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Milwaukee's Effort to Build a New Industry Around Clean Water

The three lake sturgeon in Discovery World’s “touch tank” aren’t given official names, but that hasn’t kept at least one employee in this newish Milwaukee educational center from christening them female superhero names like Tank Girl and She-Ra. As a Michigan native, I’d heard of Sturgeon before, but I wasn’t prepared to fall for them the way I did when I put my hand in the tank.

Sturgeon are big – in the wild, they’ve been known to reach up to seven feet long. And they’re unlike any other fish I’d seen. Their rough skin is scale-less and their spine is bony like dinosaurs you’ve seen pictured in kids’ books. In fact, sturgeon have been around for at least 200 million years. It’s a mind-blowing story of survival.

Tank Girl and She-Ra swam right up to my still hand, rubbing against it as they passed over and over, like a cat might. Perhaps they were just hoping for food or were bored from swimming endless laps in their tank, but the woman overseeing the aquarium that afternoon likes to muse on the possibility that they get some pleasure from being touched.

Photo: Riveredge Nature Center

Photo: Riveredge Nature Center

Sturgeon have been around since the Cretaceous, but it took no time for humans to decimate their populations in the Milwaukee River by the early 1900s. Now, thanks to nearly a decade of stocking efforts by Riveredge Nature Center and Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, the fish is coming back. “Sturgeon Fest” draws Milwaukeeans to the mouth of the river to release hundreds of tagged fish into Lake Michigan every autumn. It’ll be several years before they’re able to spawn on their own, but the whole region is pulling for them.

The sturgeon’s fragile comeback mirrors the city’s own. More than any other Great Lakes city, Milwaukee is prioritizing the value of the water in its midst. Could it base its economy on the protection of a resource rather than its exploitation? Its first forays into this concept point to “yes”.

Near the site of Sturgeon Fest is the University of Wisconsin’s brand new School of Freshwater Sciences building. I had a chance to visit the school in early October with the members of Rachel’s Network who were holding a conference on – what else? – water. The women of Rachel’s Network hail from around the country, but all share a passion for (and ability to) fund impactful environmental projects.

A tug pushing coal in front of UWM's new School of Freshwater Sciences building

A tug pushing coal in front of UWM’s new School of Freshwater Sciences building

We travelled to the school along the Inner Harbor, aboard the UWM research vessel Neeskay. Decades of industrial misuse were on display. The school itself is sandwiched between gigantic storage tanks filed with foul-smelling asphalt on one side and a huge pile of coal bound for the city’s power station on the other.

The choice to site the school here is a testament to Milwaukee and UWM’s faith in the future. When professors and students look out their wide classroom windows on the second floor of the school, they don’t see the hundreds of acres of brownfields and unsightly heavy industry: they see the potential for a new economy built on social and ecological sustainability. Efforts are now underway to redevelop the Inner Harbor in this vision.

The amount of collaboration that happens in this city is enviable. Urban farming pioneer Will Allen collaborates with UWM on aquaponics. The Water Council, a collection of innovative water companies, counts the Metro Milwaukee Sewarage District among its members. Small businesses like Lakefront Brewery work with environmental nonprofits and Discovery World to advocate for clean water. Milwaukee’s new water economy is a remarkably cohesive effort.

Lakefront Brewery President Russ Klisch appeared on the front page of the Journal Sentinel the day after we toured his brewery.

Lakefront Brewery President Russ Klisch appeared on the front page of the Journal Sentinel the day after we toured his brewery.

Meghan Jensen of the Water Council, Ann Brummitt of Milwaukee Water Commons, Karen Sands of Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, and Lynde Uihlein. Milwaukee's water community is very collaborative.

Meghan Jensen of the Water Council, Ann Brummitt of Milwaukee Water Commons, Karen Sands of Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, and Lynde Uihlein. Milwaukee’s water community is very collaborative.

