for a meet up. We’ll supply the food and drinks and you bring the energy and your best ideas.
The plan is to continue the broad conversation about sprawl and work toward identifying an attainable goal or goals to help move our region forward.
(We will provide a summary of some of the key points that you’ve already raised.)
Once you’ve settled on a plan for action, we will help to facilitate your efforts, bringing in other useful voices, suggesting resources and doing whatever else we can to put the wind at your back.
Please RSVP to email@example.com as soon as possible so we can confirm the date or pick a more suitable date if this one is not convenient.
We’re very pleased with all the thoughtful exchanges on our site about the complex and daunting issue of suburban sprawl and we’re excited about harnessing all the great thought to improve life in Northeast Ohio.
Thank you from the whole Civic Commons staff.
"I Went Back to Ohio / But My Pretty Countryside / Had Been Paved Down The Middle / By A Government That Had No Pride / The Farms Of Ohio / Had Been Replaced By Shopping Malls / And Muzak Filled The Air / From Seneca To Cuyahoga Falls / Said, A, O, Oh Way To Go Ohio"
Since we're talking about Akron ...
Cleveland companies paid to sprawl.
Cool Cleveland summarizes: http://www.coolcleveland.com/blog/2011/07/paid-to-sprawl/
Full article: http://www.goodjobsfirst.org/paidtosprawl
That is a large part of the challenge here. That area already has a healthy, well developed, public transportation system and the planning is focused on improving on something that already works well. Incremental improvements on an already functional system.
That is not where we are. We have a system that depends, in large part, on private vehicle transportation. To get from where we are to where it would be ideal to be would require massive investments to create the infrastructure, and the infrastructure wouldn't be immediately useful because we don't currently live in an arrangement designed around the availability of public transportation - because it largely isn't available.
I agree with the goal of reducing urban sprawl - starting at least by encouraging growth in ways that discourage converting farmland into more urban sprawl and encourage concentrating populations in walkable/bikeable self sufficient pockets.
Are you aware of any regions that started looking like our region does currently and were able to successfully converted themselves into something which involved less sprawl and was more sustainable that we could use as a model?
I see what you are saying. Detroit is trying to turn the ship around. There are people at their state DOT that understand these issues, I will attach a link.
The thing is, this can be incremental. Proportionally more investment in transit and less in highways will produce good results. (Also, we probably can't afford to keep expanding our road network the way we've been doing -- something our MPO and state DOT has yet to acknowledge, at least in policy.)
I think one important thing we could do right off the bat is make the city more bike friendly. We could restripe roads to add bike lanes at very low cost without adding congestion (since the city has been so thoroughly depopulated.) That would be investment in our urban infrastructure, something we have completely neglected for three decades.
The point of the DC article is that the MPO is making a commitment to sustainable modes. That is absolutely the same thing we should be doing here. If we don't, we are going to be left behind economically, especially as oil prices continue to rise. Our region will be more expensive to operate (believe it or not, moving people by highway is a lot more expensive than by transit.) And at the same time, it will be less efficient.
I like this approach and the vision behind it. There is a lot that our region could learn from this planning.
But, to put it in context, I would be remiss if I did not add that the Greater Washington MPO, Virginia DOT, Maryland DOT, and the local governments in the region are spending amounts of money that would boggle our collective mind in Northeast Ohio on building new roads and providing new infrastructure to fuel a suburban population boom that makes our relatively paltry pockets of new development (Avon, Mentor, Streetsboro) pale in comparison. Loudoun County, Prince William County, and northern Montgomery County contain some of the finest examples of suburban sprawl that you will ever see. The D.C. region has talked about an "outer-outer" belt for years, and increasingly people in the region can live their lives without ever going inside the beltway for anything.
The planning approach is progressive, but the reality of the region is rampant sprawl as the horse farms of Northern Virginia are paved over with parking lots and as strip malls encroach upon Civil War battlefields. In the end, from an environmental, social, and economic perspective, the dynamic of urban development is largely the same as ours. Just on a larger scale - and with a better economy and a lot more wealth and power in their region.
At least they have actual growth to justify their sprawl.
Can you imagine if we had actual population growth? Sheesh. We'd be building 2 acre lots in Sandusky County, wait, we're already doing that, aren't we? Seriously, I don't know. But probably.
DC has a lot more money than us, but their MPO is taking measures to spend that money wisely. Will the Cleveland region ever acknowledge that our resources, fiscal and environmental, are limited? That is what regional planning is supposed to be about.
Those guys make our planning efforts in the Cleveland region look so small-time and sad, which they are.
Another, thing, I totally disagree with you that these two regions have the same development dynamic. We are comparing a rapidly growing, strong-market region, with a shrinking, weak market. It is completely apples to oranges.
Yes, they have sprawl, but they have population growth to warrant some sprawl. In addition, they have seen tremendous gentrification in their urban areas, with increasing property values. I just flat out disagree with your premise that they are developing in the same way. Cleveland's development is characterized by very low-density no-growth sprawl in its outer edges. DC does have some development of that type but is also has a tremendous amount of high-density urban development.
Compare housing densities in suburban Maryland to Lake County? You would find that the DC region is using its considerably greater resources in a much more targeted, strategic and conservative way.
There are lots of differing perspectives on whether sprawl in metros like D.C. is, in the long run, any healthier than sprawl in Northeast Ohio.
Here are two (Bruce Katz, coming in from the left; Wendell Cox, coming in from the right):
Caveat lector. . .they both basically find what you would expect them to, based on their political ideologies.
If we were growing faster (i.e. if we were creating jobs) we probably wouldn't be sprawling into Sandusky County; we would probably be redeveloping the east side of Cleveland, because the land would become much more marketable (look at the gentrification in D.C.) and real estate prices in the urban core would rebound significantly in relation to those in the suburbs. All U.S. metro areas have a sprawl problem. We happen to have a serious economic problem overlaid upon ours.
My own view is that the real world is very complicated and that solutions to the problem of sprawl (and, let there be no mistake, I do think it is a big problem, both in our region and throughout our entire country - including in Washington, D.C.) transcend the arguments made by both extremes in the debate, and involve many actors besides the usual suspects of MPOs, regional planning agencies, local governments, DOTs, and the public sector in general (which is simultaneously blamed for enabling sprawl and for killing the American Dream by over-regulating and squelching the free market). Perhaps both have been true at times, but it becomes difficult to separate cause and effect when you are talking about the locational decisions of millions of households and businesses.
Solutions to the problem go well beyond public policy making and the regulatory efforts of government agencies: they involve directly engaging the private sector; specifically the real estate industry, the development community, retailers, and the public at large, with an end goal of returning our society to a community-based, human-scaled, context-sensitive model for designing and building the places that we live, work, and shop. In this, I share many of the sentiments of James Howard Kunstler, minus his counterproductively shrill political rhetoric and his inscrutable antipathy toward tattoos:
Jason, don't take my word for it. I just got off the phone with Myron Orfield today (for my job at Streetsblog). He is the nation's foremost expert on metropolitan politics and regional planning.
In his book American Metropolitics, he ranked the 50 largest metro regions on varying issues related to smart growth and strategic planning. He measured the level of inequality, segregation, access to transit, redevelopment, political fragmentation, revenue capacity, office sprawl etc.
These are direct quotes from him:
"Cleveland is a catastrophe on all these measures."
"If you build giant highways into greenfield areas and you allow those areas to be exclusively zoned, you’re going to have deep segregation. That’s all there is to it. Detroit and Cleveland and Kansas City build massive highways into cornfields and they don’t reinvest in the existing infrastructure and they don’t build transit."
"San Diego. Washington DC, Philadelphia are more on the ball than the others. Chicago is muscling up and really trying to get stronger on this."
"You look at a place like Washington, a place like Seattle, their cities are alike. They’re not just building highways into greenfields to let people abandon these places."
I am sort of at a loss that you would even argue the point that DC's sprawl problem is any way comparable to Cleveland's. I don't know whether you are misinformed or just trying to downplay the issue because you don't like controversy. If it is the case that you seriously believe there two regions are similar in this respect, I think it is disappointing for someone in your position, frankly.
The Cleveland region has doubled its footprint over the last few decades without adding ANY population. The situation in DC, though there was some sprawl, is far, far different.
Why is it so hard for people in this region to admit we have problems? We have big, big, big, fundamental problems, and that is plainly obvious to everyone who lives outside the region.
What do you even mean by "engage the private sector?" I think that is a complete cop out, as it blaming all of our sprawl problems on manufacturing job losses. I suggest we "engage the private sector" by not building them unnecessary infrastructure with public money. Or not incentivising them to move to the suburbs.
When I hear bureaucrats, especially bureaucrats who are actually in a position to affect change, suggest vague solutions like engaging the private sector, it makes me want to give up. Sounds like code for "leave it to us powerful, white guys" or "just be patient, we'll take care of it one of these decades." Ugh!
And Wendell Cox? For real?
You don't believe in listening to the extremes, then you post an article by Wendell Cox?
That guy is a fraud and not even a good one. Did he really suggest that Cleveland's sprawl is no better than DCs?
I don't believe he did say that. You can't defend outcomes like the ones we have in Cleveland, even if you are a ridiculous, poorly disguised shill for the oil industry.
I'm sorry, I can't leave this assertion, that Myron Orfield is the nation's "foremost expert on regional planning" unanswered.
I would agree that Orfield is the nation's foremost authority on social and economic equity and political issues, but that is not planning. Both of his Metropolitics books concentrate on these issues exclusively.
I find his notion of "tax capacity" particularly offensive, and it has found its way into the core and purpose of the Regional Prosperity Initiative. That the non-urban areas are responsible for urban problems, and that they have a moral and financial obligation to put their money and creative efforts back into the cities. More importantly, we alone have the "capacity"" to pay more in taxes so cities can waste them on $100 electronic trash toters, or $100K City Councilmen with full staff and public pensions.
That will not sell in the suburbs so groups like the RPI have to pretend it is about making us economically competitive, or saving the environment, or reducing taxes, or whatever hot button issue comes up that day, anything other than the real purpose --making suburbanites pay more to support urban lifestyles. NEO Sewer District fees multiplied many times over.
These ideas won't fly here, they don't even fly as theorized in the Twin Cities..As much as we hold TC up to be the model, back home in MN, Orfield heaps criticism on the Met Council for not doing enough. Met Council members, who live and work in the real world (most of them DFLers like Mondale, hardly conservatives) answer to the "foremost expert on regional planning?" Two words: "get real." Read it for yourself below, or follow the link provided.
Does decentralization hurt the Twin Cities?The question about whether the metro area's decentralized development pattern hurts its competitiveness is especially touchy. The Brookings Institution's Bruce Katz raised the issue last year. University of Minnesota Law School Professor Myron Orfield wrote a book about it this year. And last week, in a Cityscape interview, he suggested that the council was partly to blame.
By strictly enforcing its authority over local zoning, the council could have prevented much of the commercial and business development on the edge while retaining jobs and vitality in older communities, Orfield said. Severe concentrations of poverty in the inner cities and suburbs might have been averted, he added. The result has been harmful to the region's ability to compete for new prosperity. Dispersing jobs away from downtowns and other clusters renders transit ineffective. Moreover, decentralization is costly and inefficient, both for families and for governments responsible for infrastructure. That's the critique.
Bell said he understands Orfield's argument. What's required, he said, is a balance among social equity, efficiency and the aspirations of suburbs. Bell said he thinks the right balance has been struck. He said he doubts that land-use planning can be successfully used to break up concentrations of poverty. The root problem isn't geography, he said. It's lack of social structures like marriage, personal responsibility and educational values.
Johnson agreed, especially on the education component. He said that Orfield talks as if suburbs were a mistake. The subsidies that suburbs enjoy may well be offset by the weighty bureaucracies that hinder redevelopment in the central cities, he added.
Mondale suggested that Orfield's views are colored by academia rather than real-world experience.
Well I have to give you credit for knowing who that guy is. I guess I disagree with your point, however.
I don't see how "limiting the aspirations of the suburbs" is such an egregious crime.
One one hand you have equity, competitiveness, environmental health. On the other hand you have the "aspirations of the suburbs" to build some mcmansions and develop their tax base so that they can hire more bureaucrats.
I think the Cleveland suburbs have been given sufficient leverage to pursue their aspirations. In fact too much, they will continue to destroying the region without some type of control.
Children who grow up in the city of Cleveland shouldn't have their futures traded away so as not to "limit suburban aspirations" especially in a region like ours that has ample suburbs that have ample resources. There needs to be more balance.
You might be right that "it won't fly here." If that is so, this region is doomed to further decline and a slow, ugly death.
I can see you're upset that anyone even suggest the suburbs chip in to help lift up the region more generally. And I don't understand where that attitude comes from in Cleveland (unless it's the fact that the central city happens to be majority African American.)
I interviewed suburban interests about the way the Twin Cities is developing and they were concerned but accepting -- a far cry from the vehement antagonism that characterizes this region. I think that goes a long way toward explaining their success and our failure.
I am a lifelong resident of inner city Akron, except for the two years that I was in graduate school in North Carolina. I moved back here because I love this region, and I love my city. The sunbelt was not for me.
I love the look and smell of the Cuyahoga Valley on an early-summer morning bike ride, and I loved the pungent smell of rubber in the air when I was a small child. I love wandering through Glendale cemetery taking photos and soaking in the history and experiencing the nearly palpable sensation of the spirits of great people that built a great city. I love the little, unexpected things that you can find biking through this place (a small Jewish cemetery nestled within an inner-city near-southwest side neighborhood; a set of stone stairs built by the WPA, built up a steep hillside that doesn't seem to go anywhere in particular; a brick apartment building decorated with a swastika-like brick pattern (built years before the Nazis came to power, but weird and disturbing nevertheless). The good, the bad, and the weird. This is the city that launched a group of guys wearing plastic flowerpots on their heads to a brief flirtation with rock stardom. This is the city where a hometown girl, quite critical of this place, nevertheless wears it on her sleeve, and opens a darn good vegan (of all things, in this blue-collar town) restaurant. This is the city where people extinguished their cigarettes in little ashtrays made to look like a rubber tire.
All these quirky things make us (Akron, and Cleveland, and all of Northeast Ohio) what we are. Those of us that were born here know it well. Those of us that moved here, and loved it, and stayed, may know it even better.
