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Peace, Justice and Tamir Rice

I had to roll my eyes at Plain Dealer Editorial Board’s response to the grand jury’s failure to bring charges against police officers in the Tamir Rice case: “Tamir Rice Protests Must Be Peaceful.”

For starters, the whole premise that powerless people, frustrated with the system to the point of boiling over, would be consulting the editorial board of the Plain Dealer before they act is laughable. The Plain Dealer Editorial Board is a super powerful organization in this town, in my opinion. But come on, there are limits.

It’s not clear exactly who this editorial is addressed to, or if they are just articulating a worry. Which, to be fair, it seems like a legitimate worry (rioting), given what has transpired in this city over the past year or so. (Although overall protests have been peaceful, and even then some 70 people were arrested on trumped up charges and many held for 72 hours, but that is an aside.)

What really bothers me is the whole premise here — this calling for peaceful protests after the state-supported killing of an unarmed boy — misses the point so entirely. This refrain has been extremely common though in Cleveland. We heard the same thing in the Brelo trial (“137 shots case”) just a few months ago.

And of course I don’t want protests to be violent. No one wants that. But the idea that the response to this case must be upstanding, while the events that preceded it so clearly were not, I’m just having a hard time understanding why so many people find that argument to be so seductive. It’s like they’re issuing a reminder: the rules apply to protesters, but not to police officers. And while that, quite frankly, may be true, it is nevertheless a complete load of bullshit.

This whole habit of prematurely condemning protesters for not being peaceful in response to state-sanctioned injustice and violence, in this case against a 12-year-old boy, is exactly the type of double-standard that this whole case is, at its core, about.

The Plain Dealer Editorial Board really ought to understand that justice is a necessary precursor to peace. The whole justice system, in theory anyway, helps safeguard a peaceful society, by providing a fair and impartial check on violence and other anti-social behavior. For example, let’s say someone steals your jewelry in absence of a justice system in which to seek recourse. What options do you have? Well, you can forget about it. Or you can try to seize it back and punish the perpetrator, through violent or coercive means.

In a civil society, however, with a justice system, this matter is resolved without violence. And the party with the most muscle doesn’t necessarily prevail. Nobody responds with baseball bats. Nobody gets killed. The justice system provides a dispassionate intermediary that helps resolve the matter in peaceful terms. It punishes the “bad guy” and protects the “good guy” — at least in theory.

But the justice system isn’t handed down by God, or a dictator, in a democracy like ours. It’s negotiated by willing participants. It is entrusted to decide the matter objectively, and in fairness, and without respect to the status of the individuals involved. And if it does so at least to a large degree, its legitimacy won’t be drawn into question.

Then we have a case like the Tamir Rice case, and the Brelo case, and the countless others around the country. And here we so clearly have this pattern where justice seems to be being applied unevenly. Where some people benefit and some people are harmed, based not on any consistent moral terrain, but based on relatively arbitrary social characteristics of the victims.

The question for the aggrieved parties in this case — black people in Cleveland (and, zooming out, in other cities around the United States) — is why should they follow the rules if the rules don’t apply to other people? How long can people be expected to follow the rules, when it becomes clear that the rules serve to oppress, not protect them? That is the kind of question this case raises.

The Plain Dealer Editorial Board members, in my opinion, are as close an approximation to Cleveland’s patriarchy as practically anyone. It’s disappointing that they don’t recognize that the integrity of our justice system and this question of peace are tied up in each other.

They call for peace, but not for justice, but there can never be one without the other.

–Angie Schmitt

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Why are Rust Belt Cities Shrinking?

This probably sounds like a stupid question, but I’m serious about this. There was a recent round of publicity about a study out of Cleveland State that basically showed *some* growth in young well educated people in central Cleveland, namely downtown.

The authors of the report didn’t come out an say it, but the article seems to sort of imply that this “brain gain” is the precursor to real population growth in Cleveland or at least a “bottoming out” something that has apparently been predicted before.

Here’s the thing though. Cleveland is still losing population. Between 2000 and 2010, it lost 17 percent of its population; almost 1 in five people living in the city just booked it and left.

If we’re going to sort of hypothesize about when Cleveland’s going to grow again, as a couple people do in this Plain Dealer article, we’ve got to understand why people are leaving and I’m not sure we do.

So on one hand we have this study saying younger, well educated people are moving to the city, but not quite enough to stem the decline. So another more numerous group of people are leaving faster than the “brain gainers” are moving in. The question is who are they? Why are they leaving?

That is a question that doesn’t get enough attention, I think.

Now, you are probably shaking your head and saying “duh, everyone knows it’s the schools dummy!” Or “crime!” But those kinds of explanations, while I’m sure they are part of it, i don’t think really explain it. Here’s why: I think the Cleveland schools suck — and they do suck, no argument there — BECAUSE all the middle class people moved away, not the other way around. School district quality — I don’t have the resources to do a study or analysis — but I have a sneaking suspicion are largely a function of the demographics/economics of the district. In other words, the schools in whatever wealthy exclusive suburb aren’t awesome because the district is coincidentally really well managed. Exclusive rich suburbs have schools that are well funded and can afford to hire awesome staff and also and maybe more importantly, they can exclude low income kids who are likely to have academic and personal challenges.

What I’m saying is, if middle class people hadn’t pretty much abandoned Cleveland, the schools would be in way better shape. And crime would be reduced too. Anyway, it’s debatable I guess. But it’s hard to separate cause and effect.

Anyway the reason I took a break from pumping milk out of my breasts (I just had a baby five weeks ago) to write this dumb post is because I wanted to present this theory that I am sort of partial to — the theory of why Cleveland and likewise other rust belt cities and even inner ring suburbs in a lot of cases are shrinking: Filtering!

This is a really nerdy topic, but it’d the favored theory of the few people I trust on demographics in northeast Ohio — Tom Bier of Cleveland State and Jason Segedy of the Akron Metropolitan Planning Study and NEOSCC. What filtering basically means is that people don’t like old houses. People are constantly moving to newer houses and leaving the older houses behind for poorer people.

Tom Bier has been sounding the warning bell (and mostly ignored) for years that this is a crisis for Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County. The growing areas of northeast Ohio — and there’s precious few of them — are the areas where they’re building new housing, namely sprawl developments on farmland.

Anyway, it’s been a few weeks now, but Jason Segedy recently posited that for Akron to grow again, the city needs a plan to build new housing — a good amount of it too.