All this work could be undermined, of course, by forces like federal and state politics and climate change that are beyond the city’s control. Water rights advocate Maude Barlow gave Rachel’s Network a sobering picture of extreme energy development and transportation that’s ramping up around the Great Lakes, from bitumen (tarsands) shipments on lake freighters to growing capacity on pipelines like one Enbridge line that runs the length of Wisconsin and the aging Line 5 that carries oil and gas right under the Straits of Mackinac.

The coal-fired Edgewater Generating Station mars an otherwise beautiful Lake Michigan coastline in Sheboygan.

The coal-fired Edgewater Generating Station mars an otherwise beautiful Lake Michigan coastline in Sheboygan.

Environmental engineer David Flowers talks about the natural sewage system he designed at Riveredge. Wetlands and underground cisterns treat water coming from the facilities.

An interactive model of the Great Lakes at Discovery World.

An interactive model of the Great Lakes at Discovery World.

Great Lakes residents take water abundance for granted. But this abundance is far from guaranteed in the future, says Jenny Kehl, UWM’s Chair of the School of Freshwater Sciences. Many regions of the country are already experiencing serious water scarcity and the Great Lakes will become an obvious place to make up the difference. The system’s recharge rate is only 1 percent. Harvest anything more than that, and (heaven forbid) you might have an Aral Sea on your hands.

Some of the best days of my life have been spent along and on these restorative inland seas. I’ve climbed dunes in Saugatuk at sunset and fished with my dad on Lake Huron. I’ve wandered the shore with my inquisitive nieces and nephew, searching for stones and feathers and fish skeletons. To think this is all at risk is a terrifying proposition.

Although we arrived in Milwaukee after Sturgeon Fest concluded, Riveredge Nature Center allowed me to “adopt” one of their released sturgeon. Should the fish tagged with #985120030644058 be found and scanned somewhere, I’ll receive notification. I’m hoping like hell that fish comes back to spawn someday, and that when it does, Milwaukee’s fledgling water ethic will have caught on around the Great Lakes.

By Erica Flock and originally published at Negwegon.


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King James Returns to a Battered Kingdom

Inside of a short but salutary week, Northeast Ohio received a seemingly huge boost. Cleveland was chosen to host the 2016 Republican National Convention, and Lebron James announced he would be returning “home” to once again play with the Cavaliers.

The James’ announcement very quickly lit up newswires across the country, and Lebron’s gleaming visage graced the covers of sports pages everywhere. The vitriol and vindictiveness of four years ago melted away. Rabid fans arrived at James’ Bath Township home, shirtless and roaring the name of the “King.” The White House even weighed in, with President Obama referring to Lebron as a “fine young man.”

James does seem to be much more thoughtful than most athletes of his age, but one wonders what he makes of this outpouring. America has of course long been beholden to the superstar athlete of the moment and to the world of professional sports in general. My generation was weaned on the omnipresent face of “Air Jordan,” and countless children aspired to be “like Mike.” We give lip service to the fireman, the teacher and the small business owner, but athletes are our gods come down from on high.

Northeast Ohio, however, is very vulnerable to clinging to whatever good news comes its way, especially when it comes in the shape of an athlete.

For well over half of a century, this region has been pummeled by the vagaries of capital and by the uncaring God of Globalism. Entire ways of life and entire communities vanished as the stature of Cleveland, Youngstown, Akron and Canton collapsed. Ever since, citizens, jobs and capital have fled the rotting city cores— headed for first for the suburbs and then for somewhere, anywhere, far from this corner of Ohio.

While columnists are tallying up the victories of this past week, our cities, neighborhoods and futures remain imperiled. The truth is simple: Northeast Ohio is on the ropes.

If one glances at a map of the region from 1970, and then one from the 21st century, a startling picture emerges. The once rural areas between Cleveland and Akron, and Akron and Canton, are mostly gone. An ugly, sprawling virus of suburban sprawl now completely disfigures once coherent urban cores.