I have seen my city lose 75,000 residents. I have seen the public schools in my neighborhood struggle. I have seen the affect that massive job losses in the rubber and tire industry had on family members and friends. I have seen dreams die and hopes dashed. I have seen most of my friends from high school move away for economic opportunities elsewhere. They left, not because of urban sprawl, but because they couldn't find a job.
But I have also seen Akron residents, black and white, young and old, rich and poor, working together to solve problems. I've seen a mayor that is not afraid to do what he thinks is right, even if it ruffles lots of feathers. I've seen leaders from local communities; suburban, urban, and rural working together and devoting their unpaid personal time to trying to stitch this place back together. I've seen people in my community create clothing, and artwork, and authentic places that celebrate what makes Akron a quality place, in spite of its problems.
Similar efforts go on all across this region. I know first-hand that we have lots and lots and lots of problems. But we also have lots and lots of resources and strength. I'm in it for the long haul. I plan on dying here, I plan on it not being for a long time, and I plan on exercising lots of patience, and longsuffering, and weathering lots of setbacks along the way.
I am interested in effecting permanent, sustainable, life-long change in my city and in this region. I am not interested in scoring debating points or proferring academic and theoretical answers to intractable real-world problems. It may not be ideologically (or even theologically) pure, but we have to work together on these problems. We have to pull together. We are competing against the rest of the world. We shouldn't be competing against one another.
Just to add one point to consider, there is a lot of work to be done in Northeast Ohio around this issue, but we should recognize where we have been successful and look at how we achieved success. Jason, you brought up the point of DC Metro sprawl encroaching on horse farms in Northern Virginia and Civil War battlefields (both of which should be protected, in my opinion); while we have eaten up much of our natural environment, and are threatening to continue to do so, we have been successful in preserving the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and a several park systems (Cleveland Metroparks, MetroParks Serving Summit County, etc.). I think we are remiss in this conversation for not recognizing that we are very much ahead of most other metros in the US on this point, especially east of the Mississippi. Cuyahoga Valley began its life in 1974 as a national recreation area, I believe around the time parts of Cleveland were torn down for I-90 and I-71. So while there is unsustainable sprawl with stagnant population growth, there is also conservation and progressive thinking in other ways. The challenge is to bring the kind of foresight that saved CNVP and the various park systems to the other areas of planning and civic life that are lacking.
I would agree with you if I didn't see the Cuyahoga Valley national park being held up as a real estate perk to move 25 miles from Cleveland more than anything. I think it has contributed to sprawl in this way. People can say, My house borders a national park, and real estate agents can tack on 50k.
Actually the northern most border of the park is less than 5 miles from Cleveland's border, and the southern most part of the park is within Akron city-limits. There are lots of developments bordering the park, but the park is also reclaiming properties that border it or are within its boundaries. I'm sure you are right in saying that it is a perk that helps sell houses, but where wouldn't it be in between two urban areas (and where else is there a national park five miles from a major American city and within a mid-size one)? My point is that there is 33,000 acres in the middle of one the top 20 CMSAs in the nation that is unavailable for development, not including metro park reservations. That is something to be proud of.
Yeah, but the parts that are closer to the city are built out.
It's good to preserve that land. But that does nothing for our transit system. That does nothing for vitality in the central city. That has little impact on total infrastructure costs. It does nothing to reduce car dependency. Those are the factors that will separate competitive cities from not competitive ones in the coming decades.
It makes Brecksville more attractive to residents of Lakewood. It will never attract mobile young people to this region.
This is an excellent point. The creation of the CVNP is probably the most progressive, forward-thinking land use planning that has ever been done in Northeast Ohio. You are right that it is an asset of national significance, and is one that has few parallels in any other urbanized area(s) in the U.S.
The regional transportation plans in Cleveland and Akron in the 1960s had a new freeway going right up the Cuyahoga Valley. Despite all the missteps and mistakes that were made in the 1960s and 1970s, the region managed to get this one right, and instead of a new freeway, we ended up with a beautiful park.
Out-of-town visitors are always amazed at how rural and undeveloped the land between Cleveland and Akron is. It is difficult to find another example of two cities this large, this close together, with so little intensive development between them.
On a similar note, the demolition of the Richfield Coliseum and the construction of Gund Arena (now the "Q") was another example of an initiative that protected the Cuyahoga Valley and helped downtown Cleveland. Both of these projects were accomplished by suburban and urban interests working together, rather than at cross-purposes. We need to do more of this in the region - working together, that is.
You are right, we need to work together more, and I think we have the capacity to do so. The Coliseum site was reclaimed by the national park, which I think says a lot about our ability to address sprawl (in addition to the creation of CVNP and other systems). I drive past the site often and am always amazed that there was once a sports arena there, it looks as if it were a natural meadow that was never touched. I hear it is a great place for bird watching now.
I'm not upset we have a national park. I'm just concerned that sprawl has been a byproduct in Peninsula and that region.
Of course it's good that that land was preserved. But there are strategies to preserve land that have a much greater regional impact. Those are strategies that concentrate development in urban areas, rather than carve out a small island for preservation in a sea of low-density, unsustainable development.
Concentrated development is what allows us to have good transit, more sustainable lifestyles and more socially integrated communities. Preserving parkland doesn't advance that goal unless there are constraints on land consumption overall, and there aren't in this region, outside of commuting distance. So someone who might have built in parkland builds a 2-acre lot in Lake County. It's good that they have selected a less sensitive environment, but they may have an even larger carbon footprint as a result.
Angie, there is no sprawl in Peninsula. It had 562 residents in 2010. It had 692 residents in 1970. There is virtually no commercial development, unless you count the Winking Lizard or Century Cycles, neither of which factor into my personal definition of retail sprawl. . .
Peninsula has lost population, as has Boston Township , as the CVNP has bought-out older residences and converted residential land into parkland. In the 2010 census, Boston Township had 707, Boston Heights had 1,300, Richfield Township had 2,517, Richfield had 3,648, and Bath Township had 9,702 residents. Counting Peninsula, this is a grand total of 18,436 residents.
In 1970, these six communities had a combined 15,537 residents. 3,000 additional residents (probably 1,000 new houses, when you factor in changing household size) over a period of 40 years is hardly sprawling growth. In fact, more people have moved to Avon in the last few years than have moved to these six CVNP communities in the past 40 years. They are all zoned to prevent wide-spread residential growth. None of them, other than the southern edge of Bath (the infamous Montrose area) have any large-scale retail development. Richfield has a lot of office sector and trucking sector employment, but virtually no retail.. All of these communities have taken active steps to discourage residential and retail development. The National Park has been a catalyst for preventing sprawl in these communities. They largely want to stay exurban and rural.
So, people are not moving to these communities to be close to the park. It is not attracting residential development. In fact, most of the park’s visitors come from more distant communities, and the Towpath has allowed urban core residents, like me, to directly access the park without ever getting in a car if they so choose.
There are sprawl-related issues that DO affect the park, especially its eastern-edge, but these revolve primarily around new residential and commercial development in more distant communities (Cuyahoga Falls, Stow, Hudson) that create stormwater runoff problems in the Cuyahoga River watershed and its tributaries, such as Mud Brook and Brandywine Creek. Communities are beginning to come together on these issues by creating the Cuyahoga River Remidial Action Plan, and Hudson has, over the past decade, imposed a virtual moratorium on new development, due in part to its proximity to this sensitive watershed.
My overall point: The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is not the magnet for sprawl that you think it is. You should come down to Summit County and see this for yourself.
We looked at Peninsula as a case study in development pressure in my grad school planning course. My planning professor said was in a position to either become the next Streetsboro or the next Hudson. Although she pointed out that there are limits on what can be developed because of parklands (thankfully). She said development was flowing that way from every direction and that change was inevitable.
I have to admit, I don't know my way around down there too well. (I live in the city and I mostly bike and take transit, plus I'm not from NEO so a lot of the suburbs are blurry for me.) But I've seen the new developments bordering the park. Expensive condos. Hudson is having a hard time managing growth, is my understanding. Richfield is growing. Brecksville. It's a big selling point for those communities to be near this park. This is where real estate markets in NEO are hot, far from public transit, far from racial and economic diversity.
I don't exactly get why I am having to defend my point.
Jason, are you arguing that sprawl is not a problem in Summit County? And also arguing that NOACA is an effective regional planning agency (see website link above)?
Ryan are you really arguing that NEO has progressive land use policies just because we have parklands in our urbanized area? Exactly what regions are we progressive compared to?
This is making me tired.
If three progressive wonky nerds like us can't agree that: a. Northeast Ohio has a sprawl problem (that goes above and beyond most regions) b. that the area has no appreciable regional land use constraints, sustainability strategy, or equity goals and c. that those factors, in light of a declining regional population, are hurting the region, I guess I'm just totally at a loss.
Those are pretty indisputable facts, I think, for anyone with any sort of perspective. I'm surprised we can't agree on those things.
Can I add that that is a 19 percent growth rate over 30 years. Not staggering, but not too shabby for a region that's been effectively stable over that time.
You would be right that there isn't sprawl if there was a 0 percent growth rate, matching the region's growth rate. A 19 percent local growth rate with a 0 percent regional growth rate means one thing: sprawl. Sprawl at a fairly healthy rate.
Study finds that government subsidies are responsible for the relocation of 14,500 Ohio jobs, 'overwhelmingly outward.' This has worsened inequity and made jobs unreachable for many residents.
It is insane to subsidize such a destructive pattern!
Reading the actual study, total tax abatements for all 152 business relocations were less than $40M. That's a lot of money in the aggregate, but spread over a 10-year tax-abatement period and spread over multiple taxing authorities, it's a tiny slice of the tax revenues (recall that the Ohio state budget is ~$27B per year, for instance). And if even a few of the relocations kept jobs in Ohio that would have otherwise moved out of state, the investment almost certainly paid for itself, both with other tax revenues (e.g. income tax on the workers who stayed) and with intangibles like business longevity, family cohesion, etc.
George, that $40 million is just a drop in the bucket. The public contributed many more millions to build infrastructure to service these new more sprawling job centers. It has cost our transit system dearly, and made it less effective.
The issue here isn't really the lost taxes, it's that they were spent subsidizing a very destructive end. This kind of sprawl makes work inaccessible for poor urban dwellers, worsening inequality.
Did you know there is a 35-year difference in life expectancy between someone who lives in Hough and someone who lives a few miles a way in Lyndhurst? That is the type of gross inequality, and concentrated poverty, that results from policies of this type.
Plus, we have built a infrastructure system we cannot afford to maintain (see potholes in Cleveland, East Cleveland, Lakewood, etc.).
Sprawl of this type also worsens our air quality, that is a major public health concern here.
Government subsidies should encourage people to act in ways that are beneficial for society. Exactly the opposite is happening here.
Angie, you've got like ten arguments going on at once, which makes it hard to convert this chattery thread into a call for action. I understand you believe that encouraging population density is good for a lot of reasons: in this mini-thread you focus on environment/pollution and access of poor workers to low-wage jobs, and elsewhere in this thread you've talked about transportation costs, infrastructure maintenance costs, and weird tax distributions. But I'm trying to figure out what policy changes you want to encourage: should we be pushing for state laws that limit low-density development, should we be pushing for tax incentives that make low-density development more expensive (and therefore less attractive than urban redevelopment), should we be pushing for budget cuts at the state level that shift infrastructure maintenance costs to local governments? What is it that you think we should organize around doing?
All of those would be a great, great start and would really put us on a more sustainable, competitive path. A fix-it-first policy at the regional level for infrastructure would be a huge improvement, and frankly the only fiscally responsible way to proceed.
We should absolutely end tax breaks for job sprawl and strengthen incentives for infill development -- a lot. Any expansion of our current infrastructure should be subject to a thorough cost-benefit analysis and costs should be shifted to the developer in monetary terms.
I know it's scattered but our development patterns effect environmental quality, equity, regional competitiveness and many other quality of life and health factors. This is just such a large topic.
Fortunately, the Sustainable Communities Planning Process that is just beginning plans to tackle these very issues, I am told. What I haven't been told is what we can do to help.
I agree with George - the "problem" of jobs moving out of urban areas is is overstated. At least, it is not a current problem, over the past ten years. Look at the maps in the Good Jobs First study and follow the arrows, there was little if no subsidized movement from Cleveland. Those jobs left decades ago.
This is a long response, but I source everything. Here it is in a nutshell: proponents of Smart Growth like those that sponsored this study are not open about their objectives, making their "conclusions"highly suspect.
Good Jobs First was trying to make a case for government creating sprawl, but there own data doesn't back it up, so we are left with headlines and sound bites to fill in the gaps for us.
And who is filing in the gaps -who is Good Jobs First? A union-backed organization with a vested interest in returning urban private and public-sector jobs in the name of "economic equity," which is the real driving force behind "Smart Growth."
Here's the quote: "Studies by Good Jobs First show that suburban sprawl is a broadly anti-union phenomenon. While each industry has its particulars, across the board, as jobs thin out geographically, away from cities, they also tend to de-unionize. At the same time, urban residents without a car, disproportionately people of color, lose access to jobs as growth occurs on the fringe beyond the transit lines." http://urbanhabitat.org/node/2746
I don't have a problem it is is union-backed, or "economic equity"- backed or whatever. I have a BIG problem with these organizations and studies that hide their ulterior motives.
Here's Bruce Katz of Brookings telling us how to "hide the ball" when disguising "economic equity"" as "smart growth."
"You don't want to start on distributional politics. I think you want to come in and say: Here is a goal we want to reach as a state. We want to preserve our land and rebuild places we have invested in. Everyone who is involved, the cognoscenti, know exactly what is going on. But I think the other approach gets into the lowest common denominator allocation politics which I think you want to avoid. "
Complete interview here:http://www.commonweal.org/programs/fg_interviews/katz.html
We do have distributional politics right now. We redistribute wealth from urban areas to suburban and exurban. That was what the study found. Government tax breaks to move out.
This is a bad issue to swoop in with "free market" defenses. What is going on is not free market in any sense. Why do so-called conservatives suddenly turn into socialists when it comes to highways?
From MARC, Kansas City's regional planning agency:
"The region found that local governments would spend $5 billion more over a 40‐year period for infrastructure to support continued low‐density development than if it pursued a strategy that produced walkable, mixed‐use, mixed‐income activity centers along strategic corridors."
But as we've already argued about, that's a pretty low number: the overall Ohio state budget over the same period is $1140B ($1.14T), so the extra infrastructure costs are less than .01% of the budget. The state infrastructure budget is $32B over the same period, so the extra cost is roughly a 15% increase there, IF the state were paying the whole tab (which it's not).