Now there are all kinds of obstacles to that: clunky regulations and building departments, urban lots that belong to 15 heirs, not to mention — and this is the big one — a completely terrible housing market, where nearly all new housing needs major subsidies just to bridge the gap between purchase price and construction costs. But what if that were the solution? What if we had a clear idea of what the solution way? Do you think filtering is a good explanation?

–Angie Schmitt


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Michigan’s Budding Romance With Modern Passenger Rail

If you have ever ridden an intercity passenger train or a local streetcar, a commuter train, light rail system, or even a subway, you may have noticed the intoxicating feeling generated from riding the rails – the simple pleasure of watching the world pass by as you roll across or under the landscape. Perhaps this feeling is strongest when traveling on an intercity passenger train, but it is there nevertheless. Recently, my wife and I rode the rails across Canada, from Windsor to Toronto to Winnipeg to Edmonton to Vancouver. The glory days of railroading may not be as they once were, but it is clear that all forms of rail travel are a vital cog in any successful multi-modal transportation network. It also had an unexpected effect, in that rail travel invites human interaction unlike any other form of transportation.

During this trip, each of our intercity trains was filled to capacity. In addition, we saw a handsome new railway station in Windsor, and witnessed multitudes of Canadians riding GO Transit commuter trains and historic streetcars in metropolitan Toronto. We observed and rode the rapidly growing SkyTrain network in metropolitan Vancouver. On our return trip, we saw heavy use of Sound Transit’s commuter rail lines in Seattle and rode it’s CityLink Light Rail system between downtown and Sea-Tac International Airport. Sadly, the only place of any size where we didn’t see passenger rail being used to its fullest potential was upon our return to Michigan.

That does not mean passenger rail transportation is not playing a role here. All three AMTRAK routes in our state (Bluewater, Pere Marquette, and Wolverine) have strong and supportive ridership; we are thankfully participating in high-speed improvements to the Chicago-Detroit corridor; the M-1 Light Rail project is under construction along Woodward Avenue in Detroit; and the People Mover system continues to ply its elevated route around downtown Detroit. Other passenger rail routes being discussed include intercity services linking Detroit, Lansing, and Grand Rapids; extending service to Traverse City, commuter service between Ann Arbor, Detroit Metro Airport, and downtown Detroit; and commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Howell. But, to really make a difference, Michigan needs to stop talking and start acting, by applying additional planning efforts and funding sources towards all modes of passenger rail transportation. In Seattle, Toronto, and Vancouver, their professional sports stadiums were constructed abutting the commuter and intercity rail network. In addition, all three have rail links to their airports. Such foresighted transportation planning helps reduce traffic congestion on area road networks, reduces air pollution, and reduces overall dependency on automobiles, while it also increases the lifespan of the road system and interconnectivity between transport modes. Here in Michigan, we are so reliant on the automobile, that it is often our only option. Given Detroit’s moniker as “the Motor City,” that may seem like a logical conclusion, but

why can’t “motors” include those for locomotives too?

Beyond the transportation benefits of a multi-modal system that incorporates various forms of passenger rail, there is another advantage that became very clear during this trip – opportunity for human interaction. This certainly cannot happen when we drive solo, cocooned in our cars, and is a limited option for a small group of people in carpool and vanpool situations. However, when riding the rails, particularly for middle to longer distances, one has the chance to interact with their fellow passengers on a regular basis. With each and every trip there is the potential of meeting new people. Even as an avid bike commuter, I will admit that opportunities for conversations beyond brief greetings are limited, though it does happen more often than with cars. Meanwhile, during our Canadian cross-country trip, at every meal we were seated with different pairs of passengers. This gave us a perfect opportunity to meet our fellow travelers from all over the world, including other parts of the United States, Canada, India, Australia, England, Sudan, etc. Furthermore, in all forms of passenger rail, one has the opportunity to get up and move around from place to place which generates the potential to meet and connect with new people. In other words, passenger rail can be a social gathering place.

Will Michigan’s current romance with intercity passenger rail be a lasting relationship or will we revert to our old lonesome ways the next time gas prices drop or fuel efficiency improves? That’s the big question. But, one has hopeful optimism when they observe what’s taking place north of the border and in other cities around our country. For it’s not just Seattle where the romance with the rails has fully blossomed, but in many other American cities where you would have never imagined it 10-20-30 years ago. Burgeoning cities in the south and west like Denver, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Dallas, Sacramento, San Jose, Houston, Miami, Charlotte, Honolulu, and others have hopped on the train phenomenon. For Michigan to be/remain truly competitive, it must allow our budding romance with modern passenger rail transportation to fully flower. Otherwise, our state risks becoming sidetracked onto an abandoned spur as the world rolls past.

So, come on Michigan, in the immortal words of the O’Jays, let’s climb aboard the “Love Train” and thunder our way towards a more promising future.

– Rick Brown


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Ohio House Budget Slashes Measly Transit Budget

This post was written by Tim Kovach and originally appeared on his personal blog.

Yesterday, the Ohio House passed its version of the state’s biennial budget, HB 64. The proposed budget, which is the largest in state history (by far), appropriates $131.6 billion in total spending for fiscal years 2016 viagra versus cialis and 2017. This includes $71.5 billion in General Revenue Fund (GRF) appropriations. The bill now goes to the Ohio Senate, which, based on reports from The Plain Dealer, will pay it no mind and develop a budget of its own. The next two-plus months should be…interesting.

Rep. Marty Sweeney was one of three Cleveland Dems that backed the provision shortchanging transit.

HB 64 sets aside more than $700 million less than Governor John Kasich had requested in his budget proposal, which he released in February. Yet, according to Plunderbund, the GRF spending is still 43% more than the final budget passed under Governor Ted Strickland. Moreover, HB 64 far exceeds the cap on increased GRF spending set in place by the Republican-controlled stated legislature in 2006. As Plunderbund explains, while the State Appropriation Limit law dictates the state cannot increase GRF appropriations by more than 3.5% in any given year, this budget blows that (stupid) limit out of the water. Under HB 64, GRF spending would spike by 11.3% in FY 2016 and 4.7% in FY 2017.

Last month, I noted that the Governor’s budget increased GRF spending on public transit by $1 million per year, to $8.3 million annually for FY 2016-2017 from $7.3 million in FY 2014-2015. (According to Ohio Legislative Service Commission (LSC), the state actually spent $10,134,611 during FY 2014.) As I argued at the time,

This proposal represents the first year-over-year increase in state transit spending since 1998. Given that the state has reduced GRF spending on transit by an astonishing 83.5% since its peak in the year 2000, even this modest increase is kind of a big deal. While $1 million is a drop in the bucket in the big picture – it doesn’t even take the state back to 2011 funding levels – it may signal that Ohio is at least slowing the rate at which it has slashed transit spending. I mean, even a $1 increase would be notable in this environment.