In “Measuring Sprawl 2014,” a recent report issued by Smart Growth America, our region fared particularly poorly. Out of 221 metros, Cleveland, Youngstown and Akron ranked 153rd, 175th, and 111th, respectively.

At the same time, Cuyahoga, Summit, Stark and Mahoning County all lost population between 2000 and 2010. In the past forty years, Northeast Ohio as a whole has lost almost ten percent of its population.

Once bucolic suburbs that lured upwardly mobile residents are now being deserted for even more sparsely populated exurbs further out. And more and more communities are aging and shrinking, while still having to maintain increasingly decrepit infrastructure.

The good news is downtown Cleveland is filling up—and that even the once bustling central business districts in Canton, Akron and Youngstown are coming alive again. However, the twin horsemen of sprawl and abandonment rampaging throughout the region have more than canceled that out.

In Cleveland, housing prices have collapsed in an unimaginably staggering way. Home sale prices dropped over 60 percent between the years 2006 to 2013 in Cleveland and over 80 percent in East Cleveland during the same time period.

Abandoned housing is now a problem everywhere. The Plain Dealer has called the spread of vacant properties a “persistent drag on Greater Cleveland’s economy”. But worse than that, the explosion in abandoned properties is now imperiling the entire region.

The Northeast Sustainable Communities Consortium estimates 18 houses PER DAY will go abandoned in the region for at least the next quarter century. This trend will more than likely put Northeast Ohio out of business as an economically competitive area. King James is returning to a shrinking kingdom, no longer sure of itself or its place in a rapidly changing era. The constant movement of people out of the center cities and the inner-ring suburbs to the periphery—or out of the region entirely—is placing us at a prime disadvantage. It’s also becoming clear that the Millennials are once again choosing to urbanize. Northeastern Ohio’s cities—trapped in areas that have rapidly decentralized—will be ill equipped to compete for that demographic.

Recently, my father returned here to Northeast Ohio to visit. A visit from my dad is always a wonderful occasion, but it’s also an occasion to hear about what was. Many of his haunts and the places he once knew are gone—with only vacant lots or a decaying building serving as solemn reminders of their passing. Will I someday be leading my own son on a sentimental journey through a landscape of loss?

At this moment, we don’t need to be reminded of the greatness of Lebron James. We need to be reminded that this was once a great region—built by men and women who accepted that they had a social responsibility to preserve their cities and communities. While we’ve indeed been victims of ill-conceived economic and urban policies originating outside of the area, it’s clear that we are also the authors of much of our own misery. When we bemoan the state of our professional sports teams—while ignoring the state of our communities—we invite disaster. Northeast Ohio must prove again that is a serious region filled with capable people. If we do not, nothing will be save us—not even King James.

–By Sean Posey


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Canton: The Once and Future City

Photo: Jon Dawson

To me, Canton, Ohio, is a place that drips memories. I can see and feel them come at me in great waves as I drive down Cleveland Avenue to the still-beating heart of a once great city. Canton: a place I knew as an outsider from the suburbs; a place where I first saw both the solemn ugliness of the world and the gentle beauty of street life. This is a city of wonder and a city of ugliness. Even at its nadir in the 1990s, you knew Canton was a place that many once cared about deeply. I searched endlessly for the origins of those feelings in the dusty downtown and its many architectural wonders. Few my age did the same. The young of my generation held Canton in low regard—a place to, if anything, enjoy with a sense of irony. When I finally left, I didn’t look back. But in my absence Canton began a transformation. No one can say for sure where that transformation is heading, but the city is reorganizing itself despite long odds.

In many ways, the “Hall of Fame City” is the archetypal shrinking city. The beautiful but bruised downtown is surrounded by an inner ring of worn neighborhoods scarred by vacancy. The struggling manufacturing economy in the city’s core is overshadowed by a neglectful and unconcerned suburbia. Canton is struggling to overcome what Catherine Tumber calls “the growing invisibility” of smaller post-industrial cities.