How are the suburbs like a giant ponzi scheme? They trade SHORT TERM CASH for LONG TERM OBLIGATIONS.
I don't think this author understands what a Ponzi scheme is; there's no long-term obligation in such a scheme, just a (falsely) promised return on investment.
But the basic point is what we've already been talking about: infrastructure imposes long-term costs on government, which may or may not be worthwhile. I'm not sure where he gets the source data for his assertion that every infrastructure dollar only raises a dime in tax revenue; that seems deeply wrong to me, for calculation reasons: how do you actually calculate the tax revenue generated by a non-toll road? There are so many overlapping taxing authorities and so many transactions and reimbursements between them, how can you say what's being paid for out of any particular tax payment?
I still don't see the Ponzi connection. It's true that government financing (e.g. municipal bonds) depends on a prediction of tax revenues, and thus shrinking population and tax revenue hurts those predictions. But sprawl itself does not necessarily depend on more sprawl; one of your arguments in this debate has been that people would voluntarily avoid sprawl if they knew the economic consequences, so sprawl itself must be stoppable. Right?
Last Friday 6/10, a number of these topics came up at the NOACA summit. I was waiting for NOACA to post video of the event, so I could link to it, but that hasn't happened yet. At any rate, I'm afraid I can't summarize the whole thing, but I will say a thing or two about the panel I moderated about the Sustainable Communities Consortium.
Jason Segedy of AMATS (who is present in this conversation), Hunter Morrison of the SCC and Ned Hill of CSU were on the panel, and there was a big eye opener for me. There seemed to be consensus among these three--people who I would have classified as "urbanists" -- that the Woodmeres, Richfields and Twinsburgs of the region have a right to exist and people hav a right to live there. The planning collaboration that the HUD grant is for won't be about getting the region to rally around the metros. (Jason, please correct me if I've misunderstood anything). It will be about acknowledging that people who choose the suburbs and exurbs do so for legitimate reasons and the challenge we have is to make all these places better, more livable, more walkable and better connected to one another.
So, while earlier in this conversation, I think I pointed to the Sustainable Communities collaboration as a potential answer to some of these problems, I don't think it is, at least not in the way I had assumed. Instead, I think it looks like it's going to be about a "big tent" planning process that can get people to act on shared interests. I think.
Last year, NOACA didn't post video from its summit until mid-July, and the clips covered only a couple speakers.
Did they say anything about the public portion of the planning process? It seems like most of the work to date has been conducted behind closed doors. It would be a shame if that doesn't change.
Although I am a board member, I don't speak for the Sustainable Communities Initiative. However, I suppose you are right that we are following a "big tent" strategy to the extent that we are seeking a solution to our land use challenges that reflects the views of the community at large. Critical to this will be helping the community to understand and respond to the challenge that our present patterns of development basically subsidize our economic destruction by adding redundant infrastructure costs for the public and private sectors, separate people from jobs, destabilize environmental systems and undermine much of what makes our communities unique. At present, many of these costs are invisible to citizens and certainly not well understood. As Angie Schmitt has pointed out on a few occasions, our aim should not be dictate where/how people live, but we should make sure that we have public policies that encourage more sensible development....or at least don't operate in the wrong directions.
There's a crop of new books out on urban planning and history; Greg Lindsay wrote half of what the New Yorker called the most interesting one. If you can find the article, read it: one of its central points is that urban planning has no consensus on what's happening next, and how to plan for it.
Here's the link to the piece in the New Yorker:
Here is another thought-provoking piece:
I have a lot of respect for Richard Florida, but I do think that he overstates and oversells the "creative class" idea. Cities throughout our region have spent a lot of time and money pursuing the elusive ideal of "creativity". I have always believed that to attract people (creatives and mere mortals) you need to create jobs. The people can then take care of making your city cool, vibrant, relevant, hip, etc. It's the people that create the social fabric.
We could use new blood in this area, but I don't think it will come from making our cities "cool". They are already "cool" if you know where to look, and "cool" is kind of beside the point. What we need are jobs and economic growth. This will bring immigrants. This will bring "creatives". This will even bring regular old people from rural communities looking for work. This is how our cities in this part of the world (the Great Lakes) were built: foreign immigrants and rural Americans. They came from Poland, Hungary, Italy, and Serbia. They came from West Virginia, Kentucky, and Western Pennsylvania. Maybe tomorrow they'll come from Mexico, Iraq, Russia, Vietnam, Buffalo, and Detroit. There are only so many "creative" people to go around. Sure, we should try to attract them, but in the final analysis, people come for a job. More importantly, they are more likely to stay if they have a good job.
Florida has done a great job of dissuading regions like ours from "smoke-stack chasing" and coming to grips with the fact that we may never be the industrial powerhouse we once were, but he has replaced this form of one-sided economic development with another: "talent chasing" (as if the only talented people were those with advanced degrees, a penchant for gardein pesto, and the latest Vampire Weekend download on their iPad).
We have a big, diverse region. And any revitalization strategy is going to have to be multi-faceted. We developed as a place that made things, and even though U.S. economic policy for the past 40 years has nearly destroyed that legacy, this specialization may yet play a part in our revival. Whatever else we do with creating a more sustainable region, retaining and creating jobs is key.
Dan, I think that your sense of the panel discussion at the NOACA Summit is accurate. If we would have had a bit more time, I think there is more nuance to describe our challenges regarding striking the appropriate balance between being responsive to the needs and the reality of the suburbs versus the needs and challenges of the urban core. Perhaps I can clarify my own point of view a bit further here.
In a perfect world, and with a really good time machine, I would love to go back to 1950, or so, and shake the planners, developers, citizens, and elected officials by the shoulders and show them a vision of what Northeast Ohio would like in 2011. Is what we have today (a gutted Cleveland and Youngstown, a struggling Akron and Canton, a regional debate over sewers, and stormwater, and new interchanges) what they really intended when they were sowing those fallow farm fields with seeds that reaped a bumper crop of Cape Cods and drive-throughs and strip malls. . .? Probably not. Hunter Morrison was right that the factors which led to the upcoming construction of the Avon interchange were put into motion in the 1950s. Hindsight is 20-20. We had the automobile. And cheap gas. We could sprawl. So we did. Just like every other metro area in the country. We just happen to have the added disconnect of a particulary challenging economic environment and no new population growth. We, along with Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Detroit, are virtually unique in that sense.
However, we don't have the luxury of time travel. So I think that the issue we are grappling with is this: Look, we have a reality whether idealist planners such as myself like it or not, that most of the region's population doesn't live in our urban core communities. It is unrealistic and counterproductive in my mind to demonize people for lifestyle and housing choices that are not just about aesthetics or lot sizes, but are inextricably intertwined with issues of educational opportunity, class, race, crime (or the perception thereof), etc. - all incredibly complicated issues on their own, and even more difficult to tackle than the issue of "sprawl" per se.
Complicating matters even further is the fact that not all "suburbs" are created equal - there is a big difference in walkability, and the potential for sustainable development between, say, Kent and Brimfield or Hudson and Streetsboro. So what we call 'the suburbs" can be a generic description for a variety of urban-to-rural environments.
So where do we go from here? I would argue that we need an approach that points out the costs of new infrastructure (as Angie and Brad have stated) and that does everything that we can to encourage the revitalization of our core cities, but that also acknowledges the existence and needs of our suburban communities. I think this means that we simultaneously pursue a three-pronged approach: 1) revitalize and encourage redevelopment of our urban cores; 2) retrofit and densify and encourage mixed-use in our suburbs (easier in some communities than others); and 3) make a concerted effort to keep rural areas rural. There are lots of potential contradictions and varying degrees of ideological impurity in this approach, but I think that it is the only way forward.
"Where" things are built is important, but I think "how" they are built is even more important, and that is an issue that it will be much easier to get the entire region to rally around. This type of planning is not easy, or black-and-white, or cut-and-dried. It is hard work. And that is why we need to do it.
Ryan, I think there are a couple of things:
The Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium will certainly be instrumental to moving forward on a vision for coming to grips with the issue of urban sprawl. My hope is that it will follow the the three-pronged approach that I have outlined here. Obviously we have a lot of work to do to put flesh on those bones, but it is a start.
In the meantime, AMATS, my planning organization here in Akron has been promoting sustainable development, with a particular focus on integrating land use and transportation planning, as part of our Connecting Communities initiative. You might find the following links useful:
I am also involved right now with a group of planners and local officials involved in what we call our Land Use Community of Practice. We are currently focusing on the State Route 8 corridor in Summit County between Steels Corners Road and I-271. It is a suburban area prime for development and we have a pilot project underway to help us better understand the dynamic in this corridor and to see if we can help promote its development in a sustainable way. It is a test-case to see if the principles of smart growth and sustainable development can be applied strategically in a suburban setting.
There are lots of other similar pilot projects that should be pursued throughout our entire region. I would like to see a pilot centered around working with the real estate development industry to promote widespread large-scale rebuilding of our urban neighborhoods in Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown, and Canton. In Akron, for example, if you want to buy a brand new house with modern amenities, you are virtually condemned to have to look in the suburbs. Akron is fortunate to have an extremely high quality of housing stock for a central city (especially in its Northwest quadrant), but many consumers want a brand new house with modern amenities.
New housing in our central cities is typically either geared toward those with very low incomes (subsidized/public housing) or those with very high incomes ($250K+ condos, lofts, etc.) that even fairly well-paid professional such as myself could only dream of affording. Ironically, these are typically marketed to "Young Professionals". . .even "Old Professionals" don't pull down the salaries in our market to make this type of housing affordable. Hence, many of these projects go belly-up or remain severely underutilized.
We have a huge hole in our urban housing market for $100-$200K single and multi family owner-occupied housing marketed toward young professionals, families, and empy nesters. Schools will be an issue, but a concerted effort to develop, market, and promote this type of new housing in our cities is not currently being made. It could be and should be.
Very nice analysis.
I'd been thinking along the same lines in terms of the problem. We're not working with a clean slate here, and it is way too costly in a whole lot of ways to move everyone/everything to where it ideally would be (and build all the infrastructure). I hadn't managed to bet beyond the enormity of where we are versus where we ought to be for sustainability to even start thinking about which direction to point the car (or transit lines).
Thank you for setting out at least the start of a road map!
Nobody is demonizing suburbanites. I certainly don't blame suburbanites for this pattern. I blame our leadership. One caveat: I do think this is stoked by a hysteria about crime based on racial stereotypes that are stoked by the media. But that is an aside.
Suburbs exist yes. That doesn't mean our region needs to pour 90 percent of it's resources into the outmost edges of our developed area, undermining equity, sustainability, financial health, historical value and common sense, as we have been doing. I am glad you seem to acknowledge this.
You say we wish we could go back in time. Planning efforts should be proactive, not reactive. The tail is wagging the dog in this region. Leadership is not throwing up your hands after the fact and saying there's nothing we can do about it because it's already happened.
How are we going to change this dynamic? That's what I want to hear from the Sustainable Communities folks.
As I argue below, we could spend 100% of our resources in central cities (which don't happen to contain 100% of our residents) and there will still be sprawl. The key to urban core revitalization is creating places that people want to be. And while spending lots of money can help, it is highly overrated as a strategy for urban growth.
Our MPO is spending over one year's entire allocation of federal funds (nearly $19 million) on infrastructure improvements related to Goodyear's new world headquarters in Akron. This is a tremendously important investment in Akron's future, and something that we are proud to be doing. But it will take more than infrastructure investments to make our central cities attractive places. It is about placemaking, and urban design, and good planning. Akron, in conjunction with the University Park Alliance, is starting to do this. They are doing it in Kent, too, and there is money being invested there, but that's not what it's primarily about. It is about creating attractive places. Eventually it has to also be about improving public schools, and working with the private sector to build marketable housing, because if it's not, it will fail. I don't want to see "theme parks" that remind us of what urban places used to look like. I want to see actual vibrant urban places, and creating them is a lot harder than just spending money in one political unit and not spending it in another.
The word "proactive" is a circa-1990s buzzword that simply means "active". And a large part of that activity is learning from the past, which, far from being "reactive", is, instead, a prerequisite for gaining the wisdom to know how to conduct oneself in the present and to plan for the future. And wisdom is the only thing that makes leadership effective.
This makes sense. There are plenty of US cities that continue to promote redevelopment of their urban cores without discouraging new development in suburban and exurban areas. While planners in Cleveland/Detroit/Pittsburgh face some challenges that those in e.g. Charlotte do not, we still have plenty of tools to make sensible development decisions and promote region-wide growth and sustainability. As a contrast, the link is to a development nightmare: a city in India where the lack of regulation and planning initially led to explosive growth, but then to significant problems that will be horribly expensive to fix. So, planning is worthwhile, even though it can be frustrating at times.
First off, I would never say Richfield or Brunswick don't have a right to exist. I would say they don't have a right to grow. Or if they do continue to grow, the results will be devastating for the entire region: think multiple digit population losses in the central city, continued population loss in the inner-ring suburbs, declining national competitiveness of the region, etc.
I watched those videos and I didn't get a clear sense of what they were planning at all. Airports? Seriously? Airports are a big concern in this region? Has anyone seen the roads in Cleveland lately, or Cleveland Heights for that matter? I think that is a bigger concern. What is the plan to maintain our current built infrastructure?
What do airports have to do with sustainability and equity, the stated goals of this initiative? What is our plan past peak oil? Anyone? This is what other cities, competitive cities, are grappling with.
And also, I am disappointed by the complete lack of diversity on this panel. Doesn't NOACA have anyone in a leadership position that isn't an old white man?
I am really disappointed. But I should have known coming from NOACA, i.e. NO ACTION. This region needs new leadership, with vision and dynamicism. Instead we have the same old cast, maintaining the current order. I don't see any reason to think we shouldn't expect the same result: decline.
Oh, I'm not so sure about the "ready to die" part. I ride my bike on Akron streets quite a bit. And it is really important to have made your peace as you ride on West Market Street in Montrose in seven lanes of traffic. It is a toss-up as to whether you will be driven to suicide by the depressing streetscape, or whether you will get tagged by an angry driver in a monster truck telling you to "ride on the sidewalk" (there are none, and it's illegal).