Well, it looks like even this modest enthusiasm was misplaced. HB 64 does away with this additional funding, locking in GRF spending on transit at $7.3 million for the next two years. Whereas transit accounted for a pitiful 0.035% of the GRF in FY 2014, this number will decrease to just 0.02% and 0.02% in FY 2016 and FY 2017, respectively.

Let’s express that in per capita terms, shall we? Based on projections from state’s Development Services Agency, Ohio’s population will reach 11,549,120 this year. That should grow to roughly 11,554,270 and 11,559,420 in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Accordingly, the state will spend a whopping $0.63 per person on transit each year.

Clearly, Ohio does not prioritize public transit. To show how little our legislators care about this issue, I have collected a few other budget line items from the Ohio House’s budget, for comparison’s sake:

  • Ohio Grape Industries (spending to promote the state’s wineries): $970,000 per year for FY 2016-2017
  • Art acquisitions for public properties: $225,000 per year
  • Choose Life how much is viagra (state issued license plates to discourage abortions): $75,000 per year
  • Ohio State Racing Commission (“dedicated to the protection, preservation, and promotion of horse racing and its related industry components”): $31,535,000 million per year
  • Ohio State Fair Harness Racing: $235,000 per year
  • Coal Research and Development Program (a program to “development and implementation of technologies that can use Ohio’s vast reserves of coal in an economical, environmentally sound manner” LOL): $234,400 per year
  • Coal Research & Development General Obligation Bond Debt Service: $5,991,400 in FY 2016, $5,038,700 in FY 2017
  • Ohio-Israel Agricultural Initiative (a program to “improve agricultural trade and R&D ties between Ohio and Israel”): $200,000 per year
  • State printing costs: $21,568,075 in FY 2016, $21,688,106 in FY 2017

This is just a small selection of the things that Ohio lawmakers would rather fund than public transit.

We already know, for instance, that ODOT spends more money to mow the grass alongside Ohio’s highways than it does on transit. We’ll also apparently spend nearly $1.2 million to find “a less costly and easier way to cut the grass and manage the trees and shrubs along the state’s interstates and highways.” Oh, and did I mention that the state has set aside more than $200,000 for legal fees to uphold our ban on same sex marriage? But $1 million more for transit is unthinkable.

Sadly, I can’t cheap viagra online even say that this budget passed strictly alongside party lines. That’s because, while 5 Republican representatives jumped shipped and voted against the bill, 3 Democrats actually voted in favor of it. All three of these legislators – John Barnes, Bill Patmon, and Martin Sweeney – hail from Cleveland, where nearly one-quarter of households lack access to a car.

One day, maybe we’ll break the car-centric fever raging through the Statehouse. Until then, we’ll just have to muddle through in a state that has no problem spending $429 million on a freeway bypass for a county that’s home to 25,000 people, but cannot find another dime for the nearly 250,000 people who ride transit each day (PDF) in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus.


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The Cleveland Clinic Just Doesn't Get it

Disappointing but not entirely surprising news from the Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland’s largest employer recently announced that it is closing Lakewood Hospital, in the cozy inner ring suburb, as it expands operations in sprawling Avon. This seems to be fitting with the nonprofit’s model of building a new hospital at every interchange opened in the sprawling hinterlands while winding down its hospital locations in the more populous areas of the region. All these hospitals, despite being entirely inaccessible outside of a private vehicle, are LEED certified for their “green” building practices.

The Cleveland Clinic doesn’t seem to value being part of a connected, urban community a whole lot, although to its credit, it did sponsor the Healhline, Cleveland’s award winning BRT.

The latest news from the Clinic is that it will spend $36 million to construct a 3,000-space parking garage on the southwest edge of its campus. The structure is about what you would expect. Not much of a boon for the neighborhood for the steep pricetag, not much of an advance for healthcare either. The Plain Dealer notes that this garage will be fed by the new $331 million “Opportunity Corridor” highway that will direct commuters from the south and western suburbs to campus.

I wish the Cleveland Clinic was embracing sustainable transportation and trying to make its campus and attractive, livable place. But that doesn’t seem to be the hospital’s M.O. at all. My architect friends jokingly call the Cleveland Clinic campus “Little Dubai.” The campus basically consists of a bunch of monolithic institutional buildings with a lot of dead space in between. It’s not really a community. It’s not really walkable. It’s not really an inviting or fun place to be.

I mean, it’s a hospital, so on one hand it’s sort of understandable. On the other hand, it just doesn’t have to be that way. It could be so great. Just east of the Clinic, a private developer, working with some institutional partners built a really phenomenal transit oriented development called Uptown. The development is mixed-use retail, with very little parking. It’s nestled in between Case Western University and Little Itality and it’s quickly becoming one of the coolest most attractive parts of the city.

The Cleveland Clinic campus could be like that, or at the very least more like that. But it needs to have less parking garages and more reasons to make people linger — heck even want to live nearby. It needs sidewalk-facing restaurants. There’s got to be some Cleveland

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Clinic employees who would prefer not to eat all their meals in a hospital cafeteria.

Here are some alternatives the Cleveland Clinic could have tried before building a $36 million parking garage. These are part of a strategy called “transportation demand

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management” that can save both employees and institutions like the Cleveland Clinic money. Because guess what? Parking is very expensive. Garaged parking spaces run up to $30k a piece or higher. There are cheaper and healthier options that would help keep healthcare costs low, offer employees valuable alternatives and improve the area around the Clinic:

  • Offer employees free bus passes/refund bus pass expenses for patients. For the price of a $36 million parking garage, the Cleveland Clinic could have purchased free bus passes at full price for 40,000 employees for a year. (The Cleveland Clinic only has 35,000 employees worldwide.) CAVEAT: I don’t expect that every employee would take transit to the Cleveland Clinic, but offering that as an incentive would encourage SOME employees to take transit instead of driving. For every employee the Cleveland Clinic could convert from a daily driver to transit commuter, it could save at least $12,000 in up front parking costs immediately. Why isn’t the Clinic more motivated to do this? I can only guess lack of imagination or some sort of fatalism/bad attitude about transit and the people that ride it on the part of institutional leadership. That is unfortunate.
  • Offer employees cash incentives to carpool. It could be as little as free parking passes. Again, this wouldn’t work for everyone, but for every employee that could be encouraged to buddy up, $12,000 savings for the Clinic — i.e. healthcare consumers.
  • Offer employees flexibility in parking passes. It is my understanding that the Cleveland Clinic does not allow its employees to purchase part-time parking passes. This is a problem because folks who might be an occasional bike or transit commuters are essentially penalized, or discouraged from doing so, because they must pay the full monthly parking rate. The Clinic should change this immediately.
  • Cash incentives to not drive to campus. Some institutions that run transportation demand management programs have found that offering commuters as little as $90 a year not to commute by car can have a surprising effect on solo car commuting.
  • Another thing the Cleveland could do is get more involved with incentivizing living near work for its employees. I know the Clinic has tried this in the past and it hasn’t been super successful. But it should not give up. Urban areas are becoming increasingly attractive across the county as household sizes become smaller and attitudes about urban living evolve. Probably many of their employees who are recruited from cities like Philadelphia and Chicago and Seattle where urban living is attractive. Their recruitment would benefit if they could offer high-quality living near work. Imagine if each of the Cleveland Clinic’s enormous parking garages were just one-third apartment housing how much more alive and active the campus would feel. The problem is, people won’t move to be closer to the hospital if living near the hospital offers no real advantage over living far away. And right now the Clinic’s transportation policies make driving in from far away as easy as possible and living close to the campus not that pleasant.

All of these alternatives would be cheaper than the way the Cleveland Clinic is doing it right now. And they would all promote something the Cleveland Clinic claims to be very committed to: promoting healthy lifestyles among its workers. It’s failing to do that if it doesn’t encourage its employees to bike and walk to work and to use low-emissions forms of transportation that lower asthma and obesity rates. It’s also negatively impacting the communities around it, which hurts the hospital as well.

-Angie Schmitt



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Cleveland's Police's Telling Response to Tamir Rice and the DOJ Report

So this is the statement Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams issued in response to a scathing Department of Justice report finding the department is “reckless,” “poorly trained” and “frequently deprives people of their constitutional rights.” I’ll spare you the gory details of this report, if you want more info check this out, but in a nutshell the two-year investigation found that officers, among other things, have been pistol whipping suspects and firing guns in a manner that threatens innocent bystanders.

Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams

In light of all, Chief Williams prerogative is to remind the pubic that “the majority of” their “officers do great police work.” I want to say, for the record, I have absolutely no doubt that that is true. It is also, entirely beside the point.

Let’s say Calvin Williams was the owner of a restaurant. Let’s say a bunch of people ate food from this restaurant and got very sick and that the health department came and wrote a report and found there were “systemic” problems with the restaurant’s policies and employees that led to the problem. Let’s say the report also uncovered other problems — labor violations, vermin in the kitchen, etc. What if restaurant owner Calvin Williams response was, “I want to remind everyone that we served a lot of meals that didn’t make people sick.” Of course that would be true, but when you’re in a position of authority, you don’t get to be congratulated for things working as they should — especially in light of shocking evidence that in some important instances they are not.

This should really be obvious to anyone in a management role, but a few bad apples can spoil the bunch. If a few Cleveland Police Officers are out there pistol whipping people in the face like they think they are Scarface or something, that is naturally going to overshadow the good work being done by the majority. That’s why it’s Chief Williams’ job to make sure that kind of thing doesn’t happen. And he completely and utterly failed at it. Now he is not accepting responsibility the way a real leader should.

This kind of response from all throughout the ranks of Cleveland leadership is almost more disturbing to me than the findings in DOJ report itself, and definitely helps explain how things could have gotten so out of hand.

Additionally, this insistence from police that because their job is risky and difficult, unprofessional, unethical and dangerous conduct should be excused is just not logically defensible. Because police are entrusted with a great deal of authority and latitude, they are under even more obligation than other kinds of workers to behave ethically and professionally at all times.

When you are in charge of an organization that screws up this badly, and the evidence of the screw up is so completely devastating, there is really only one acceptable way to respond: Chief Williams should apologize to the people of Cleveland and admit that he and other leaders have failed in their primary duty of ensuring quality throughout the department’s ranks.

Among those of us who are outraged by what has been uncovered, I think there are very few of us that doubt there are upstanding and hardworking officers throughout the ranks of the Cleveland Police. It’s unfortunate, but it’s axiomatic to employees within any organization, that their reputation is tarnished when others among their ranks behave unprofessionally and unethically.

It’s men like Chief Williams and other superior officers that have let the hardworking and trustworthy officers within CPD’s ranks down, by permitting disgraceful behavior by other officers wearing the same badge. The responsibility for the department’s tarnished image belongs with them, not misperceptions of the public or the media.

–Angie Schmitt


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Confronting Urban Population Decline

Can I interest you in buying an entire block? West Village, Detroit

The fact that many American cities are experiencing significant population decline is old news.  This trend has been occurring since 1950, particularly in the older cities that were once part of the “Great American Manufacturing Belt” that stretched across the northern tier of the country from New England to just west of the Mississippi River.

What is not old news, however, is that many of these same cities are now experiencing serious problems with vacant and abandoned properties.

These problems are relatively new in many places, and unlike population loss per se, the loss of taxpaying households poses an existential threat to the fiscal healthof these cities.

Not only are these cities continuing to lose residents at an alarming rate, but they are now also losing households.  This means that they are losing housing units, which, in turn, means that they are losing much of their built environment.

Residential properties sit vacant and abandoned, as do the commercial properties that used to serve them.  The public infrastructure (streets, utilities, etc.) which used to knit these properties together into cohesive neighborhoods remains, but is increasingly underutilized.

While the infrastructure might be underutilized, it still needs to be maintained.  Schools, safety forces, public utilities, and sanitation services all need to be supported at levels that don’t shrink proportionately with the population.

In the future, residents will be paying a lot more in taxes for a lot less in services,unless a way is found to grow the population (and the tax base) again.

But why is widespread vacancy and a glut of abandoned property a relatively recent phenomenon, while population loss is not?

In order to understand this, we need to know a bit more about how urban population decline actually works.


Vacant lots that once contained houses, York St., Akron

Understanding the Problem

This piece by Alex Ihnen on population change in St. Louis is one of the best posts that I’ve ever read on understanding urban population decline.

St. Louis is an excellent case study, for it has experienced the single largest percentage population decline of any major American city – shrinking 63% from its 1950 peak of 857,000 to its current population of 319,000.

In his piece, Ihnen argues that if policy is to be directed at growing the city’s population, we must understand more about the history of population decline, which factors led to the downturn, and think about what an increasing population would look like today.