Canton first became notable for producing agricultural machinery. By the end of the nineteenth century, it had become one of the world’s primary manufacturers of paving-bricks. The city later emerged as a big player in the iron and specialty steel industries. Like so many other industrial cities, the population grew in tandem with the plentiful jobs offered in local manufacturing concerns.

By 1950, 116,000 people called Canton home, and the city’s charming downtown had reached its peak. However, unbeknownst to the city fathers, the long descent was already underway. In the next few decades, tracts of farmland in the surfeit of suburbs started to transform into growing communities. The decentralization of retail soon followed. In 1965, the Mellett Mall (later Canton Centre) arrived as the first challenger to the hegemony of the downtown commercial district. But only five years later the suburban Belden Village Mall opened in Jackson Township. This started the process of drawing retail out of the city into the growing hinterlands.

The Canton I came to know in the 1990s had shrunk to about 84,000 people. With a coterie of friends—some from the city and some from the suburbs—I explored the maze of the city’s streets, apartments, and vacant buildings. We were a generation raised on the idea that the city was a foreign place—a place to be rejected. Instead, I found a city beaten and somewhat unrecognizable, but still vibrant. Local institutions like Taggart’s, a pre-war ice cream parlor/restaurant, introduced us to mixed-use development and businesses that weren’t cut from the sterile cloth of fast food franchisedom. Bars like George’s Lounge gave us a place to crash that didn’t bear the imprint of a sterile chain tavern. As manufacturing began to fade, Canton rebranded itself. Known as the city that birthed professional football, Canton hosts the Pro Football Hall of Fame annual induction ceremony and parade. And every July before the festivities the “clean-up” began—an effort to temporarily hide prostitutes and the homeless who haunted the streets from Cherry to Shorb.

At night, that side of Canton came to life. We might often forget, but the city belongs to everyone, from the banker to the bordello worker. And during those years the city belonged maximum dose cialis per day as much to the working class and the “under-class” as it did to anyone. The McKinley Monument—the burial place of President McKinley—and surrounding Monument Park saw the mingling of ravers, viagra generic hustlers, and the disturbed in the humid summer months. Some unseemliness certainly existed, but nothing like what would come with gradual rise of gang culture. Today, a kind of border fence separates the graveyard from the monument, and the park is heavily policed after dark. Homicides and home invasions occur much more regularly. This devolution, sadly, is symbolic of what’s happened to far too many of the city’s core neighborhoods.

Despite Canton’s declining population, the best of the area’s built environment is still in the city: the beautifully restored Victorian Professional Building; the classical the female viagra brick streets of the inner core; and the stately elegance of the historic Ridgewood neighborhood, whose mix of revival-style houses represent American architecture at its height. And the principal cultural institutions in the county are located in the city—the symphony, the ballet, The Player’s Guild, etc.

I often wandered the half-abandoned downtown of the late-90s. The silent splendor of the neo-classical Key Bank Building and the Neo-Renaissance Onesto Hotel served as guideposts for my travels through the dusky streets. Back then, the downtown offered little. An adult bookstore/video arcade even dominated the main entrance into the old commercial district. Only the grandeur of the nearby Palace Theater, a 20’s era movie house, gave any indication of what a joint the downtown must have once been.

The moribund and derelict downtown of the 90s is rapidly giving way to pockets of re-growth. In 2003, the city issued the first downtown development plan. Within a few years an arts district was established. Coffee shops, some retail, and a broad range of new eateries followed—including Muggswigz Coffee, which made USA Today’s “10 best coffeehouses in America” list.

The downtown of the late 90s lacked almost any active edges. Few of the streets seemed lively at all. Today, that’s changing. Despite the fact it is too large –with many gaps that prove unfriendly to pedestrians looking for connections between parts of the downtown—some wonderful blocks have emerged. The art galleries on Sixth are a fine example of what revitalized streets should look like. Even the Subway fast-food joint on Market properly conforms to the street, fitting in perfectly with the other gorgeous storefronts. Still, downtown is only fully activated for a small portion of the year. Blight issues in the corridor and competition from the massive suburban shopping center around Belden Village are holding back the next stage of development.