Angie, do you really think growth in Brunswick and Richfield is the direct cause of population loss in Cleveland? The two are related, but only tangentially. You are taking an incredibly complicated dynamic and oversimplifying it. Every metro area in the country has many growing suburbs, regardless of whether the central city is growing or not. You will find new suburban growth in greater New York, Washington, and (yes) even in Minneapolis and Portland. And these are all regions with healthy economies and growing central cities. Our economy isn't healthy. And while sprawl (and high infrastructure costs) are exacerbating the situation, the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in the Steel and Rubber industries, resulting from global economic restructuring is a much bigger culprit. And, yes, poor leadership, and racism, and a complacent attitude in the 1970s and 80s didn't help. But C'est la vie. . .
I would argue that Cleveland would be losing population (due to shrinking household size alone) regardless of whether Brunswick or Richfield even existed. Cleveland cannot attract middle class families in large numbers, because it has terrible public schools (one can argue about why that is, but the fact remains) and it does not have a large enough stock of marketable housing. Change these two dynamics, and even with fears about crime (founded or not) and latent racism, Cleveland starts to grow again. Without fixing these two things, it doesn't. But to imply that limiting growth in the suburbs is automatically good for Cleveland, is quite a leap of faith. A strategy like you are proposing will just backfire and be even worse for the region. We need a new way forward.
Sprawl is more than a simple relocation of homes and businesses from one central place to many others. It is an entire set of inextricably connected social and economic linkages all centered around housing preference, school quality, and usage of the automobile.
Other American cities have growing suburbs and the results aren't "devastating" for the entire region. Or are they? And what is the plan in those regions for dealing with peak oil?
Do you see where I am going with this? Yes, we need leadership, and yes sprawl is a bad idea in my opinion, and, yes, I appreciate your idealism, but in your admirable zeal for revitalizing our cities (something we share), you are mis-portraying something incredibly complicated, and gray, and difficult, as something simple, black-and-white, and easy.
True leadership means acknowledging these facts, winning the battles you can, persuasion (rather than demagoguery), consensus-building, and true openness and transparency, which considers all points of view, and makes compromises which are likely to anger those on both the far left and far right. A good leader is not afraid to make hard choices, but is also wise enough to know their own limitations.
You too easily dismiss the challenges that an organization like NOACA faces. You are, on the one hand, criticizing it for being ineffective, and then, on the other hand, implying that it has God-like powers to influence the real estate market, public education system, etc., if only it chose to do so. NOACA's power is the power to control federal transportation funds, and it could invest every dime that it has in public transit and bike lanes, and our region would still continue to sprawl.
You can credit industrial decline for the loss in the regional population, or stagnation, depending on the decade. That adds up to a pretty paltry sum.
The loss of the central city population is directly related to disinvestment there and the conscious development of unneeded additional communities in undeveloped lands.
if sprawl isn't the cause of population loss in the central city, how do you explain the outward pattern of abandonment continuing through the inner-ring suburbs?
We have 20 percent growth in our exurban regions, a (nearly) stagnant regional population, and double digit losses in the central city, and some inner ring suburbs. Clearly, sprawl is the major cause of most of our abandonment issues. Instead of addressing the problems in our urban areas, we have just abandoned them
You don't have to trust me. Look at a map of our developed area and look at our regional population. That's what you call a recipe for disaster.
Jason, you can imply that I am naive and idealistic and a demagogue, if you want. But the truth is, I know what I am talking about. I have a master's degree in urban planning. I am a national writer on the topics of land use and transportation planning and I am in tune with what's going on around the nation. In addition, I worked at NOACA and know a great deal about how it functions.
What I am saying is exactly what Richard Florida is saying and what Kaid Benfield at the Natural Resources Defense Council is saying. See the link below.
I think your lecture about leadership is patronizing. i don't see NOACA making any hard compromises. I see NOACA operating largely outside the public eye expanding our infrastructure network with little regard for the sustainability or social outcomes of their actions.
If NOACA was actually making hard compromises, every single one of its actions wouldn't be approved unanimously, as you know is the case. It is dominated by suburban leaders who bargain with eachother to see who can bring home the most money to their community, with no regard for the health of the region overall.
MPOs have their limitations but some are very effective. Akron is way ahead. Minneapolis is a leader. Portland as well.
I verified my opinion of NOACA with Myron Orfield, the nation's leading expert of metropolitan topics. He lumps NOACA in with SEMCOG in Detroit, which was the subject of a civil rights lawsuit at his behest a few years ago. He said quote they're "very primitive." I said, my impression is that they don't do anything, and he said "I think that's accurate.
I know you have to defend NOACA because you are part of the same club. But if I've said anything inaccurate about NOACA, they are free to refute it in this forum. So far they have not. So far, no one has refuted anything I've said about NOACA.
They are fiddling while Rome burns, and collecting a safe government paycheck all the while. We can do better, don't you think?
You're not making an enemy of me. We have some differences of opinion on how to go about doing so, but I respect your desire to make this region a better place. If you didn't care, you wouldn't be here.
I also think that you bring a valuable perspective to the conversation, because you are not part of "the system", and you are not worried about offending the status-quo. We do have a (small-c) conservative culture in this region, which, even under the best of circumstances, is slow to try new things. There is nothing wrong with shaking things up, especially in an online forum designed to stimulate debate and discussion.
If you say things that poke a stick into the side of the status-quo, I hope that we'll all be grounded enough to take it to heart, and to take it in stride. I hope we can get more regional leaders involved in this conversation. This is an opportunity to foster a type of public dialogue that most of us rarely have an opportunity to participate in.
Good because Brad Whitehead said you're cool and I trust his judgment. He actually explained things more and I am so relieved to hear you are planning to do land use planning. I was actually strongly considering leaving the region over this issue. I just don't see how the region will recover unless this issue is addressed.
And another thing, what incentive is there for housing developers to build modern housing in Cleveland when the MPO will take federal money, and build new infrastructure for them to an undeveloped area? Why should they bother with property acquisition and demolition when the region is rolling out the red carpet for them in all our most fertile farmland?
The answer is they don't. That is the problem. That is how NOACA has fueled the exodus from the city and the inner-ring suburbs. That is how we ended up with an urbanized area the size of a European Country and twice the infrastructure expenses without any economic or population growth.
Like Minneapolis, it could have decided, it was better to invest in transit in the central city. That the costs of expanding infrastructure into infinity were too high. But NOACA doesn't make high-level decisions like that, it just doles out money based on formula. And the suburban politicians keep lining up at the trough.
Anti-Growth Quotable from the NOACA Summit as seen on Youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTDhYWgY-7U.
CSU's Ned Hill, responding to Ken Sloane, President of Oberlin City Council, who seems to be advocating for "no growth" as part of "sustainability."
KENNETTH SLOANE: "My name is Ken Sloane, I’m President of Oberlin City Council I’m glad I didn’t hear the term “economic growth” today, because “sustainability” and “economic growth” seem to be counter-intuitive sometimes, that’s just a ...”NED HILL: (interrupts) "alright, I’m going to start taking my drugs now..”” (LAUGHTER)“Nobody has mentioned lifestyle changes around this discussion, and it seems like, for such a long time, we’ve changed things dramatically though crisis ..will it take things like that to get people to think of lifestyle changes? “HUNTER MORRISON, NEOSCC RESPONDS. NED HILL: “I’m going to be more than above-average obnoxious, in reacting to your question, lookit, without economic growth, this place is it out of business and we’re done. So having an anti-growth attitude is just basically telling your kids to move out of town. The question is what type and style of growth that you have, and it also, what are we doing to encourage productivity. The fact of the matter is, you are going to get the automobile out of the American’s hands either with a crowbar after they’ve died, or by increasing the price dramatically."
Via Wikipedia: In economics, rent-seeking is an attempt to derive economic rent by manipulating the social or political environment in which economic activities occur, rather than by adding value.
This is what they really is really occurring in "economic development" shops in Richfield and Brunswick.
Added economic value to NEO = $0. Cost to NEO taxpayers = $$$$.
I mentioned above that regardless of what the public sector does (short of a radically redefining private property rights), the effort to stop, slow, or reverse urban sprawl is incomplete without a heartfelt desire on the part of the general public and the private sector to build and develop land differently than we do today.
If we really want sustainable planning, we need to create a viable market-based model for sustainable development and we need a true cultural sea-change in the way that we approach planning in America. Planning today is primarily a regulatory and bureaucratic enterprise. It lacks vision and is a fragmented, rather than holistic discipline. It is viewed as a science rather than an art.
It wasn’t always so, as anyone that walks through an 18th century New England town can attest to. One would be hard pressed to say that New Englanders did not value personal freedom, private enterprise, or liberty, or that they found onerous taxation any less odious than today’s tea partiers, but they still managed to have a vibrant culture of place-based planning that better understood the relationship between the public and the private sphere. There was a recognition that what you did with your own property affected everyone else.
There are large swaths of our country and region that have lost this ethos of human-scale, community-focused planning. The private sector and public sector (and the public at large) have been culpable (or at least complicit) in allowing this to happen. We don’t place a strong value on coordinated planning in this country, and (alas) a disjointed patchwork of sprawling development is what we end up with.
We haven’t found the right balance between private property rights and the public regulation of land use for the public good, and it shows. We usually end up with the worst of both worlds – onerous bureaucracy and byzantine government regulation that ironically still culminate in poor development decisions.
You make a good point. I think the easiest and fairest way to advance cultural change is not to use public money to make new development more affordable than it truly is. A lot of this sprawl is people responding to economic incentives. I mentioned above, low local property taxes. But low local property taxes are illusory because they really just reflect that new areas don't have legacy costs, in large part because new infrastructure is subsidized by the state and the region
Right now our policies are holding out a carrot to people to move far away. Change that, and I bet the culture will change real quick.
One more. This pretty much obliterates the argument that suburbs are safer. (What is a greater risk to your safety, a random, violent attack by a stranger, or spending and hour and a half a day flying down a highway at 70 mph?)
I don't see how the argument is obliterated: children die at a negligible rate from any cause. And plenty of non-fatal crimes and traumas have higher rates in city centers than in suburbs, so even if a suburban kid has a slightly (infinitesimally?) higher risk of death by vehicle, she is probably significantly safer from non-fatal injuries and traumas. I guess it depends on how you define "safer."
This article talks about the costs of minorities, the elderly, the poor and disabled people as a result in Ohio's overemphasis on car-based infrastructure: namely highways. This gets to the issue of how sprawl and unsustainable transportation investments are connected with the idea of equity.
Equity is a touchy subject, as you can imagine, Angie. If most users of a public service are poor (like buses, or food stamps), it's hard to separate advocacy of better funding for those services from advocacy of poverty relief in general. And it's hard to walk the line between providing high-quality basic services to the poor and letting those same services become part of the poverty cycle, by strengthening incentives to stay poor.
I'm not trying to dissuade us (as a larger culture or on this site) from collectively mustering the courage to confront structural inequity or the burdens of poverty, but I'm saying it's politically complex, and often so emotionally tainted, it can distract from the debate. To a significant (and often vocal) slice of the population, spending any public resources on a service used mostly by the poor is wasteful; they can shift a debate over the economic merits of social policy in a quick flash. E.g. try talking about cost-effective ways for local government to ameliorate homelessness for more than thirty seconds straight, without somebody interjecting to object to the whole concept of spending scarce public money on "undeserving" people.
So yes, we should devise a transportation plan that includes public transportation, and we should fight for making public transportation maximally available at the lowest feasible cost, but we should try to encourage a rhetorical environment that fosters change and reform - that's what Civic Commons is for. Bringing up amorphous concepts like equity (or emotionally loaded topics like racism or socialism) is an excellent way to turn a debate over land use policy into a wide-ranging discussion that doesn't result in any actual activism or change (and worse, it can devolve into pointless shouting match in the absence of forceful intervention by the moderators). Let's not spend so much time on fairness and equity that we get distracted from changing the world.
This article shows that the number 1 factor for carbon emissions is how far one lives from the center city. This has been 100% true for me. Living in West Cleveland, I don't really need a car. Everything is accessible by bike, foot, or transit. That has saved me thousands of dollars and it has helped me make a little dent in Cleveland's air pollution problem.
But the actual map of Cleveland (link attached) shows a mixed correlation: some of the most CO2-polluting areas are near downtown, while some of the low-density communities are downright gentle. In this map, Lakewood and Shaker Hts. (some of the most walkable parts of NEO) have very high automobile-CO2-per-acre, while Solon, Independence, and Brecksville (where you couldn't walk to the corner store if you tried) have very low automobile emissions. And even the most basic version of your premise - that distance from the certer city directly correlates with automotive CO2 emissions - is rebutted by the data: Brooklyn Hts. has a bright red emissions pattern, while outlying Bedford and Pepper Pike (and even bedroom communities like Euclid and Westlake) are very low.
That is housing + transportation affordability. The map I posted is vehicle miles traveled. They are sort of related, but it is sort of apples to oranges. If some map says people in Lakewood drive more than people in Brecksville, I'd say it's probably flawed. That makes absolutely no sense.
Ah, I see what you are saying. Sure, when measured by carbon emissions per acre, Lakewood is higher than Brecksville, because a h**l of a lot more people live in an acre in Lakewood than Brecksville.
The only measure that matters is CO2 emissions per household and that matches what I said exactly. The farther away people live, the higher the household CO2 emissions.
But that's not what the map says. It says a central neighborhood like Brooklyn Hts. or Cuyahoga Hts. generates 7-9 metric tons of CO2 per household, while outlying neighborhoods like Euclid and Bedford are only generating 3-5 metric tons per household. So it's not a direct correlation at all.
The maps are an intriguing resource - but I would need to know more about the assumptions made in the modeling before they would be much more than a conversation starter. The maps are models, rather than a compilation of data, and models are only as good as the assumptions used to create them. I could not find anything explicit about the models used for the CO2 emission maps.
One thing caught my eye scrolling near the area you identified There is a patch which include not much more than highways (I-480 is one such strip) with very high CO2 emissions (9.5 metric tons at one location).
That is what got me searching for where the data came from. One possibility is that the model is based on the number of households in the area, presumed commuting distance from those houses to an average work location, access to public transportation (and some of the variables which might be used are not independent so assumption errors in a dependent variable might have a disproportionate impact.) Another model would be to use the actual emissions - for example associated with I-480 (high), and attribute them to households in the surrounding area (very low).
Presuming the former (which is more likely from the little bit of time I spent looking at what explanation I could find), my own choices and that of a co-worker would suggest that relatively logical personal choices probably limit the model's accuracy.