The most important point that Ihnen makes is that a significant level of urban population decline experienced since the 1950s was inevitable (i.e. attributable to widespread demographic changes).  Chief among these is the rapid decline in average household size in the United States.

Think about what was going on around 1960.  Take an older, industrial city, like Cleveland, Detroit, or St. Louis, that is “built out” – that is, nearly all of the residential property in the city is built at the maximum development density that it is zoned for, and the city has very little, if any, available land upon which to build new housing.

At the same time you have several extremely consequential demographic trends occurring all at the same time:

  • Rising divorce rates
  • Rising age of first marriage
  • Rising life expectancy
  • Declining birth rates

These trends all began to emerge in the late 1950s, took deep root in the late 1960s, and continued virtually unabated up through the late-1990s.

So, set aside any preconceptions you have about the disadvantages of city living versus suburban living.

Forget, for a minute, the usual suspects in urban decline, such as “white flight”, larger suburban houses and yards, highway construction, increasing automobile usage, crime, declining schools, etc.

Focus instead on the profound social trends which occurred between 1960 and 1990.  Those involving:

  • Marriage (divorce and delayed marriage, resulting in more singles)
  • Health care (increased longevity, resulting in more widows and widowers)
  • Reproduction (the development of “The Pill” in 1960, and legalized abortion in 1973, resulting in less children).

The end result of these trends?  A much smaller average household size.

So, if these older cities were unable to build more housing units, they were going to shrink to a significant degree, regardless of the crime rate, or school quality, or “white flight”, or any of the other common explanations for urban population loss.

Remember that none of the aforementioned social trends happened in isolation.  They all happened simultaneously.

It is truly an astounding convergence of demographic trends.  From a historical perspective, it is a change in household structure the likes of which our nation has never seen.

Think about it – more single older adults (divorce); more single younger adults (delayed marriage); more widows and widowers (rising life expectancy); less children (declining birth rates).

Every single one of these trends implies that, all things being equal, the average household will be much smaller.

And that’s exactly what happened.  Imagine a city with 900,000 inhabitants and 300,000 households – for an average of three people per household.

Now, imagine that same city, decades later, with 600,000 inhabitants and 300,000 households – for an average of two people per household.

The implications are astounding.   This city could theoretically lose one-third of its population without even one additional vacant house or apartment, simply by dropping from an average household size of three to two.

Indeed, this is precisely what happened in older cities like St. Louis, which dropped from a population of 857,000 in 1950 to 319,000 in 2010.

While not all of this population loss was attributable to a decline in average household size, much of it was.  St. Louis’s average household size dropped from 3.1 people per household in 1950 to 2.2 people in 2010.

In fact, Ihnen estimates that decreasing average household size accounted for 46% of the city’s observed population loss between 1950 and 2010 – a far from inconsequential number.

Similar social trends were also occurring in suburban areas, but one mitigating factor was that these areas were being settled disproportionately by families with children.

Suburban areas also had lots of room to build new housing, while the core cities did not.  In a developing suburban area, it did not matter if your average household size shrank a bit between 1950 and 2010.  If you added an additional 10,000 housing units in that same time period, your community was going to grow – a lot.

The role of shrinking household size in urban population loss may be the most under-reported story about urban decline of the entire 20th century.

Yes, the interstate highway system, “white flight”, the desire for larger homes and larger yards, concerns about crime (real or perceived), etc. were all very important factors in why older cities shrank, and why suburban areas grew.  They still are.

But one of the most important factors (and certainly the most overlooked) was the simple fact that households everywhere were getting smaller, and population was only going to be able to grow in places where you could add households.

Unsurprisingly, these places were primarily new, suburban areas, outside of the central cities.

This fact should give urban advocates, city leaders, and urban residents some degree of comfort, for it demonstrates that a fair amount of urban population loss in the decades immediately following the 1950s was not really anyone’s “fault”.  Your city could have done everything right, but, given a static amount of housing, you were going to shrink.

Urban population decline in the 20th Century, was, in many ways, an unavoidable demographic reality that could only have been mitigated by rezoning and building at even higher densities – a housing trend that would have been running exactly counter to the prevailing market wisdom at the time.

And yet…this explanation only takes us so far.

The explanatory power of average household size weakens substantially after the 1990s, when the demographic trends governing it began to stabilize, and as urban housing continued to “age-out”.


Vacant house, Van Dyke St., Detroit

Housing Supply and Demand in the 21st Century

It was not really until the 21st Century that we began hearing about, reading about, and witnessing first-hand an ever-expanding problem with vacant and abandoned properties in many older urban areas.

Prior to the 1990s, most older cities were shrinking without an appreciable or especially noticeable impact upon the built-environment – particularly in residential areas.

Commercial structures are another story, as many were abandoned beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, being as they are more sensitive to fluctuations in total population and household purchasing power.

Alarmingly, as the 21st Century dawned, many older cities began shrinking, not primarily as a result of national demographic trends (household size) or lifestyle preferences (suburban development), but simply due to the fact that many of them were losing their supply of marketable housing.

In short, the houses and apartments in these cities were getting old – too old to be marketable, in most cases, and not nearly enough was being done (or perhaps, could have been done) to replace them.

In some cities, this might have been due to an overall lack of demand, but it is hard to say that it was due to lack of demand for urban living, as such.

All we really know for sure is that there was a lack of demand for most of the product currently on the urban housing market – namely older houses with high front-end renovation costs, significant ongoing maintenance and upkeep costs, and many obsolete features – not enough closets, not enough electrical outlets, small kitchens and bathrooms, no garage, etc.

What we don’t know is whether or not newer, more modern homes might have been marketable had they been built, because in most older cities, they never werebuilt, so there is no way to test the hypothesis.

Maybe the demand wasn’t really there.

Maybe it was.

Maybe the perceived lack of demand was a self-fulfilling prophecy confirmed by a lack of marketable product.

In many places it was likely a combination of both a lack of supply and a lack of demand – how much it was of each, largely depends on the city, or even the neighborhood.

So it would appear that, all things being equal, there is a correlation between the amount of older housing that a city has and the degree of population loss that it has experienced.

In other words, cities with the highest percentage of old houses and apartments are likely to be the ones that are losing the most residents.

Or perhaps it is the other way around?

I decided to test this theory by obtaining data on housing age in every U.S. city that contains over 25,000 housing units.

Governing magazine wrote a fascinating piece on this recently that contained a treasure trove of interesting data.  I used these data in my analysis.

My working definition of “old housing” is housing units that were built prior to 1960.

1960 is a good demarcation for separating new housing from old.  Houses built before 1960 are over 50 years old, which is the point in a house’s life-cycle where ongoing maintenance costs begin to become quite significant.