Canton’s best buildings come from the pre-war era and still show the obvious marks of craftsmanship that separate the city from its surrounding communities—like the aptly named Plain Township. The best of these—the Carnegie Library (done by a Youngstown, Ohio native) and the Stark County Court House, among others—are in the Beaux-Arts style. These civic maste
rpieces convey a sense of history and of destiny—that Cantonians were, and are, a capable people made in the mold of the ancients. These buildings remind us of a once great and future city.

I recently drove down 5th Street for the first time in well over a decade. Even then, the area was distressed and considered “unsafe.” I remember driving passed Martin’s Carryout on the weekends, an improvised bodega that was once obviously a residential unit. Every year it looked a little worse. Today it’s boarded up, and the area around it is becoming an urban prairie dotted with tax credit housing. This is one possible future for Canton. The other is the reactivation—already underway—of the city center. Its likely young Millennials will be the ones who will have to complete this job.

Like much in urban life, walking through the center city is an occasion for both a melancholic and memorable experience. The dreariness of recent decades is still obvious, but so is the weight of a more distant past. The long forgotten memories of the stone masons, steel workers, and craftsmen who built the city are so thick and alive that one can’t help but feel them all around. What would they whisper to this generation? What would they expect from those who have inherited this battered city? The answers are swirling in every alley, storefront, and house along the arteries of Canton. They only wait for us to come and find them.

By Sean Posey



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SB 310 — an Unprecedented Step Backwards for Ohio

On Wednesday, the Ohio Legislature approved a bill to freeze and dismantle the state’s clean energy provisions, making Ohio the first state to roll back its energy conservation and renewable energy standards. A vote on the House floor took place Wednesday, May 28; two weeks after the Ohio Senate passed the corporate polluter giveaways, known as Senate Bill 310. Governor Kasich has indicated that he will sign the legislation on Thursday, May 29.

In 2008, Governor Ted Strickland signed bipartisan clean energy legislation into Ohio law. At the time, it garnered only a single vote of opposition in the Ohio General Assembly. Yet, state lawmakers under pressure from FirstEnergy, and a national organization of major corporations known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), have frozen Ohio’s clean energy progress in its tracks.

ALEC members include several of the nation’s biggest coal, oil, gas, and utility companies like American Electric Power, Duke Energy, and ExxonMobil. The group has repeatedly attempted, unsuccessfully, to dismantle cost-saving standards in Ohio, as well as in traditionally conservative states like Kansas and North Carolina. For ALEC-board member State Senator Bill Seitz of Cincinnati and Akron-based FirstEnergy, the nation’s largest investor-owned utility, the third time has proven a charm. Throughout the coverage of the bill, Ecowatch was the only Ohio-based media outlet that provided mention or information about ALEC.

The law has raised vocal opposition from environmental advocates, as well as the NAACP, Ohio veterans, consumer advocates, and manufacturers. Yet, Senator Seitz has mused that the 2008 law is a ‘Bataan Death March’ conducted by clean energy interests. These disrespectful comments came during testimony from Sierra Club’s Dan Sawmiller, a combat veteran who served in Iraq. Such remarks from the chair of Ohio’s Senate Public Utilities Committee make it critical the public understands what clean energy standards really dictate.

The 2008 law required utilities, such as FirstEnergy, to implement efficiencies to cut electricity consumption, especially during peak daily electricity demand, which typically occurs at about 5:30pm. This measure, paid by a rider billed to consumers, reduces high-end stress on the electric grid and fossil fuel-burning power plants, reduces air, water, and carbon pollution, and reduces prices for consumers. Naturally, if top-line demand is reduced, prices drop. Former Ohio Consumers’ Counsel Senior Energy Policy Advisor Wilson Gonzalez has testified that consumers save from $1.70 to $3.90 for every dollar they pay on their bill rider.

