What Would a Real Urban Policy Look Like for Ohio?

Ohio’s cities are in bad shape. A recent economic distress study placed three of the state’s cities, Cleveland, Toledo and Cincinnati in the top 10 most distressed in the nation, using indicators like job growth, unemployment and educational attainment as the criteria. Cleveland, for its part, topped Detroit, for the number one spot.

A new study this week found that in the Cleveland region, along with Toledo, are in the top 10 nationally on concentrated poverty. In response, Democratic Party Chair David Pepper posted the following Tweet:

Ohio needs an urban agenda, reversing five years of raiding city budgets https://t.co/etJWq0DWfW

— David Pepper (@DavidPepper) March 31, 2016

I gotta say, I don’t know how serious he was about that, or whether it was just an opportunity to slam Kasich, but the idea of Ohio having a real urban agenda is something that excites me a lot. It’s hard to believe, urban leaders haven’t coalesced around some sort of urban platform in the past. All of its major cities except Columbus have been in some state of decline for decades. But in the past when I’ve inquired about this, I’ve come up empty. Ohio lawmakers spend so much time squabbling about abortion, they haven’t had time to come up with a comprehensive strategy to help Ohio’s cities from sliding further and further into the “most miserable” rankings de jour.

I think we should try to hold Pepper and at least our urban Democrat electeds to it.

I’m going to tick off some of my quick choices for best state policy improvements:

  • A fix-it-first policy for ODOT. Stop widening highways to save suburban commuters a few seconds and let’s fix what we’ve already built. While we’re at it, some real transit investment would be nice. It’d also be great if ODOT could figure out how to build roads in cities that won’t undermine the whole development potential and safety of the area.
  • Eliminate tax subsidies for companies that sprawl from cities to suburbs. This creates no actual value and undermines access to opportunity for vulnerable groups. Prioritize incentives for transit-accessible development.
  • Enable regional land use planning, so shrinking metros like Cleveland especially can try to get a handle on sprawl. This will save money on unnecessary infrastructure and also demolition.
  • Boost funding for brownfield remediation.
  • Preservation and potentially expansion of historic and low-income tax credits.

What do you think a real urban strategy for the state of Ohio would look like? Do me a favor and Tweet them at David Pepper, or your elected rep!

–Angie Schmitt

10 Comments

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10 responses to “What Would a Real Urban Policy Look Like for Ohio?

  1. Mark Smith

    My thoughts on this subject:
    1-Eliminate city income taxes. This is a major reason I no longer live in Canton. Increase the state income tax by 1 or 2 %, and distribute it to cities – townships – counties on a per capita basis. All the money Cleveland, Toledo, etc. spend collecting income taxes can be diverted to something more productive.
    2-Quit spending so much money on sports stadiums. Cleveland and Cuyahoga County insist that spending millions on the Indians, Browns, and Cavaliers is some sort of brilliant investment. If this was true, than why does Cleveland remain economically distressed?
    3-Regionalize the urban county governments. Cuyahoga County has 50+ municipalities, 50+ mayors, and over 250 council persons. And police chiefs. And fire chiefs. And safety directors. There is no logical reason for Linndale, Oakwood, or Woodmere to exist. No reason why Parma Heights couldn’t merge with Parma. The balkanized model essentially eliminates any chance of addressing an issue or solving a problem.
    4-Regionalize the transit systems. Create something similar to Washington Metro or San Francisco BART between Cleveland, Akron, and Canton. At the very minimum, there needs to be a direct rail link connecting Canton – Akron – and Cleveland. Ohio spends far too much money on freeways, which only create more economic problems.

    • Angie Schmitt

      Thanks! Very thoughtful and provocative!

    • Eric

      Eliminating city income taxes is a great idea. In my opinion it’s one of the reasons for the balkanization and why cities are relucant to merge (that and corruption is easier to get away with in this model.) City income taxes are part of the reason John D Rockfeller left Cleveland if I recall correctly from Titan, and why Cleveland benefited so little from his philanthropy later in life.

    • Earl J.

      What really surprises me is how little attention one of our most successful metropolitan government structures by far has gotten elsewhere here in the US–New York City, a.k.a. “The Five Boroughs,” which are really five counties (e.g. New York, Kings, Queens, Bronx, and Richmond) that have been consolidated together into a single municipality.

      As far-fetched as it seems in the current political climate, a mass-consolidation of NE Ohio municipalities within Cuyahoga, Lake, Lorain, Geauga, Summit, Portage, Medina, Ashtabula, Wayne and Stark counties, as well as the counties themselves into a single “Cleveland” metro government modeled after NYC’s would probably be the best thing that could ever happen to the region on so many fronts, but for urban policy in particular. NYC in its present form was created as an act of the New York State Legislature, so I imagine something similar could be accomplished here in Ohio through our legislature, in theory. Of course, New York is a far more progressive state even in its backwards rural areas compared to Ohio in some of its more liberal zones. Something very extraordinary would have to happen here where the state government maintains a very antagonistic attitude towards its cities to make such a vision a reality. Still, there’s no reason that we can’t work for change.

  2. Great list, Angie. Most of those points tie into what is really the core issue: that systems in Ohio basically encourage people to move into new suburban development and then abandon it as bills come due, and repeat the process over and over.

    I suppose the one thing I would add is measures to make sure that curtailing sprawl would not mean that housing costs begin inflating. Given the conditions in downtown Cleveland it seems to take remarkably little to start producing a bubble area where an influx of money just bids up prices within the bubble, rather than spreading outward, even if there is plentiful inexpensive property all around.

    I would love to see us pioneer an urban policy to promote broad reinvestment, instead of small islands.

  3. Pingback: Statewide Urban Agenda | Green Lake Blue City

  4. Max

    I think a cool idea would be the state setting up 5 or so regional governments, similar to the Metropolitan Council in Twin Cities. Cities would remain independent for schools (a third rail in any discussion) but police, fire, and more importantly, development, planning, and transportation could be organized across a larger region. This would save on overhead and make sure there is reinvestment in the core while better connecting the suburbs. Also it would stop the race to the bottom with incentives for businesses to move. You could even create just 5 large counties instead of the 88 that currently exists. In Arizona Maricopa County is about the same size of all of Northeast Ohio and its 18 counties and is home to around the same number of people, so it is doable.

    Even small things, such as the state of Ohio pushing for more cities to use form based zoning to add density and walkability but help revitalize development in older neighborhoods.

    And the craziest idea of all; adding tolling on 71, 77, 70, and 75 outside of “urban areas.” This would add a true cost for using these roads and make them assets instead of liabilities. To sweeten the deal you could say 50% of all tolls collected would help the communities outside of the urban boundaries. I know this is DOA with how powerful the trucking industry is to Ohio, but why not dream.

  5. Benjamin Recchie

    How about a greenfield tax? You’d be free to convert vacant or agricultural land to new development, but you’d have to pay a tax for doing so. The revenues raised could in turn a brownfield rebate program, rewarding reuse or redevelopment of existing sites. This would slow urban sprawl, promote reinvestment in existing areas, and (no small consideration) preserve Ohio’s farmland.

  6. Great list Angie – unfortunately lawmakers waste their time with issues that do NOT matter most of the time.

  7. Christopher Grossman

    I am not an expert in the pros and cons of it as I’ve only come to learn of it, but from what I’ve read a value capture tax, in which land is taxed at a much higher rate than its improvements, seems intriguing. Anyone care to share cons for such a tax scheme?

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