An average a fuel efficiency of 20.3 MPG is built into the model (The site doesn't permit deep linking, but you can find it in the glossary). But my behavior is not average - and is influenced heavily by the distance I drive to work - as is that of a co-worker. We've talked about it in the past - so I know why each of us has made the vehicle choice we have.
Because I live 27 miles from work, without access to public transportation, I choose to drive a car which gets around 54 mpg (lifetime average mileage - tank average varies from 50 mpg to 62 mpg). My co-worker lives within walking distance, and drives a vehicle (when he drives) which gets around 16 mpg. He never goes far, so he doesn't really care that his vehicle gets lousy gas mileage.
My carbon footprint is bad - but using a fuel efficiency of 20.3 mpg to determine my CO2 emissions makes it more than double the already bad reality - and on the flip side it also makes my co-worker's good (central city) carbon footprint look better than it is.
So - I like the maps as a starting tool for conversations, but I would need to know a lot more before I would be willing to rely on them to drive public policy.
Well, sure, they are approximate. There are very few "stereotypical" or "average" people in reality; one of my favorite bad-urban-design stories is a friend who lived and worked in two of the most walkable neighborhoods in Cleveland (Ohio City and Coventry Village) but still had to commute every day because there was no bus line between them (and by car, no less, because she often had to carry big packages and such). So these are necessarily just averages and approximations.
But they are very intriguing conversation tools; as I'm pointing out to Angie, they certainly complicate any easy generalizations like assuming that households in bedroom communities automatically generate more driving miles or CO2 emissions than first-ring suburbs like Cuyahoga Heights.
What I am suggesting is actually worse. CO2 emissions are fairly directly related to gas mileage. They appear to have used an country-wide average gas mileage in their model to predict CO2 emissions on a localized (census track) basis.
A model is only predictive in a geographic area in which the underlying data is also accurate (on average). If you use the average SAT score in the Cuyahoga County area as part of a model for predicting academic success, the conclusions you reach might be valid (on average) for Cuyahoga County, but the model would probably be wildly inaccurate to use to distinguish between, say, Shaker Heights and East Cleveland.
If, as I suspect, people who live farther from public transportation (have long personal-vehicle-commutes) also tend to purchase lower gas mileage cars, using a country wide average gas mileage to predict CO2 emissions on a census tract basis will be similarly inaccurate.
If the model uses the average to predict over the region the average applies to, you are correct - there will always be people who don't fit the average - but the model on the whole will be accurate for the region.
If you use an average that is not valid for the region you are making predictions about, not only will there be outliers from the average - but the prediction (on average) will also be wrong.
I am a mathematician by training, and although I haven't done a lot of real world modeling I am familiar with what makes a good model, and what makes one less valuable. When I come across a model, I always look for where the numbers come, and what assumptions they were based on. The site doesn't give much specific information about its model (other than gas mileage), so that was all I could check - and using a country wide gas mileage to predict CO2 emissions on a census tract basis raises some flags for me.
And you have pointed out another concern that I have (without access to enough information about the model to check out). What assumptions did they make in the model about residence v. employment. Just because one lives in a walkable area, or an area with easy access to public transportation, doesn't mean one's work is in close to home - or in an area to which one can travel by public transportation. In making their model, they could have sufficiently large but localized sampling to build the model - or not.
Overall, the model doesn't appear to be much more than a measure of how far one lives from public transportation access. That is useful information - but not precisely what the map indicates it is modeling.
I agree, generally, with the concerns Angie is raising - but I think it is, as you have pointed out, far more complex - and to even begin to address that complexity on more than a superficial level, I need better models (or at least enough information about the model design to gauge how realistic they are, on average).
I have a few articles that get into more detail about the costs of sprawl. Since a lot of people were looking for figures, I am going to post them. This one talks about how states disproportionately fund new road construction and delay maintenance -- at their financial peril. This analysis found that Ohio needs to spend $195 million annually to address its backlog in road repair projects. States have been spending 57% of their road dollars on new construction, or 1.3% of the system. The point is, expanding infrastructure is expensive, and it's prohibitively expensive when you are not a growing region.
While some of these statistics are undoubtedly skewed by sunbelt states (Nevada, Arizona, Texas, etc.) building new roads at a furious pace; by virtually any measure we (state and federal) are not putting a high enough priority on fixing the roads and bridges that we already have. Statewide (Nelsonville bypass) and locally (Nagel Road interchange, Seasons Road interchange) we are continuing to build new infrastructure to open up new land for development.
DOTs, MPOs, and local governments continue to make these decisions largely due to two factors: 1) congestion and safety problems resulting from existing development pressures; and 2) pressure from suburban communities desiring the increased tax revenue that will come from opening new land for development.
Until we get a handle on the land use component of this; the public pressure for fixing existing congestion problems, and the suburban desire for attracting new development will probably continue to drive transportation policy. Our MPO has adopted a "fix-it-first" policy. While it is not perfect, it is a start. I have also attached two links to some of my thoughts on several transportation policy issues relating to how we allocate our funds.
We now have the money, do we have the will? First, it's GREAT to see energy on this most important (but unfortunately too often invisible) topic. With $4.25 million from HUD supplemented with another $500k from the Fund (the organization I represent) and all kinds of in-kind support from a variety of players, Northeast Ohio should have the resources to do planning well. The leadership group is in the early stages of determing how citizen engagement ought to occur. Any thoughts on what the components of a successful engagement initiative should contain? I personally hope we can find a vocabulary for the sprawl issues that resonate with the broader population so that we inform and engage (and ultimately empower) a large swath of the population.
I think the media plays an important role and they have not given any emphasis to this issue. We need to start having a higher level conversation about these issues. I don't see the Plain Dealer filling that role, however. Much less the television news.
I think there is a role for the foundations to play. I think there should be some reporting, for example, on the activities of NOACA. Maybe Green City Blue Lake could do it.
As the managing editor for the West Life, Press and North Ridgeville Press newspapers, I will quietly beg the issue that NO writing has been done on this even while I realize it may not be to the extent or angle of perceived need. I will say, more to the point, that I have posted links to this conversation on the 2press and West Life Facebook pages which include, of course, a link to your blog, Angie. I have also keyed my writers to this conversation as a resource (and to theciviccommons.com overall).
Great points, Brad. That's what I've been urging Angie and others to do: articulate what the expenses of sprawl really are, so we can convince the right voters to quit incurring them, or at least shift them to the people who are voting for them (i.e. residents in low-density communities) so the core city has more resources to deal with other issues.
Personally, I'd like to see an alternative to the reliance on experts that seems so tempting for issues like this. Like, when the conversation gets too chaotic, reformers often figure that if they can hire an expert to add heft to their arguments. So, we collectively spend $$ on studies and annotated reports, that give the erudite more ammunition for blogging, but because most of the actual voting population doesn't trust experts in the first place (having seen how useful "expertise" was in planning things like downtown development), it doesn't really push the voters to change their mind. So there's got to be another way to do citizen engagement, that gets more change of mind among the relevant community.
I agree that we started the conversation out talking about costs and have lost the thread. I think in order to campaign for policies that will change development patterns, we need to know the numbers. What are the costs of water and sewer extension? What infrastructure costs are incurred when a new subdivision is built, and what would the difference (or savings) be if that subdivision was either built in the inner ring or City or built in a different way, (i.e. rehabbed structures, new build on existing streets) so as to mitigate costs. In my opinion, I think one of the hardest parts of this conversation is that it is complex; its not about financials alone but also preferences. I think most people will agree that tearing down lots of trees and lost farmland is bad, and that we need to figure out a way to keep older cities like Cleveland and the inner ring from going broke and crumbling. So if I am right in making that assumption, then we should start building consensus and working on a campaign to pinpoint specific costs and propose solutions. That will take more than banging fists on tables and demanding change, it will take education and community building.
Maybe Civic Commons can expand the conversation, or we can brainstorm specific ways to enlarge our audience and get this conversation on a more concrete path to change, as I think George has suggested. There are a number of organizations also addressing sprawl and regional collaboration as well, the Regional Prosperity Initiative coming to mind first. I think Civic Commons is meant to be the glue that ties these efforts together, how can we help?
So what I'm picking up so far in the conversation is that civic engagement around sprawl ought to incorporate the following:
1. We need to make sure that there is a heavy awareness component that involves media in a greater way2. We should be careful about relying too heavily on experts - let's get the public directly involved3. That said, there needs to be a better understanding of costs and what all this means to an individual taxpayer
Is that right?
I'm wondering about two additional issues:1. What would you think of on-line simulations and gaming so that people might be able to see and experience the consequences of the status quo (sort of like a Sim City for real?); in other words, is conversation enough or do people need to have some sort of "experience"?2. In order to raise the visibility of the issue, is it sufficient to rely on media coverage or is some other sort of "campaign" needed?
Off hand, I'm not a fan of that game idea. It might be a little patronizing.
People in other regions get this. Like in Portland, ordinary people go around talking about induced demand. I think it will be hard to change the culture in Cleveland. Cleveland is not very well educated compared to some regions. Also, there is a very ingrained mentality that moving out means moving up.
I have another suggestion. How about shaking up the leadership structure. What is the board that is overseeing this like? It there anyone under the age of 45 represented? Is it sufficiently diverse? I think a big part of our problem in Cleveland is that our leadership is stale. They aren't well versed in what's going on elsewhere, what are the latest developments in the planning field.
There are people that get this in Cleveland. They just aren't in positions of power, by en large.
Right, you get why I suggested avoidance of experts: the voting public is either educated and skeptical, or undereducated to buy into outside expertise without some additional basis for credibility. But isn't that also the problem with putting younger people in charge? Assuming we can find young elected officials in the various entities that have seats on the NOACA board, doesn't pushing the younger politicians into leadership roles have the same credibility problem?
Angie, I wonder how different Northeast Ohioans really are. I suspect that there does, in fact, exist a pretty unique culture in Portland. However, my conversations with people in the Twin Cities (where they have more progressive land use/tax sharing policies) and elsewhere still debate a lot of the same issues. In other words, I think we ought to give our folks the benefit of the date and believe that we good information and a structured process, they can make good judgments about balancing individual rights versus redundant (and often subsidized) infrastructure.
With respect to the diversity of conversation. I am pleased that the governing board of the Sustainable Communties Initiative has broad representation, including people from Housing Authorities, Public Transportation and Environmental Groups in addition to MPOs and various governments. And one of the Vice-Chairs is Jason Segedy, who is a 30-something and a very progressive leader of the Akron MPO.
Now, of course, the initiative has to deliver!
Thanks for the summation. I've been struggling to figure out how to dig into this conversation. The issue is very complex at least if you consider the entire region rather than just the Cleveland metropolitan area.
As one example, to offer a more positive take on the ease of making new cities – the township I lived in incorporated a few years ago - not because we wanted to be a city, but because townships in Ohio are designed as cities-in-waiting. We were tired of adjacent cities annexing the rural edges of our township to sprawl into. The only way to keep the rural areas safe from annexation (and development) is to incorporate so that you can control the zoning and keep them semi-rural.
That isn’t to say my little corner of sprawl is any healthier – my commute between two outlying cities gives me a really shameful carbon footprint – but it is primarily a back roads drive rather using infrastructure that goes into or out of Cleveland (or even into and out of Akron). And I have a septic tank in my back yard, well water, and no street lights (like most of our city-that-really-didn't-want-to-be-one). Just more to suggest that not all of the dynamics are the same as those encountered in Richfield – but the economies of the area are interrelated enough that I would find some sort of modeling helpful to sort out the various incarnations of sprawl.
Thanks, Nancy. I coudn't agree more that looking regionally (versus a single metro area) makes the situation complex - but alas, that IS our region. 25% of our working population commute from one county to another for their jobs! Your insights are fascinating. I was struck by Jim Cossler's comment on Civic Commons radio last weekend that we are a "mobile community" and he is spot on. He then went on to note how communities are springing up BETWEEN populations centers which allow people to access multiple centers - he cites the example of someone living in Aurora who can work in Youngstown but still partake of the Cleveland Symphony. It struck me that we REALLY need to figure out how to connect our metropolitan centers without just filling up the spaces in between, thereby adding tons of costs to the systems and reducing our competitiveness. Typically, we think of Transit-Oriented Development as relating to a single metro area....our challenge is to think of TOD ACROSS metro centers.
To some extent, the situation Jim described is me - I live south of Akron, work in Medina, shop in both Summit and Stark counties and attend church (and access medical facilities, and an occasional cultural event) in Cleveland.
For all day weekday events, taking the bus from the Montrose area (west Akron) to Cleveland is almost as fast as, and more convenient than, driving to Cleveland (and the times I've used it, it has been more than half full) - but I am limited to using it for all day events because there are only a few runs in the morning and a few at night. I really wish there were options like that I could use for my daily commute across three counties.
You might also be interested in looking at the development of JEDDs (Joint Economic Development Districts) in Coventry township and a few other communities in Summit County in the mid 90s - another very localized way to preserve less developed areas in a township by partnering with the adjacent city to concentrate development in the areas the adjacent the city that was going to annex them anyway. (Although my recollection is that Coventry was more interested in sewer and water than preservation of less developed areas.) The model in Coventry (at least at the time it was created) was to collect income taxes in portions of the township (which went to the city), in exchange for the city extending sewer and water at least into the JEDD where development would be concentrated.
I don't know that the JEDDs moved development out from center Akron (in this case). It was done partly to fend off annexation which would only have been on the table if the move was already in the works - but the model at least requires outward growth in order to be feasible. At least in the original model, they also protected the less developed areas from commercial development because the JEDD covered a limited area right at the border of the city.
All good summation, Brad. I think the game might be a good idea - I've heard (admittedly only rumors) that the budget apps created by the PD and the NYT were a traffic bump, as people like to play with the numbers and educate themselves about what's costly and what's not. So if we could push one of the anti-sprawl entities to create a quasi-game app that lets the player compare development of outlying farmland vs. redeveloping inner city land, that would help educate people about the "true" costs of development. Maybe some fun commentary, like "you went to college with the township councilman - 5% extra tax break" or "grant money available for museums inside city limits - extra $20K per year to open your corporate art collection to the public, if you have one" would help people see the numerous issues that go into choosing a site for development.