The law also requires utilities to install renewable generation from wind and solar sources. General Electric recently produced a report for PJM Interconnection, the company overseeing Ohio’s entire electrical grid, stating that PJM’s regional market can reliably handle as much as 30 percent renewable energy while lowering costs for customers.

But lower prices and savings for Ohioans are direct revenue losses for utility monopolies, and FirstEnergy CEO Tony Alexander, who made $23 million in 2013, doesn’t get paid to lose. That is why FirstEnergy has made dismantling the standards their legislative priority since 2012.

A derisive post from the Facebook page of Matt Brakey, of Brakey Energy and the Industrial Energy Users

Alongside a hastily assembled group of golf-playing white men called the Industrial Energy Users, utilities have taken to using their financial and political clout to propel SB 310 through the legislature. With the help of corporate allies in Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Cleveland Partnership, they have drowned out arguments to protect Ohioans’ clean energy savings. Such messaging undermines the great work by small-business advocates- and local best actors on energy efficiency- Council for Small Enterprise (or COSE).

Ohio Senate President Keith Faber quoted in the Columbus Dispatch:

“What we want to do as a legislature is put procedures in place that are based on evidence and science, not based on ideas that happened back when we thought Solyndra was going to be a good investment for the federal government.”

Denying science and the threats of increasingly volatile climate is nothing new for Ohio Republicans, but not even the Solyndra comparison holds water. Iberdola’s Blue Creek Wind Farm in Van Wert and Paulding Counties was the largest investment in Ohio in 2011 at $600 million. This wind farm currently sells The Ohio State University a quarter of its Columbus campus’ energy needs, agreed to in a contract and saves the university $1 million a year, for 20 years. Ohio wind farms pay $3.6m per year in property taxes, and $2.5m per year in land lease payments to landowners.

“We’ve spent $1.1 billion since 2009 on energy efficiency. … I’m not quite sure what we’ve gotten out of it,” Faber said.

Answer: Energy resources at less than $0.01/kwh (vs. market rate of $.06-.11/kwh). For a local example, the Cleveland Orchestra’s facility manager testified to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio that they cut their utility bill in half through FirstEnergy’s efficiency program.

Cost of Saved Energy Results by State chart via LBNL


Cutting demand through energy efficiency and real-time demand response (i.e. ‘turn off that light’) programs are far and away the cheapest and cleanest ways to make additional energy resources available. When one considers the health benefits of clean energy, such as lowering the incidence of asthma and emissions-related health issues, the 2008 standards are not nearly ambitious enough.

Zach Roberts, Ohio director for Operation Free, a veterans’ group working to address climate change and energy policy has characterized the rollback efforts as a “dramatic and draconian” attack on clean energy. Veterans like Roberts and Sawmiller certainly recognize the consequences of energy policy and conflict. They are also realists who recognize the immense threats of an increasingly volatile climate.

Ohio’s ever-hedging Governor Kasich, in a dubious call for moderation, pared down original legislation to a ‘temporary freeze,’ but has still signed on to provisions that would dismantle Ohio’s clean energy industries. Ohio is the first and only state to roll back its clean energy standards.

Unfortunately, FirstEnergy and ALEC have deep pockets. Campaign contributions tell a story of Northeast Ohio Democrats paid to collaborate with a pro-polluter agenda. Both Senator Shirley Smith and Representative Sandra Williams, running for Smith’s senate seat, have voted for SB 310. Each of them point to their well-intended amendments to protect low-income people, but neither will preserve customers’ on-bill savings, which are derived from energy conservation and renewables. Cleveland’s majority-black east side children suffer from asthma at a rate of nearly 1 in 4, and will actually see a deterioration of local air quality, and steady increase in ozone action days.

Given the true popularity of clean energy and the accompanying savings, it is clear that Ohio is facing a critical test of its democratic values against the power of corporate fossil fuel interests. On Monday, the US EPA is releasing rules to limit carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants. Naturally, the Ohio legislature is mobilizing to opt the state out of reducing Ohio’s emissions.