1960 is also the year when housing and neighborhood design began to change significantly.

Prior to 1960, most houses were still built in a traditional, walkable neighborhood pattern, on a grid, with street lights and sidewalks, and access to public transportation; located in reasonable proximity to commercial and retail development.

After 1960, most neighborhoods were no longer built to conform to this pattern.

So what did I find?

In the United States today, there are 620 cities that contain at least 25,000 housing units.

Of these, 140 can be considered “older cities” with at least 50% of their housing stock built before 1960.

The vast majority of these older cities are located in the Northeast, the Great Lakes, and on the West Coast.  Very few of them are located in the South or the Intermountain West.

The 10 Fastest Shrinking Cities in the U.S.

1. St. Louis, MO (63% decline, 77% built pre-1960)
2. Detroit, MI (61% decline, 81% built pre-1960)
3. Youngstown, OH (61% decline, 77% built pre-1960)
4. Cleveland, OH (57% decline, 79% built pre-1960)
5. Gary, IN (55% decline, 63% built pre-1960)
6. Buffalo, NY (55% decline, 84% built pre-1960)
7. Pittsburgh, PA (55% decline, 75% built pre-1960)
8. Niagara Falls, NY (51% decline, 84% built pre-1960)
9. Flint, MI (48% decline, 70% built pre-1960)
10. Scranton, PA (47% decline, 76% built pre-1960)

I found a strong correlation (0.533) between the age of the housing (% of total units built prior to 1960) and the percentage of population lost since the city’s peak.

This finding is not particularly shocking, and to be sure, the correlation likely runs both ways.

That is, cities with a lot of old housing are often shrinking cities, because the old housing is not as marketable.

Conversely, shrinking cities often have a lot of old housing, because they are losing population and therefore don’t have lot of demand for new housing.

Regardless of the overall strength or direction of the correlation, this fact remains:

In the 21st Century, given today’s demographic trends, it is near-mathematically impossible for shrinking cities to ever grow again, without building new housing.

These cities have an over-supply of housing that people do not want, and an under-supply of housing that people do want.

Much of the older housing is blighted, vacant, or abandoned, and it is being torn down at a much faster rate than new housing is being built.

These cities will continue to lose population unless they figure out how to do more than simply tear houses down.  They need to learn how to rebuild their neighborhoods from the ground up.

It all boils down to simple arithmetic: less occupied housing units + less people per household = less households, and less people.

No matter how great these cities are, no matter how many casinos or stadiums they build, no matter how safe they are, no matter how low their taxes are, no matter how much else they “do right”, they will inexorably continue to lose population if they don’t learn how to build lots of marketable new housing – and at a much faster rate than they are tearing houses down.

Why is new housing the only way to go?

The only possible means for a shrinking city to grow again are:

1) increase average household size

2) rehabilitate/renovate existing housing

3) build new housing.

Option #1 is not going to happen anywhere in the United States (with the possible exception of places attracting high levels of immigration).  It flies in the face of a fifty-year long demographic trend – that of shrinking American household size, described earlier in this post.

Option #2 is possible, but in most cities it is exceedingly difficult.

Rehabilitating and renovating old houses and buildings is a costly proposition and is only feasible on a large scale in places where:  1) the overall demand for urban housing is high and the supply is low; and 2) the quality of the older housing is such that it is still marketable.

This strategy can work in places like New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Boston, where both sufficient demand exists, and where there is a large stock of under-utilized high-quality construction (much of it built prior to 1920) with historic character and value.

Where this strategy is not likely to work is in the classic shrinking cities of the Rust Belt – places like Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis, where overall demand is much lower, and where there is a large excess stock of vacant low-quality housing (much of built hastily, and rather poorly, between 1920 and 1960 for industrial workers).

Much of this housing, especially in smaller, working-class cities like Flint, Gary, and Youngstown is functionally-obsolete.  As much as our hearts may wish it to see preserved, our heads (and pocketbooks) will carry the day.

It is simply not worth saving.  There is far too much of it, there is far too little demand for it, and (the final nail in the coffin) so much of it has been vacant for so long that it is in wretched condition.

So that leaves us with Option #3.  Build brand-new housing.

Is this a major challenge?  You bet.

Building new housing in cities is often more expensive than building new housing in undeveloped areas (due to land acquisition, environmental mitigation, and demolition costs).

In many cities (again, frequently the fastest shrinking ones in the Rust Belt) building new housing is an uncertain market proposition.

In most of these markets, it has not been attempted on a large scale, and many developers are understandably reluctant to invest in rebuilding large-swaths of inner city neighborhoods, for fear that they will lose their shirts if sufficient demand does not materialize.

But what is the alternative?

A vicious-cycle of further decline, more blight, higher taxes, and more disinvestment.


Rolling with the punches: Kercheval-Parker Park, Detroit

Why Bother?

If they do not embark upon an innovative, cross-sector, comprehensive effort to build new housing, shrinking Rust Belt cities will face an existential social and economic crisis that will be far more costly (in both human and monetary terms) than the status quo.

I’ve written about this previously:

Regardless of what some advocates of regionalism might say, city boundaries are not arbitrary and meaningless.  Although some may claim that shrinking cities are no big deal as long as the metropolitan region overall is growing, central cities will continue to profoundly matter, especially to the people (often disproportionately poor) that remain.

Municipal boundaries are not irrelevant, whatever the regionalists may tell you. Economies may be regional, but in most of the nation’s fastest declining cities, government is not.  Municipal boundaries affect taxation, land use policy, public safety, education, public infrastructure, and the delivery of social services.

When a city’s population declines precipitously, the proportional demand for the public services that it provides shrinks less than its population, with the end result that its residents end up paying more in taxes, for less in services.  Even if this were not the case, it is expensive and (politically speaking) exceedingly difficult to scale-back and shrink long-term capital investments in public infrastructure – as “shrinking cities” like Detroit and Youngstown have discovered.

What goes on within a given city’s actual municipal boundaries has incredibly important ramifications for its tax base; its employment base; the performance of its schools; the distribution of everyday amenities like grocery stores, shops, and restaurants; the delivery of public services; and less tangible, but equally important things like its sense of place and its sense of itself.  As cities are abandoned, decline, and become hollowed out, access to social and economic opportunities diminishes along with the population:  the jobs disappear, the doctor’s offices disappear, the grocery stores disappear – relocated, often, to a distant and increasingly inaccessible locale.  To pretend as though the economic and social well being of city residents is not directly impacted by population decline is to turn a blind eye to reality itself.