I listened to the radio show just now, and enjoyed the conversation. But the basic argument advanced by Angie - that sprawl is costing the region and the state big $$$ - remains questionable for me. Yes, the various levels of government spend some money to develop farmland and supply it with infrastructure (roads, electricity, sewer, water, etc.), but there's no indication that this infrastructure maintenance is material to the relevant budgets; has anybody even tried to figure out the marginal cost of maintaining a mile of highway or rural state route? It seems like this conversation arises from fiscal concerns, but the REASON you're not reading about infrastructure maintenance costs anywhere except CC is because it makes more sense to focus on the bigger ticket items in the budget: health care, education, etc.
But the more interesting and contentious part of the discussion, as it has lately evolved, is whether more intangible costs are being incurred by this sprawl: reclamation of abandoned land, insufficient tax income in the center city. Everyone on the podcast was willing to vaguely commit to the importance of the "central city" in regional economic health, but there's no agreement at all about how that should be accomplished (are we going to prohibit any further development of farmland in NEO? are we going to create a regional tax district that supports Cleveland municipal infrastructure? are we going to assess transit surcharges on long-distance commuters?). And in time-honored Cuyahoga County fashion, no agreement means business as usual.
I sympathize with Angie's desire for a regional land-use plan with teeth: something that local governments can't breach, or at least have to persuade a healthy slice of the region's voters to deviate from. That would drive more businesses and developers to land that's already been developed and abandoned, which would in turn take a lot of financial stress off government. And it would drive more residents to housing that's already built (and already on the infrastructure grid) which would give the center city more income tax dollars to work with.
But there is NO WAY that a land use plan stretching across NEO, from Elyria to Youngstown, will ever be drafted and mapped, much less agreed to by the hundreds of governmental bodies affected; it's a large project that would take substantial skilled staff and computer resources, and that sort of thing never gets off the ground in hard economic times. Plus, I can't find any metro region in the US that's ever done that; the one Angie mentioned on air, Minneapolis, just has an advisory council that tracks land use planning, as far as I can tell, not a top-down land-use plan that's legally enforceable.
So the better and more feasible solution, in my view, is economic: to drive more maintenance money to the older parts of the center city through a variety of taxes, fees, and regional assessments. If (for instance) every traffic ticket carried a road-maintenance subsidy, the way every pack of cigarettes carries an arts subsidy, the core city could spend far fewer income-tax and property-tax dollars on resurfacing commuting paths, and significantly increase the quality of their schools and other city services. What say you all?
Imagine if in the 1970s, when metro Cleveland stopped growing, instead of building dozens of new communities, we used that money to fix the problems that were ailing the region: education, poverty, the environment.
Instead of addressing our problems we've been building new communities to escape that. Meanwhile, our social problems have been getting progressively worse.
Want to know what the cost of this is? What did it cost to expand Richfield over the past decade? What did it cost to expand Avon? What have we spent trying to address the market failure we have created in the city? Billions. I mean, it's staggering. You're not going to be able to pinpoint this stuff in the state budget. It's bigger than that.
Ohio has been basically building new cities every decade and throwing the old ones out. That is unsustainable, fiscally. There is absolutely no counterargument, as far as I'm concerned.
It is imperative that we re-direct our redevelopment patterns, and you are right, the departure from regional growth to sprawl is not doing Northeast Ohio any good. However, we need to look at what we have now and figure out how we can make it work to a regional benefit. For example, Richfield does have the characteristics of sprawl, i.e. housing subdivisions and extended infrastructure, but it is also not a typical "exurban" suburb (no big box commercial, has a significant piece of national park land, etc.) and is unique in many ways. It will be important to build on community strengths going forward, cause we are not going to just dismantle highway interchanges and big boxes overnight. I know that is opaque, especially when many of the commercial strips in the burbs are effectively packed with the same retailers and chains, but we have to look hard at assets and make sure that our short and long term investments support, encourage and sustain them.
In particular I am thinking of the area around Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Semi-Rural places Richfield, Bath, Peninsula, Boston Heights and more suburban communities like Hudson, Brecksville, Valley View, Independence). I strongly believe that the national park is one of Ohio's greatest assets and that we need to protect, promote and strengthen it at every opportunity. I also think that the history of these communities is inseparable from the valley and that their future and the park are also inseparable.
But I concede I am biased, I grew up there.
Angie, I'm losing your thread. I'm not trying to dispute your point, that we (collectively) need to spend money revitalizing and maintaining the core city, but instead trying to roundtable some ideas for how to turn that vague policy idea into actual concrete policies that we can take to legislators and budget directors and other policymakers. But you started this thread by arguing that Ohio's state budget is suffering because of this sprawl; in response to my argument that the direct economic impact of infrastructure sprawl on the Ohio budget is small enough (which is not to say zero, by any means) that we should be spending our collective energy arguing over bigger line items in the Ohio budget, like education, etc., you seem to be admitting that sprawl can't be "pinpointed" anywhere in the state budget ... WTF? Is this an issue that impacts the Ohio state budget or not?
George, I am going to try this just one more time. You aren't going to be able to pinpoint this stuff in the budget because it is too big.
The state -- especially in NE Ohio -- basically has too many cities to for its population. Too many school districts, too many highway miles, too many sewer lines, too many local governments. If this were not true, we wouldn't have to tear down entire neighborhoods and schools. We have an oversupply of these things. Can you see how that is a massive fiscal problem?
My argument is that a few hundred thousand or even million from education or healthcare isn't really going to change anything. Ohio will still be headed down the toilet 10 years from now if none of these investments are strategic and sustainable. Right now in NE Ohio we make massive public investments in infrastructure without regard for how that will effect our environment and our national economic competitiveness.
Right now, we're just spreading around too little money to thinly. I don't want to, and I'm not going to debate the finer points of the state budget because it's small potatoes compared to the larger discussion of how we direct resources and what are the costs of that.
There's no need to get insulting, Angie, as if I'm being intentionally obtuse. I'm just trying to understand where to put pressure on the system, to advance the overall goal of slowing sprawl. If you continue to argue that sprawl is the end point of many different and overlapping sociopolitical forces (too easy to incorporate new cities and school districts, lack of regional transportation planning, no "sustainable" urban planning due to political term limits, widespread racist refusal of people with money to "deal with" the city core, etc. etc.) then the issue gets so overwhelming, it's impossible to act on. In order to mobilize an activism campaign, wouldn't it make more sense to focus on one or two points, and advance them to policymakers, instead of spinning our collective wheels in a "larger discussion" that eats lots of bandwidth but doesn't result in any actual change? So far, this thread is not at all culturally useful as a flame war in a blog: lots of contentious conversation, but no concrete suggestions for change, other than "let's all monitor the regional agency that already has 38 board members." If the issue is really so simple that people who don't want to take action are "stupid," then how come nobody can articulate what reforms should be advanced?
As for regional land use planning, George. It is more nuanced than telling certain communities they can't do any development.
In Minneapolis, they have developed a transportation policy that recognizes the impacts of sprawl. They do transit oriented development. They have prioritized transit, backed off highway expansion. They have found many ways to INCENTIVISE the type of development that is healthy for the region. In our region, we incentivise unhealthy development: paving greenfields in Richfield and Avon.
NOACA is basically writing a big fat check to landowners in the sticks using the public purse. If you don't believe me, see how much money the Dolans make off their property by the Avon interchange. That's how we're investing our money as a region, not improving the Cleveland Public Schools.
The answer for Cleveland isn't an urban growth boundary or nothing. Land use planning is a very sophisticated field and there are many tools in the toolbox. NOACA, Cleveland's regional planning agency, hasn't had the kahoonas to employ any of them. NOACA falls into a category with Detroit in taking the absolute laissez faire approach to this stuff. There is a ton of room for improvement. The reason the federal government gave us this money is because they can see that.
I agree with you. But the Commons is supposed to be about translating chatter into activism; what do you suggest as a next step? Starting a petition to NOACA? Raising funds to hire a more anti-sprawl land use planner to point out the decisions that still could be reversed? Taking out an ad in the PD opposing further sprawl?
I think we should be monitoring this regional planning process. Pushing for a land use plan with teeth. The leadership of the project and the leadership at NOACA is important, because there is a changing of the guard going on.
We need progressive people who aren't afraid to challenge the status quo in leadership positions. From this perspective, I love the choice of Hunter Morrison for the Sustainable Communities process. Howard Maier, on the other hand, who runs NOACA, has not been a strong enough leader to address these challenges. (He is retiring this year and the NOACA board will select his replacement. The NOACA board is made up of urban, suburban and exurban politicans.)
NOACA and the exurbs will try to weaken the regional planning process so that nothing changes. As a community, we should insist on real reforms that will help us begin to transition into a healthier more sustainable community. The problem is that NOACA has totally caved toward the special interests at the fringes.
I think NOACA is more reactive than proactive, they are just following the market rather than trying to impact it. In my opinion its either change the way public agencies invest money, which gets caught up in that crazy big vs. small government fight, or try to change the market. If we can make the case that there is money to be made in infill development, we can start to change the sprawl discussion. As for action to get this going, a marketing campaign perhaps? I like the PD idea, but will that effect demand enough to make an impact? Could be a good start, maybe we need to hit more mass media or start a larger campaign. Maybe we should target specific markets. Thoughts?
I feel very strongly that these problems cannot be solved by marketing campaigns. Developers know their business. They are not going to be fooled by some slick graphic design and spin.
They aren't doing infill development because we haven't incentivised it economically. We incentivise the opposite. One way we do that is with free NEW infrastructure. Then we make OLDER communities responsible for infrastructure maintenance.
I wish people would stop saying that the solution to Cleveland's problems is marketing. There is only so much you can do with marketing. That's kind of like putting me up against Rocky in a boxing match. I could drink protein shakes and lift weights, but we are unevenly matched. He has some inherent advantages. In the Cleveland region, those advantages are policy based. They should be adjusted. That's how we change the game.
Perhaps a marketing campaign to change policies then? I wasn't just suggesting we try to sell city homes better, though I think that's how it came across. If we are going to change policies though, we are going to need to campaign and get issues on the ballot. If we wait for politicians we will be waiting a long time. I'm willing to door knock.
A new Brookings study looks at the issue from a different perspective--through the lens of transit agencies and how effective they are at getting people to their jobs. With the spread of population and the movement of jobs to the suburbs and exurbs, that challenge becomes very difficult for systems built around a central core.
I guess it's part of the ripple effects of these demographic shifts and the policies that encourage them.
Thought everyone in this conversation would enjoy this video - it's pretty cool.
Just a resource for those interested - http://www.sprawlrepair.com/
Also, the Helping Johnny Walk to School initiative by the National Trust for Historic Preservation (originally a two part study/series) http://www.preservationnation.org/issues/historic-schools/additional-resources/community_centered_schools.html
As a semi-recent Texan from Cleveland I’d like to think I know a thing or two about sprawl. haha! I’m a planner who works Form-based Smart Codes in a largely Euclidean zoned region (not to mention a pro-property rights state) so I hope I can add some perspective to the many points already made.
The idea of containing growth in a reasonable way is somewhat of a sexy idea, right? It speaks to fiscally responsible infrastructure investments and environmental sensitivity among other fuzzy -feeling concepts. I agree with many of them... but when faced with the difficult choices to make change -whether in municipal regulations or public investments- sprawl becomes the comforting ex-boyfriend/girlfriend after the honeymoon is over with the new anti-sprawl relationship. I see this love-hate relationship on a regular basis with the work I do. The public will say it hates sprawl until push comes to shove and they end up defending it. It’s not a pretty process but it does show that there is a place for both systems to coexist.
This is why it would be completely unrealistic to think a peanut butter application of anti-sprawl mechanisms would be possible. So let’s not assume that the application of one will knock out the other. [There is a really great article, I think by the Congress of New Urbanism, which got to the heart of this matter and one I might post at a later time if I can find it. Either way I highly suggest checking out CNU. Whether you’re a fan of the organization or not, they give considerable effort to exploring where anti-sprawl tactics work and where they don’t. ]
Secondly, I read a lot of really good discussion about specific details (like housing, taxes and policy procedures) which undoubtedly play a role in growth patterns of any community. To me though, these are concerns that are 20 steps ahead of where the conversation should be. Instead the conversation should begin with identifying key organizational relationships and the core strengths of each. Only in THAT discussion will Cleveland be able to match up their “regional wish list” with some tangible structure to begin the tough work ahead. No offense but I will never understand why Cleveland is stuck under the notion that the starting point for regionalism is taxes or housing or whatever other detailed problem it faces. (Of all things suicidally holy! geez!)
There are other options out there. It just depends on how creative we can be with it. For instance what if NOACA and the Consortium joined as one entity? There would be the technical expertise and financial backing that NOACA is known for with the regional representation the Consortium can offer. Plus, each city that wanted to participate could pay a regular fee and would be able to receive any funding filtered through the NOACA-like arm of the organization. Its a lovely mix ensuring a regional comprehensive plan AND that municipalities have a carrot to adjust it’s policies and capital improvements to align with a regional vision. Of course this is just an example. I’m sure there are many more.
And lastly, I won’t get too much into this, but the conversation thus far largely ignores how private investment influences the public choices we make. … I don’t mean the shady kind of influence. I’m talking about regular ol’ market influences. The banking and real estate industries have more standardized measurements influencing their locational decisions than the education system knows what to do with it. So instead of only attacking the public-private mismatch with policy changes, why not figure out how to leverage the existing capital stack (capital, private investment, and the remaining 25-30-ish% that is so hard to finish with loans these days) with public dollars?
But this is a whole other topic and I’ve already written a short story here.
You make good points, and it's true in my experience that theory is much easier than practice, in terms of actually preventing people from developing land they own. I keep coming back to Angie's point, about how the costs of such development are misallocated, and that still resonates with me. If we can find a way to calculate the real long-term costs of low-density infrastructure and push them onto the people that are using them, that'd be fair, to me.
You make very good points. This is not a public sector problem alone. No matter what happens with infrastructure investment (we could spend every penny in our central cities) the dynamic of urban sprawl will never change without the private sector and the public at-large desiring "sustainable" development. High energy prices and dislocation in the real estate market may be catalysts for driving a change in current business model.
Focusing on "how" things are built, rather than "where" they are built, would be a good start. I believe that a large part of the “solution” to the problem of urban sprawl it to inculcate a culture of place-based, human-scale planning in this region. This focuses less on “where” things are built, and more on “how” they are built. My hope is that the Sustainable Communities Consortium (I am vice-chairman) can help the region focus on this. This is likely to be more doable and less divisive than the extreme of a mega-entity charged with overseeing all land use decisions in a 12-county region. However, the “where things are built” component is still important, and I think if we don’t address that issue head-on and at least come to some sort a regional consensus on how we address it, we will have missed an important opportunity.