Due to its high proportion of coal in its energy portfolio, the state of Ohio is the 4th highest emitter of carbon dioxide in the nation. Where more immediate public health is concerned, Ohio is the 2nd highest emitter of mercury in the nation, and Lake Erie the most mercury-polluted of the Great Lakes. (That hasn’t stopped Ohio’s Republican Senator Rob Portman from voting to dismantle standards to reduce mercury pollution.)

Ohio needs to keep expanding affordable clean energy in Ohio, to keep reducing toxic air emissions and carbon pollution, and to preserve its clean energy workforce that stands 30,000-strong. Through the mass organizing efforts of its labor unions and local communities in 2011, Ohio was able to reject SB 5 and the right-to-work for lower wages. Our state now faces a test of accepting global scientific consensus, bucking its polluter monopolies, and securing the public the clean air, clean water, and monthly savings they deserve. If we fail to act now we will be failing our future generations’ health and welfare

By Akshai Singh

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Wealthy Suburbs Help Keep Pro Sports on Cleveland's Payroll

The battle over Issue 7, whether or not to renew the sin tax on alcohol and cigarettes, revenues from which finances upgrades to our professional sports facilities, ended up being the main event in Tuesday’s primary here in Cuyahoga County. Ultimately, Cuyahoga County residents voted 56%-44% to continue the tax for another two decades.

The arguments for and against the sin tax, at least as it is currently defined, have been laid out quite effectively and ad nauseum; I’m not here to rehash them. It was nearly impossible for anyone watching, listening to, or attending a Cavs or Indians game to avoid being hit over the head with pro-Issue 7 ads.

The Browns, Cavs, Indians, and their allies – particularly the Greater Cleveland Partnership and The Plain Dealer (which basically acted as the official media mouthpiece of the campaign) – outspent the ragtag anti-Issue 7 crowd 170-to-1; the groups spent roughly $1.2 million and $7,000, respectively. While the anti-Issue 7 campaign mounted an effective charge on social media and built a solid, if motley, coalition around the issue, the group never really stood a chance against those odds.

In a post yesterday, Cleveland Magazine reporter Erick Trickey argued that this debate perfectly encapsulated how politics works in Northeast Ohio. Lines don’t really break down according to party affiliation – this is one of the most Democratic counties in the country. Rather,

The best way to understand most Cleveland political debates isn’t party politics. It’s, do you believe in spending tax money on “public-private partnerships” that draw people and business downtown? Or do you thinks that’s corporate welfare, giveaway of money better spent on other needs? That debate has run through our politics for decades, from tax abatement in the ’80s through Gateway in 1990 through the convention center debate in 2007, to the sin tax rematch yesterday.

This got me thinking about the political economy of this issue. We already know that all sin taxes are inherently regressive; they are consumption taxes assessed equally, regardless of income, ensuring that the poor pay more than the wealthy as a share of their income. Accordingly, it’s perhaps not surprising that, while the sin tax had already passed twice in Cuyahoga County, it failed each time in Cleveland.

Given these facts, I wanted to explore the relationships between per capita income and Issue 7 results. Below, you will see the correlation between median household income from 2006-2010 (5-year average) and the percentage of voters voting yes on Issue 7 (PDF). Income data are drawn from the American Community Survey (via NEO-CANDO), and elections results are from the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.

median income & issue 7 all citiesCorrelation between median household income and Issue 7 results for all 57 municipalities in Cuyahoga County. 

As you can see, the relationship is quite strong (the correlation coefficient is .607). As income increases, so too does the percentage of voters supporting the sin tax. But, as you can see, there are a few municipalities on the right side of the chart that may be skewing the data due to their extremely high income levels. These include Bentleyville and Hunting Valley, where the median household income is $191,250 and $250,001, respectively. For comparison, the median household income for Cuyahoga County was $59,583 for this period.