Brent Larkin of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, makes similar, extremely compelling points:

Cleveland may be about half as big, population-wise, as it was in 1970, but in inflation-adjusted dollars the cost of running the city is about the same…

Although Cleveland spends five times more in actual dollars today to serve a city with twice the population in 1970, Councilman Michael Polensek said city services are the worst since he took office in 1978.

“In all my years of public office, I’ve never experienced such a breakdown in the level of city services,” said Polensek. “Quality of life services – street repair, grass cutting, waste collection, caring for abandoned property, police protection – have never been this bad. And that includes when we were in default.”

Although the city has far fewer residents, it must pay to maintain an infrastructure built to support a million residents.

Yet, you hear precious little about the need to build new housing in most shrinking cities. There is certainly no comprehensive strategy, in most places, to actually doit.

Instead, we hear a lot about stadiums, casinos, convention centers, and hotels.

We hear a lot about these cities as places to play – but precious little about these cities as places to live.

I have even heard public officials remark on more than one occasion that residential development is a net liability, because residential development costs the city more in services than it generates in terms of tax revenue.

Taken to its logical conclusion, this means that the most profitable city would be one with no people living in it.

It’s sheer lunacy.  Talk about “destroying the village in order to save it.”

Furthermore, as Brent Larkin points out in the aforementioned column, shrinking cities are already paying to provide these services – what is missing are the people and the necessary tax base to pay for them.

Far too many cities in the Rust Belt have fatalistically resigned themselves to population loss.

It is a terrible long-term strategy.

James Howard Kunstler says it well:

Detroit is so far gone, the argument goes, that the only conceivable use for all that abandoned real estate is to re-ruralize it. This speaks to our lack of confidence in architecture and urbanism per se, and leads to the current default remedy whenever our cities fail: tear things down in favor of green space.

Such thinking is the result of architecture’s decades-long inability to provide buildings worthy of our affection; municipal planners’ design ignorance and extreme reliance on traffic engineers; the environmental movement’s focus on wilderness, wildlife, and disdain for human activities; and, of course, suburbia itself, which prompts most of us to despise any human imprint on the landscape.

Yes, figuring out how to build new housing and re-populate our shrinking urban centers will be difficult.

But we have to try.

What is our alternative?

This is not just about bricks and mortar infrastructure, or civic pride.  It’s about people.

As ruinously as the built environment and urban landscape in our cities has fared, many of their remaining residents have fared even worse.

The poor are increasingly isolated from social and economic opportunities, as metropolitan regions continue to sort themselves geographically by race, class, and socioeconomic status.

As our core cities continue to be abandoned, the poor, the working class, and many minorities are left behind in the places with shrinking tax and resource bases, while the wealthy continue to concentrate themselves in places that are increasingly homogeneous, with greater access to social and economic opportunities.

That doesn’t sound like “The American Dream” to me.

Rust Belt cities are presently on the hook to dig deeper into their already decimated tax bases, and foot the bill, alone, to deal with the blight and disinvestment.

They are in a no-win situation:  ignore the problem, and watch the blight and disinvestment spread even farther, or spend money that they don’t have, raise taxes, and drive more residents and businesses away, in order to try to keep things from getting worse.

What we have on our hands is a vicious-cycle of decline, and disinvestment, and more decline.

What we need to create is a virtuous-cycle of investment, and renewal, and more investment.

In the Rust Belt, growing your city’s population is not about chasing a number, or “keeping up with the Joneses”.

Increasingly, it is going to be about survival.

Today’s political and economic reality is that no one from the federal government, the state, or the rest of the metropolitan region is going to step in and save these cities.

They are going to have to figure out how to do it themselves.


Renovated houses along Parker St., Detroit

Worrisome Trends in Akron

In every culture, you have a “creation myth” – a story you tell yourself (that may or may not be entirely true) about where you have been, where you are, and where you are going.

In Akron (the city that I live in, and love) our “creation myth” goes like this:

We were a world-renowned city, the global center of the rubber and tire industry, for roughly the first three-quarters of the 20th Century; we struggled mightily in the 1970s and 1980s; we began a comeback in the 1990s; and we have been on an upward trajectory ever since, outpacing most of our Rust Belt peers (minus the road bump of the 2008 recession).

There is a lot of truth to this myth, but like any unifying narrative, it glosses over some details that might get in the way.

Like our continued population loss, and our corresponding failure to figure out how to renew our community as a place to live.

To be clear:

We did weather the storm of the collapse of our primary industry far better than most Rust Belt cities did.

We have an amazing stock of high quality, older housing on the city’s west side that is likely to sustain it for years to come.

We are the least racially-segregated major city in Ohio, and one of the least-segregated older industrial cities in the entire U.S.

We have consistently economically outperformed every major city in Ohio (except Columbus), and have held our own compared to our Rust Belt peers nationwide.

We enjoy political and economic leadership that is the envy of most cities, and that has served us extraordinarily well throughout the aftermath of the collapse of the rubber and tire industry.

But much of what I discussed earlier about population decline in St. Louis applies directly to Akron.

With a current-day population of 199,000, we have now lost 91,000 people since we reached our peak population of 290,000 in 1960 (a 31% decline).

After losing only 6,000 residents in the 1990s, we lost 17,000 in the 2000s.

In 2010, we shrunk to below 200,000 for the first time since 1910.

So, since the beginning of the 21st Century, our population loss has actually accelerated, rather than decelerated – by a factor of three.

That’s concerning.

Even more worrisome is the fact that, since 2000, we have seen a significant decline in the number of households – for the first time since 1960.

Most of our shrinkage through 2000 was due to the changes in household size that I described at the beginning of this post.  These changes were still concerning, but they were not out of step with what was going on in most other older cities.

Almost unbelievably, between 1960 and 2000, we had the same number of households, despite the fact that we lost 73,000 people.

It’s really quite remarkable.

But since 2000, we have been losing people and households.

This is extremely concerning, because it is the loss of households that has directly contributed to our growing vacant and abandoned property problem and the erosion of our tax base.

Here are Akron’s numbers by decade.  They are dramatic:

Year       Population         Households        Avg. HH Size

1960          290,351                  90,004                    3.23

1970          275,425                  91,592                    3.01

1980          237,177                  90,576                    2.62

1990          223,019                  90,119                    2.47

2000          217,074                  90,143                    2.41

2010          199,110                  83,718                    2.38

So despite losing 73,000 residents, the number of households in Akron was consistent for 40 years.

But since 2000, we lost another 17,000 people and over 6,000 households.