Danielle, concerning the role of private investment, just look at Columbus. When planning for the Polaris developments began, the city insisted that the area be annexed in order to receive city water and sewer services. I still fail to understand how a city can move beyond the county limits, but they did it. Columbus is now in Franklin and Delaware Counties.
As someone without professional expertise in this area, I have little optimism for the future. The old industrial cities (Cleveland, Akron, Toledo, Youngstown) have little political clout in the state government. I appreciate that you and other contributors here DO have ideas for effecting change. What can folks like me, who "only" live, work, pay taxes, and vote here, do to help move the conversation into the political arena?
George, Angie and Ryan,
This is a great conversation each of you is bringing a different perspective to the conversation. Angie and George you are onto something about simply raising awareness about the issue could lead to the policy change that Angie supports. 1,000 people or 10,000 people make a lot more noise in Columbus then 10 people advocating for policy.
I wonder how we could highlight the costs of sprawl and create a campaign to educate the broad community? Who would be good partners? Transit authorities? Metropolitan Planning Orgs? Community Foundations?
I think the First Suburbs Consortium would be a good partner, if they're willing to make that leap. Maybe the Fund for our Economic Future, but I'm not sure.
Cleveland should have an organization that is focused on this issue in my opinion. Many communities do.
If we would highlight the economic costs of sprawl as they are currently structured to the general public, it would fall on deaf ears, especially from the surburban residents and stakeholders. Currently, the economic costs are largely shared indiscriminately by residents and stakeholders of all locations. A campaign to highlight the costs of suburban living would have more success if the costs were already implemented or in the process of being implemented. Pricing schemes that accurately reflect these costs for suburban and urban dwellers, including the proprosed rate increases from the Cleveland water department,should be more promoted in the meantime.
But people ALREADY choose more expensive suburban and exurban living, because they think it's nicer. Better schools, bigger green spaces, more quiet, etc. So they've already considered the costs and decided to pony up the $$ to live outside the city center. I think this debate is focusing on how to spread the hard costs of those decisions a little more equitably, so that people who take the inexpensive route and live in a place where they don't need a lot of infrastructure (on a commute path or near their workplace) don't have to pay for road maintenance in e.g. Solon. Right?
The problem is, people living in the "expensive suburbs" are getting a bargain because people who live in the inexpensive places built their roads, extended their electric and sewer lines and helped build their schools. They have these things at the expense of everyone else.
Also, the good schools argument is tiring to me. "Good schools" seems like kind of a proxy for racial segregation in a lot of ways. The idea that it's better for kids to grow up in diversity-less, culturally void tax havens is pretty suspect in my opinion. Yet it's almost unquestioningly accepted here.
This conversation is starting to go in circles.
I'd rather not get into whether people living outside the city center are automatically racist, or evading diversity. That would take this thread way off course, even though I think it's an interesting point. But I agree with you that center-city people have paid more than their fair share of infrastructure costs, considering that they go out to the suburban malls once in a blue moon, compared to the way larger numbers of commuting/shopping trips the outlying suburbanites and exurbanites make. I thought we were talking about how to change that pattern, and it sounds like there aren't many ways to do it, other than persuade the people who want to build a brand new home in some low-density community to just not do it. Am I missing something?
As for making the current infrastructure sustainable, it seems like we either have to charge the low-density (read: richer) people more money (either as a lump sum or as an annual assessment) or rip up a bunch of the low-traffic infrastructure. Which is more feasible?
Regional Prosperity Initiative http://www.neo-rpi.org/
Best regional collaboration campaign I'm aware of. Getting support from suburban leaders as well. Change needs to happen within local governments. Bottom line is that the game we play now is a zero sum game, simply transferring wealth around the region.
It would be interesting to have an in depth look at how the expansion of sewer, electric and roads are funded in this state and region, and how sprawl is actually being subsidized; I am also inclined to think that it is coming for a variety of funding sources, for example Avon residents are being taxed directly from the City of Avon for the recent expansion of the development at 83 and I-90 (I believe I read this in the PD, and that many residents are opposed). In my opinion, and I am no fan of current developments in Ohio state government, sprawl cannot be solved by budget policy or even big changes in the Revised Code (except for letting municipalities purchase services from each other). I think we need to look at how both urban and suburban places can coexist and have a more symbiotic relationship, how we can make urban places better places to live and how we can attract new people and energy to established places (and reinvigorate them in so doing). Thoughts?
Also, Ryan, a lot of people don't agree with me, but I'm just not convinced that Cleveland can pull itself up by its bootstraps so to say without real regional investment and cooperation.
Urban farms and fancy restaurants can only do so much. We need way better incentives for brownfields remediation. Remediating and developing a brownfield must become more attractive than developing a greenfield. We need a transportation policy that prioritizes maintenance over building. We need strong incentives that put jobs within reach of low-income residents. We need to fix the school system, by whatever means necessary.
I think you are right about all those things, and especially about there needing to be more of a reason for people to want to be in Cleveland other than restaurants and farms; but I don't know if policy will effect demand or demand will effect policy, and so I guess my take is the best approach to re-centering the region is going to need be multi-dimensional. I would like to think that we can change patterns here despite what is happening in the statehouse, but perhaps that is naive.
I see what you are saying, Ryan and respect your opinion. I definitely think you are partly right. I think the cdcs have done an amazing job with the limited resources they have. But the deck is just so stacked against them.
At first I was kind of excited about the idea of a regional infrastructure bank, but I guess NOACA sort of functions that way.
What I really think we need to do is completely stop expanding our auto-infrastructure. We just don't need more roads in the region and to the extent that we build them we will just get more sprawl. I would like to see us focused more on retrofitting our current infrastructure, restriping roads to include bike lanes and even removing highways.
NOACA would never go for that, but that's essentially what they are doing in Minneapolis, Vancouver, New York, Portland, you know attractive, global cities.
It is hard to be optimistic, I think you are right about investing in existing infrastructure though, there are so many roads that need to be rebuilt there is no good reason not to re-stripe, include sharrows or completely reprogram their primary uses (there is an interesting conversation about that going on for Train Ave right now). I thought your article about the Shoreway was a good point on this subject, and it is kinda emblematic of how things are here: big plans get whittled into vague shadows of themselves. I wonder what it will take for NE Ohio to start making some big steps going forward, that will require us to come together?
So that's the prevailing view among the people in this thread, that building new infrastructure should be prohibited by some governmental entity (presumably the state of Ohio, because local governments are the ones mostly responsible for enabling sprawl), or that new infrastructure is OK so long as the costs are borne by local people (e.g. low-density taxpayers). Or is there some third position that I've missed?
I'm not so much in favor of the State prohibiting new infrastructure, I'm more interested in seeing local governments work together to prioritize infrastructure spending since the money and jurisdiction of the State isn't really there. For example, Cleveland will lose a lot of money in the next budget and is already struggling to repair and rebuild roads, but it is in the interest of many Greater Clevelanders to not drive down pothole ridden streets. So, I think something like an infrastructure bank makes sense in this case, and can be done at a county or regional level, separate from Federal and State funds; we already pay municipal taxes that cover road costs, what if we pool some of these funds for priority projects?
This makes sense, but there's an argument to be made that Greater Cleveland residents already contribute to the center city, by paying income taxes there. I would expect Cleveland to maintain its commuting paths, because they'll lose the commuters' tax dollars if I have too much hassle getting to the office. Does this affect your position at all?
I'd be happy if there was some kind of recognition about the consequences of expanding infrastructure in "shrinking" places. The state's not going to come through but the NE Ohio region should, of course, I don't think they will either.
People in NE Ohio don't recognize how sprawl is hurting them. Meanwhile, our region is falling farther and farther behind.
My feeling is that the best way to address this would be with a campaign directed at NOACA. But I realize I am totally on my own on this.
The thing is, right now, NOACA is functioning like a back room, doling out money based on political posturing. Citizens aren't paying attention. Money is flowing to exurban and suburban areas disproportionately. People's commutes are getting longer. Their taxes are getting higher. But everyone on NOACA's board just tries their best to "bring home the bacon" for their community.
NOACA is supposed to be providing regional planning for a healthy economy. Instead, they cave to special interests: Lorain County, Medina, Solon, etc. People in this region should demand better.
Hey George, I do want to do something about sprawl, but from where I'm sitting, I'm just about the only one in the region talking about this. So I'm not going to get ahead of myself and pretend we're living in a political environment where urban growth boundaries are an eminent possibility.
Here's what I would like to see happen. I would like to see NOACA say, we're done. We're not expanding infrastructure beyond our developed footprint. They are going through a planning process right now where they could decide that. But without some kind of organized political pressure, I cannot imagine they would make this type of decision on their own.
I think NE Ohio need a series of policy reforms. The most immediate one I advocate is that construction costs for new infrastructure in this shrinking region be borne entirely by the developer. But that is just me shouting into the wilderness, let's be honest with ourselves here. I'm just a blogger. I don't have any power. So I write things.
If someone invites me to develop a land use policy for the region, I'd be more than happy to share my insights. But I'm not holding my breath.
In the meantime, we'll just keep pretending like nothing's wrong, if I know NE Ohio.
I think the economic situation is giving you what you want, in large part: very few local governments can afford the tax breaks and financial incentives, including government-funded infrastructure improvements, in this budget climate. But in the long term, I think you're pinning too many hopes on NOACA; they are just advisory, and don't have any power to stop a low-density community from building more infrastructure at its own expense.
NOACA controls millions of dollars in federal infrastructure money. They are our only regional planning body. They have very direct control over the way our region is shaped. More so than any other organization.
People aren't going to drive 25 miles to work on local roads. That's only feasible if there's a limited access highway in their backyards. NOACA builds those. Local governments only build roads that serve local communities, by en large. And to the extent that they can build them, I say fine. Let them use their own tax money for whatever they want. I just don't like them using my tax money to directly devalue my property.
I think the best strategy would be to attend a board meeting. The public is welcome to speak beforehand. Unfortunately, they are during business hours, and that discourages public involvement. That is a bad policy and is not a transparent way to operate a government agency, but that is an aside.
In fact, if a few of us went and expressed our concerns, I think it would make a big impact. I think it would make an even bigger impact if someone from the anti-sprawl camp regularly attended and represented the public on this issue. We could look at, for example, how much money they are spending on city-serving bike, ped and transit projects as opposed to highway projects which promote sprawl. We could look at what percentage of their money flows to outer-ring suburbs and how to bring it back into balance. For example, they never award any money to East Cleveland because East Cleveland really doesn't have the capacity to compete for funds. That furthers inequality in our region.
NOACA is very sensitive to criticism. Their leadership is very weak and caves to exurban interests regularly. If they just knew we were paying attention, I think that would be an improvement.
Sorry to be so long winded. I would like to see NOACA, our regional planning agency, develop a regional plan. And I would like that plan to include a sane and efficient land use and transportation policy. And I would like to see them stick with it. This is how "regional planning agencies" are supposed to operate. That's why the federal government created them. Right now, they operate more like a jobs shop and an unnecessary middle-man, adding no value to federal programs, IMO (and I used to work there).
Supposedly, they are doing that right now, thanks to Obama's Sustainable Communities Planning Grant. I haven't heard a peep about how that process is going from the press. That is unfortunate.
This is a good idea, but the current reality is that MPOs have absolutely no authority over land use planning, land use decisions, or land use policy. We do (and should, I would argue) consider land use issues, because land use decisions can have a marked impact on the transportation system (a new Wal-Mart in, say, Copley Township, being built on a narrow two-lane road); and vice-versa (a new freeway interchange in, say, Avon, which will spur new development).
But an MPO does not develop a comprehensive land use plan for its region, and does not have any authority (such as veto power) over the development decisions of local communities. It is not funded by USDOT or ODOT to perform these functions.
As you know, even local communities do not have much veto power over their own development decisions, because these are private sector decisions, and we have incredibly weak land use regulations in this country in general, and in this state in particular. Any time people start talking about MPOs having more of a say in local land use decisions, people at the local level typically get very nervous. We are conduits for moving federal funds and for prioritizing regional transportation improvements. The further this envelop is pushed, the more pushback we get from USDOT, ODOT, and our own members (local governments). Some MPOs go further than others. I try to go as far as I can.
That's what I argued above; a regional transportation plan needs to have enforcement provisions, and NOACA is just an advisory body. Should we be pushing for a statewide change to let regional bodies have veto power over land use, like school districts were given over local tax abatements?
Theoretically income taxes should cover infrastructure maintenance costs, and other services as well, but I think the problem is that there is an ever decreasing number of City of Cleveland residents, many of which are low income, who cannot support the built systems of the City, which at one time supported up to a million people (now we have under 400,000 in the City). This problem is evident in other municipalities in NE Ohio too (inner ring suburbs like Garfield and Maple Heights, Brooklyn, etc.) and since our population has remained stagnant but continued to spread out, that money is being redirected from maintenance to development, as Angie pointed out. In my opinion it is counter productive to have higher tax rates, where higher incomes can support such rates, paying for better roads in isolated municipalities; that appears to be how it is working now and it is not doing us any good in attracting new people or business. It makes more sense for Greater Cleveland/Akron to invest scarce public funds where they will make the most impact and return the best investment on cost. This is why I think we need to rethink our funding structures here in NE Ohio, rather than waiting for the Statehouse or the Federal Government to fix the problem for us.
This is an interesting point, because there is too little discussion on the macroeconomic effects of urban sprawl, but is it really a budget buster? Roads and sewers are maintained by all levels of government: the feds maintain the interstates and US highways, the state handles the state routes and the big nature reserves, the cities and townships handle their local roads and sewers, etc. At the state level, Kasich's latest transportation budget (March 30) includes only $1.6B for infrastructure maintenance, out of a ~$57B biennial budget. Even if we decided to abandon (or remove, at state expense) state roads that only serve a handful of citizens, would that really make a dent in the $1.6B?
At the municipal level, I get the sense that the outlying communities gladly pay for their infrastructure: part of what entices people to pay higher housing prices (and often taxes) is the separation and seclusion of living in a low-density community. I thought the budget problems in those communities mostly focused on education costs; if there's sentiment that infrastructure costs are too high, it hasn't reached my ears.
