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Levin College Forum: Building Cleveland’s Future Beyond Foreclosure

23 April 2009 3 Comments

Today, Cleveland State University’s Levin College of Urban Affairs kicked off its year-long series on the foreclosure crisis in Cleveland: “Building our Future Beyond Foreclosure: Setting the Stage, Beating the Odds.”

The forum brought together civic and business leaders with more than 100 audience members to brainstorm ways to ensure Cleveland will emerge from the Foreclosure Crisis stronger.

This crisis “certainly presents a challenge, but it also provides an opportunity,” said Kathy Hexter, a CSU faculty member and organizer of the event. “What do we want the census to say about us in 10 years?”

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Graphic artist Mark Pinto attempted to capture the conversation on paper.

A little bit about the problem: There are an estimated 9,000 vacant homes in Cleveland. One in 19 houses in the city has been touched by foreclosure and the problem is radiating outward. In 2008, foreclosures in the suburban areas surpassed those in the city for the first time. In the Cleveland suburbs, one in 43 homes has experienced some stage of foreclosure.

For panel members, the solution was a mix of policy solutions to improve business development, educational outcomes, safety and sustainability in the urban core.

David Beach, Director of the Green City, Blue Lake Institute, said Cleveland’s best chance for a brighter future for was to develop a regional consensus around reinvesting in the urban core.

“What we need to do is change development patterns at the regional scale,” he said. “There are some glimmers of hope. But we’ve got a long way to go.”

The changing nature of the climate and energy supply could tip the balance back toward the city in terms of development, he said.

“The transition to a low-carbon future could be really good for cities,” as people seek walkable neighborhoods, connected to public transportation in the face of rising energy prices, he said.

Lavea Brachman, co-director of Greater Ohio and a Brookings Institution Fellow, said the state policies need to be revised to support Ohio’s urban centers.

“State policies set the stage for where and when development can occur,” she said. “In the past, Ohio’s policies and practices have failed to fully leverage its cores.”

Brachman said some progress has been made, citing some nuisance abatement legislation and the establishment of a land bank for Cuyahoga County. But much work remains to be done on the state level, she said. She suggested a city-county government merger may need further investigation at the state level.

Andrew Jackson, director of the Greater Cleveland Partnership’s Commission on Economic Inclusion, said supporting the return of the neighborhood businesses through public-private partnerships was essential to the city’s future.

“The challenge for us is: How do you create jobs and homes and education for your community when there’s no commerce in your city?” he said.

“I think that we need to start with revitalization of our neighborhoods.”

Robert Jaquay, Associate Director of The George Gund Foundation, said the infrastructure established by the city’s 22 community development corporations should be supported to revitalize neighborhoods.

“We’re going to have to work together and think through collectively to get done at the neighborhood level what we think we can achieve,” he said.

For Wendy Kellogg, a CSU planning professor, the solution is environmental, cleaning up the lake and harnessing the city’s natural resources for economic development. Urban agriculture, biofuels and other green initiatives present exciting opportunities for the city.

Moderator Dan Moulthrop ended the discussion by asking: is it possible the downward demographic trends that are plaguing the city and the region will be reversed by 2020?

Kellogg said she doesn’t think so. “I’d be happy to see that those trends had slowed down,” she said.

“I don’t think it will be reversed, but I do think there will be a change if we keep working.”

Jaquay said the population in the region has been declining since the 1920s. But there was a period of time in the 1980s where targeted efforts led to an increase in housing development in the city.

“Another clarion call that’s well executed” could have a similar result, he said.

Beach’s response was that instead of forecasting, the community should develop a strategic plan for the city of Cleveland and develop a goal.

“The goal should be to repopulate the city of Cleveland,” he said.

The community can advance that goal by electing regionally-minded representatives and adopting personal policies for sustainability

-AS