Even worse, this unprecedented loss of households came at a time when average household size was starting to level off.  If we had been able to keep the same amount of households, we could have retained a lot of the people that we lost during this past decade.

In fact, if we had retained the same number of households, we would have lost less than 3,000 people in the last decade.

But we didn’t.

Maybe we couldn’t have retained these households.

Maybe we didn’t have the available housing to do it.


Brand new houses along Hickory St., Akron

Moving Forward

The 21st Century represents a true demographic turning point for our city.  Our loss of not just population, but now households, too, is a direct result of our using up all of the viable, marketable housing that we had, and our tearing down more housing than we have been able to rebuild.

Simply put – we are now at the place where we are physically unable to grow, because we are experiencing a net loss of housing – year after year, as it gets older and older.

On average, we tear down 500 houses every year in this city. On average, we build 10.

New residents can move to Akron, of course, but they will simply be replacing someone who already lives here.

We are playing “musical chairs” with our housing stock – one person replaces another, and every once in a while, another chair is taken away.

It is a very disturbing trend.

It is also a very underreported trend.  I had never seen this information until I pulled it from the census for this blog post.  I’m not sure that anyone else even knows this.

So what should we do?

We have to learn how to build new housing in this city – a lot of new housing.  And we have to learn how to market it well.

Rehabilitating old houses (where practical) will certainly help us, but my guess is that, even in a best case scenario, we will tear down five houses for every one that is renovated.

The houses that we have left are simply getting too old and obsolete.  The best ones, in the best neighborhoods, are already occupied and are being cared for.

I think Downtown’s future is as a mixed-use residential center, rather than as an office center.  This trend is already happening in many cities.  It is happening on a significant scale in Cleveland, as more and more office space is vacated and retrofitted as residential space.  We should intentionally support that same thing here.

We have lots of undeveloped and underutilized land in this city that could be re-purposed as new densely-developed, mixed-use urban neighborhoods.  Especially if we got creative.

Rolling Acres Mall, for example, could be redeveloped as a huge, new residential neighborhood.  I’ve heard talk of reusing it as an industrial park, but I’ve never heard anyone mention the possibility of redeveloping it as an actual neighborhood.

We should think about it.

We have schools that are shutting down.  The former Perkins Middle School, for example, could be redeveloped as a cluster of new homes in an already quite attractive and convenient residential neighborhood.

We have a lot of underutilized parks in this city.  Grace Park, for example, has been a crummy park for over 60 years.  My grandfather, a former APD Captain used to tell me about how he would bust drug dealers and prostitutes there, even back in the 1950s.

Grace Park could probably be shrunk down to 1/3 of its current size, with the other 2/3 of the existing park redeveloped as a new, densely-developed, mixed-use urban neighborhood.

The remaining 1/3 of the existing park could be preserved, re-sized, and with new adjacent residential properties, might actually see some use.

It’s an extremely attractive site – located immediately adjacent to Downtown Akron, the University of Akron, and Summa Akron City Hospital.

Some of these ideas are probably infeasible.  They might even be kooky.

There would be lots of legal, administrative, and marketing hurdles involved in transforming an infamous Dead Mall like Rolling Acres into a vibrant urban neighborhood.

Grace Park was bequeathed to the City of Akron by Simon Perkins (Akron’s founder) himself, and God only knows what kinds of legal and administrative hurdles would be involved in violating that near-sacred covenant.

But even if these ideas prove to be crazy, there have to be other creative and innovative ideas out there for rebuilding our city.

Not enough people are publicly thinking about this, or proposing audacious ideas about how to grow again.

But this is the kind of thinking that actually repopulates your city.

As important as they are, a stray infill house here and there (like the ones pictured above) is simply not going to get the job done.

The oldest neighborhoods, like West Hill, or University Park, that are closest to the core of the city may eventually begin to redevelop as attractive residential areas, as Highland Square has begun to.

But, at the same time, many of the older, formerly stable working-class neighborhoods like Kenmore, North Hill, and Goodyear Heights will begin to “age-out”, as their housing becomes increasingly obsolete and difficult to maintain. Ellet and Firestone Park may not be that far behind.

Much of West Akron will continue to age gracefully and is likely to remain a stable, attractive area for years to come, but we can’t rely on it forever.

We are likely to experience a lot of ups-and-downs in terms of neighborhood revitalization and decline over the next several decades.

We will probably need half-a-dozen (or more) different redevelopment strategies for our neighborhoods, depending on which neighborhood we are talking about.

We will need to learn how to bring the public sector, the private sector (specifically developers, home builders, and realtors), non-profits, and residents together in order to strategically, intentionally, and creatively rebuild each one of our neighborhoods.

It will be challenging, but we can do it – working together.

As a community, we need to adopt some bold and audacious goals involving population growth and residential redevelopment.

I, for one, would like to see us grow back to a population of 250,000 before I die.

In the meantime, we could start with a more modest goal of growing our population back above 200,000. Given current trends, it is not going to be as easy as it sounds.

If we could get one in five homebuyers in Summit County to end up purchasing a house in Akron (who would not have otherwise) we could get back above 200,000 – provided that we are building enough new housing that we are not simply playing musical chairs with the existing housing.

Attracting one in five prospective homebuyers in Summit County to Akron is doable, and that includes families with children.

To those who would offer knee-jerk arguments that prospective homebuyers would never send their kids to the Akron Public Schools, or be willing to pay for private schools, it is important to point out that, today, less than 30% of American households are even composed of families with children.

I would also argue that social problems like poor public school performance are every bit as much an effect of urban population decline as they are a cause of it.

Rebuilding the middle class in Akron would do far more to restore the performance of the Akron Public Schools than additional funding or an imaginary set of better teachers would.

If we can learn how to build new housing, and attract new residents to Akron, we could begin to mitigate our abandoned and vacant property problem; begin to restore our tax base; and begin to create new markets for entrepreneurship and small-business development in our neighborhoods.

It would create new opportunities, new jobs, and provide more people with a wonderful place to live.

It would also leave plenty of residential growth to go around for the remainder of Summit County.  After all, the City of Akron still accounts for 37% of the county’s population, so attracting 20% of the new homebuyers is far from an unreasonable or an inequitable goal.

Restoring the residential housing market in Akron would also be good for taxpayers throughout Summit County.  As property values decline in the urban core, it is suburban homeowners who end up having to make up the difference.

I think that Akron has the human capital, and the innovative and collaborative culture to figure out how to do this.

But we have to get intentional about it.  It’s not going to happen on its own.

–By Jason Segedy. Originally published at his blog Notes from the Underground.


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