Which isn't to say that sprawl shouldn't be analyzed for its cost-efficiency; maybe it would make financial sense for the federal or state governments to abandon roads and sewers that serve low-density areas, shifting those costs over to the local taxpayers.
I've heard differently about Kasich's budget but maybe I was wrong. Regardless, the cost of infrastructure is enormous. You also have to add to that cost, the cost of the government basically bailing out Cleveland and some of the failing inner-ring suburbs. Plus there are enormous social costs that are unpriced, such as poor air quality, time wasted commuting, loss of agricultural land, poor water quality and an increasing gap between the rich and poor.
Ohio cannot afford to keep building new communities every 15 years and throwing the old ones out. I heard ODOT director Jerry Wray speak in Columbus a few months ago and he said at the rate we're going, we won't have the money to maintain the highway system we've got, much less expand.
Furthermore, many communities are delaying maintenance on infrastructure. So even if they're not busting budgets now, they certainly will in the future. What kind of way is that to build a community? It is thoughtless and unsustainable.
The interesting thing is that is not a Cleveland issue or an Ohio issue, its a national issue, except for a few examples nearly every metropolitan area in the United States is sprawling outward whether they are gaining population or losing them. In either case, the fragmentation and duplication of services increases the tax burden of residents and is detrimental to the environment.
The right to own property has driven this country's ambitions since the formation of the Union. Why don't we have a national policy on planning and transportation? Because land is not a scarce resource, even now fuel isn't scarce either. So why plan for the adequate distribution of scarce resources when they aren't scarce in the first place?
I personally support the "re-densification" of America and the greater emphasis on public transportation, but the reality is even if we stopped developing new today, we would have to adapt the auto-dependent communities we have built to support higher densities and accommodate public transportation.
I am not saying it shouldn't be done but it will take a long time to accomplish and the hardest part will be altering the mindsets of citizens.
I posted a link to a news article containing budget numbers, but apparently, I have to comment separately. The $1.6B figure includes new road construction, so it's even more than what road maintenance is costing during the budget period. So I don't know what numbers you heard from the Kasich budget, but the transportation budget has passed and is now law.
I'm sorry, the costs of this just go on an on. Throw in demolition costs in the central city. School busing, because kids can't walk to school. The cost of building new schools in the hinterlands and the cost of tearing them down in the city. It is insane! Add increased obesity rates and the associated costs, cause remember no one can walk anywhere in these unplanned car-centric suburbs like Avon.
All of this is very expensive and contributes to a lower quality of life for all citizens of Northeast, Ohio. Furthermore, because of the off-putting decay in our central city, and because of the associated high regional taxes, people don't want to move here and we're hemorrhaging population -- an expensive undertaking in itself.
Every time someone builds a house in Avon, the rest of the housing in this region loses value very slightly, because we have more houses than we need already. This has been happening for decades so that homeowners in the center have slowly lost all their home equity, contributing to the terrible poverty problem we have here.
Our development patterns are a ponzi scheme. A couple developers and homeowners make a buck, while everyone else in the region picks up the cost. Kasich recognizes that, but he's on the developers' team and so is our local political leadership or they wouldn't be too afraid to bring this up.
I am surprised that maintenance is such a small portion of the budget. I suspect it's actually much greater.
I remember reading a comparison of US and UK road budgets (unfortunately I can't seem to find it). Unsurprisingly, the US has more roads per capita, and spends more money on road construction. Surprisingly, the US spends significantly less per capita on maintenance. If you followed the news of the bridge collapse in MN, it won't shock you that US roads are considered to be poorly maintained.
When a road is constructed or widened to serve a new exurb, it is generally done with federal or state funds. This is a subsidy. Since it is newly constructed, it can avoid major maintenance work, giving the illusion of low cost. After a few decades, when major repairs have to be made, will taxes go up in the sprawl areas? Or will the state or federal government again be expected to pay for it?
Federal funding of sewers is particularly nuts. What better way to ensure that a cost-benefit analysis never enters the equation?
Roads and sewers aren't the only subsidies that these areas receive. There are many: utility companies are often required to provide service at the same rates in cities and exurbs, even though it requires extensive new construction serving a low density of customers. This applies to telcos, electricity, gas, even postal service.
A major hidden subsidy is simply the low cost of gas in the US. Today, gas taxes already fail to cover the costs of the road network. On top of that, there are environmental costs (from the oil spill in the Gulf to climate change to smog) as well as the military costs of maintaining a steady supply.
Large changes in cities have been made to accommodate exurban growth, from demolishing large swaths of them to make room for freeways, instituting parking minimums to make individual property owners subsidize driving, and reshaping streets to favor the auto over the pedestrian. It is at best arguable whether this benefits the city or the suburban commuter.
There is no question in my mind that much of sprawling growth is driven by the grants and tax breaks that can be gotten by the promoters of "growth". Taxes are low because maintenance is easily deferred on the new construction, and there are few legacy costs of public pensions and entrenched special interests. Everyone living there is essentially guaranteed to have the means to purchase a house, keeping out the poor and problematic, meaning low crime and 'good schools' (which are, after all, mostly determined by the lack of problem students). After a few decades, this is no longer the case, and the glow fades. This is already visible in the "inner ring suburbs". When the area has to carry its own weight, it collapses.
I can see a basis for your list of hidden subsidies, but don't they detract from Angie's original point, that this year's Ohio state budget is spending a lot on sprawl? If there were federal funding of new sewer construction, how does that hurt the Ohio budget?
I'm just leery of blaming too much on sprawl; I don't hear anybody arguing that sprawl is harmful enough to be prohibited, just that its costs should be allocated more fairly. So how do we engage the government to distribute those costs differently?
Here is a link to the provocative post Angie referenced above. (It got lost somewhere along the way--our bad, for sure.)
My question: What will it take to make this a part of the conversation in Columbus?
Portland, Oregon instituted an "Urban Growth Boundary" long ago to combat such a dilemma. Cities have forgotten their core while annexing outlying border towns.
I will point out the money spent on most highways comes from Federal, State and County funds and not necessarily from the cities themselves.
I wonder if there is a good understanding from residents - in urban, suburban, or exurban areas - of both the cost and the bearers of cost of sprawl. I seem to hear regular comments about the rights of individual citizens to choose their preferred environment in which to live, but less conversation about specifically how much infrastructure costs to build and to maintain, and how it gets paid for. Similarly, I regularly hear sentiment expressed that those in outlying areas should not have to pay to support urban areas, but are urban areas actually paying to support outlying areas?
For example, how does water supply work in our region? Which villages, towns, cities use what water and sewer lines? If it costs money to maintain these lines, why don't we pay for water based on the distance our home is from the water source? (seriously, I have no idea how this works!)
I think it would be helpful to understand1) costs that rise as a result of sprawl (for example, road maintenance, which presumably has a relationship to the number of miles of highway)2) costs that are unsustainable due to a lack of critical population concentrated in any particular area (schools might fall into this category) and3) how the built environment is paid for (property taxes for the citizens that choose to live there? State/federally funded dollars that come from a pooling of all our taxes? Service fees set but a utility?)
Does such information exist? (and if so, where?)
You bring up a very good point of the citizen RIGHT to live where ever we choose. Which is usually the common argument you here. People don't live in the city because they don't want to live in the city. They prefer the suburban lifestyle of strip malls and housing developments named after the trees or farms they replaced.
There needs to be some sort of education about the costs associated with living in suburban/exurban communities and the interconnectedness of the region. We buy cars now that tells us the miles per gallon, amount of CO2 emitted and number of barrels of oil consumed in a year, so why don't we get similar warnings about the environment impact of our home's location and the true cost borne by the community and the region?
That would be a good question to the community. Do you know where your taxes go?
There was a missing point to the discussion that everyone has a right to live where they want. They certainly do, but taxpayers should be able to count on the cost of those choices being accurately reflected in prices paid. If governments assume costs (or higher shares) for transportation, water or other infrastructure expenses, than taxpayers are subsidizing sprawl and purchasers/developers get a cheaper deal than might be reflected in more accurate prices. This taxpayer subsidy may make a difference. If a subsidy weren't in place, would a potential buyer or land owner make the same choice?
Ditto. I think that argument is basically hogwash. Since when did anyone in NE Ohio tell anyone they couldn't live somewhere? The prevailing attitude is, 'So you would like to live 50 miles from the city in a completely undeveloped pristine environmental setting? How can we help? Build a multi-million dollar highway expansion? Level every forest between here and Astabula? Glad you asked. We'll get right on it.'
The only instance of this I am aware of where people are denied their choice of living spaces is people like me that want to live in healthy, viable cities. As the region continues undermine the city of Cleveland and the inner-ring suburbs, the message to people like me is: 'Sorry, folks try Portland or Seattle.' And many people who are looking for city life do just that. Unfortunately these are the kind of people we need to have a healthy economy.
You make a valid point, the general public is subsidizing the expansion of our region. Our gas tax dollars are used for roads. Our fees to water utilities go towards maintaining the new lines, etc. But communities do have the right and do charge impact fees for the new development. They charge for things including but not limited to infrastructure costs, parkland and the impact of increased students in the schools, but these fees are minimal when taken in context of the long term impact.
The issue lies at the state level, communities are competing with one another for new residents and commercial activity, and yet this competition is actually created by state law. Communities cannot share services or revenue, so it creates an every community for themselves scenario. Instead, if state law was rewritten to encourage regional thinking (i.e. what is good for Cleveland is actually good for Avon), then cities would not need to compete against one another to increase their tax base, because any gain in the region is a gain for their community,
Transportation decisions could and should be brought in line with this type of regional thinking. It makes no sense to be increasing road capacity on the periphery when we have excess capacity in the interior portions of the region.
In a different post, I suggest that homes should have "true cost" measure, kind of like cars do in terms of fuel cost. New homes are based on market value and material cost. No where in that equation is the cost to the community. Should that be a factor in determining the cost of the home perhaps. Economic or market forces would certainly change people's patterns, more than a simple change in policy, which few politicians would even be willing to sign off on. Look at the cost of gas, people drive less. SUV sales plummeted, public transit ridership is up. If gas were still $2 a gallon, would that be true?
I would bet that most of the "subsidies" you're talking about in low-density communities are willingly given by the local government, in hopes that the incoming residents/workers will bring taxes and other economic power to the community. As long as I've been in NEOhio, it's been routine for local governments to use tax breaks, infrastructure improvements, and other financial incentives to attract business. The residents usually object only when money gets tight. So I'm not sure how to enforce the principle you're talking about: if you want to make sure that residents pay the "true cost" of living in a low-density community, you could prohibit local governments from giving incentives, but you'd get a lot of pushback; one of the big reasons we HAVE so many local governments is so that each little municipality can be heavily customized.
People have a right to live wherever they want. My argument is that they don't have a right to have other people pick up the costs for it, especially when the costs are so high.
If you want to live on completely undeveloped land in an area that already has an overabundance of developed land, you personally should be responsible for the costs associated with that. Not the homeowners who will be directly harmed by your decision.
A friend of mine is nearly 80 and has lived in a rural part of Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh. She has a well and so doesn't pay for city water, etc. Suddenly the area she is living is being annexed by the local town and they are doing street improvements and adding a sewer and water line, despite her vote. She has lived there for decades and now suddenly she is facing a huge financial burden.
If someone chooses to live in a suburb and ends up having to pay a fee based on how far away from the source the water and sewer lines are, what happens to those people who were living there before the services came to them? Do we trust that a municipality will be able to keep track of and honor any kind of "grandfather" agreement?
They never should have extended sewer out there anyway. They just do that for developers. You friend should definitely not be forced to pay. The developers should. I don't think people who live in urban areas that are already served by infrastructure should be forced to pick up the tab either.
I write this story for Streetsblog and cross-posted it at my blog Rust Wire. I think it is relevant to the conversation. I'd be interested to hear other people's thoughts.
Angie, I would love to see data on what makes people move further and further away from the urban core. School systems are a frequent answer but there has to be more. For example, do people just not like living close anymore? Is it housing stock? I always wonder how long Beachwood will be able to maintain itself with decidedly 70's style housing. Is it the chicken and the egg? Do people move further out because the road was built to carry them further out? Are people just not working downtown anymore; therefore, commute time is not a problem. I know some people just dislike old houses. Is that a major factor? Is it retail development? As an eastside suburbanite, I "need" to go downtown rarely. It would be good to get data points on people's motivations.
I am thinking this (but not firmly): Maybe the population had chosen to be decentralized. Perhaps, we need to start enacting policies that preference smaller regional hubs rather than the central city. Regional hubs like Independence and Chagrin at 271. These areas are major "cities" unto themselves. Maybe history has just changed. Again, I am an advocating for this position, just thinking about it.
Meisha, our political system rewards people for moving farther away.
Take Avon for example. Apart from its proximity to the lake, everything that makes Avon a desirable place to live is a political construct: Good schools, property taxes, relative economic and racial homogeneity. We have developed a school funding system that arbitrarily favors Avon and punishes Cleveland, that motivates people to move further away. Our system of small, fragmented municipal governance segregates people by race and income. Furthermore, Avon residents are exploiting loopholes in the tax code to lower their tax burden. They benefit from state, federal and regional subsidies for infrastructure but by en large do not help defray the costs of regional concerns like poverty and cultural assets.
Avon residents are acting in their economic best interests when they move away. But it is also difficult for them because they have high transportation costs and little or no cultural amenities. Given the choice, I lot of people have made the decision, based on economics, to move to Avon. But in this system, everyone makes sacrifices and everyone's well being is diminished.
We shouldn't be developing entirely new cities so that people can have lower taxes and better schools. We should be changing our policies so that existing communities have better schools and lower taxes. There would be a lot more money to devote to solving our social problems if we weren't throwing money away on unneeded infrastructure. As long as we continue to waste resources like this, it is hard to see how Cleveland will be competitive with places like Portland and Minneapolis.
What is being ignored is that these people are moving from areas with more government, to areas with less government. Urban sprawl started in 1620 from Plymouth, England, and the motivation hasn't much changed. Look at Cleveland Heights, where the city actually tells residents how many children they may have based on their house.
Can you provide a source to corroborate this statement:
"Look at Cleveland Heights, where the city actually tells residents how many children they may have based on their house. "
Is there a piece of legislation or an official policy pronouncement from the City of Cleveland Heights that actually states what you have asserted?
Just wanted to say that this is one of the most fleshed out conversations on this site I've seen thus far... and I really like how it's been connected with the radio show on this topic, that was pretty informative and interesting to listen to in its own right.