In order to account for this potential skew, I removed the five municipalities who had incomes more than 2 standard deviations greater than the mean. These were Moreland Hills, Gates Mills, Pepper Pike, Bentleyville, and Hunting Valley – your extremely tony eastern suburbs. (On a related note, Gates Mills also has the highest household carbon footprint of any municipality in the region). As you see below, when I remove these five outliers, the correlation becomes even stronger (correlation coefficient of .621).

median income & issue 7 no outliersCorrelation between median household income & sin tax results with the 5 outliers removed. 

Issue 7 only failed in six municipalities; these had an average income of $47,744, more than $11,000 less than the median for the County as a whole. Five of these cities are middle class, inner-ring suburbs located just south of Cleveland; the other two are the city of Cleveland and Valley View. Shockingly, East Cleveland, easily the poorest city in the County, actually voted forthe sin tax 53%-47%.

Clearly, there is a major income divide over this issue, with lower-income voters, who will bear the burden of the tax, far less likely to support it than higher-income voters. Maybe that would have made a difference if voter turnout in Cleveland wasn’t 13.85%. But it is what it is, at this point.

By Tim Kovach


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Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati and Recovery from the Recession

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland just released a report showing economic data from Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati. The idea was to track how these three cities are recovering from the recession.

Here’s the three area’s employment rates, before the recession and currently.

So Pittsburgh is the big outlier here. It’s recession was way less bad than the other two cities, in terms of unemployment and it’s back to pre-recession levels, something the other two cities are nowhere near. The Federal Reserve researchers do note that Pittsburgh’s employment appears to have leveled off, unfortunately.

Pittsburgh’s unemployment is better than the state and nation, while Cleveland and Cincinnati’s are much worse.

One thing Cleveland researcher Joel Elvery (an old professor of mine) notes, is that Cleveland’s employment rate has been growing at a pretty healthy clip lately. That is a big relief, he says, because after the last recession, around 2001, the local economy never really recovered the lost jobs. He said this was due to growing demand for exports and recovery in manufacturing.

One other thing that the Fed said that was interesting about Cleveland is that one of the fastest growing sectors this year has been hospitality — because

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of the casino they said and new hotels.

What’s interesting to note also though is that GDP has mostly recovered for Cincinnati and Cleveland but employment hasn’t kept pace. These are GDP:

Even Pittsburgh, GDP is still growing strong, but employment has leveled off.

— Angie Schmitt

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An Art Gallery and Neighborhood Change

Right now I live in Cincinnati, Ohio, in a neighborhood called Northside. Its about a 15-minute drive north of downtown. From my bedroom window I can see a pizza place, hair salon, a couple tax centers, a rad art-collective-space called Chase Public, and a boutique shop Ill never venture into. I think if I lean I can see a chile place on the corner. Largely, the area is populated by long-time locals, but many (like myself) have moved here after a bit of redevelopment and renewal. While this renewal, on the economic side of things, is almost entirely beneficial to the city, there comes with it a necessary conversation about the appropriation (accidental or not) of an already-existent culture. The result is a hodgepodge of establishments peppering Northsides business district.

Northside Cincinnati via Wikipedia


Whats striking about this glass-paned landscape is this: the places we might think of as being an agent (or a result) of gentrification last when they exist self-consciously and are aware of their environment and very act of replacing. Though they are accused of invading, of not understanding or respecting their environment (either spatial or temporal) or adjusting to it, of being culturally parasitic, my argument is that they actually understand and respect it better than most. For instance: the art space exists, along with the few other galleries in Northside, knowing it might well be temporary. Knowing they might run out of funds by the years end. Knowing something else, some other project, might soon exist in their physical and metaphorical place.

But this isnt pessimism its embrace. Hell, its romantic, isnt it? Like the wise neighbor whose view of death is sparkling and worriless. The tax centers, too, embrace and even operate around this acknowledged impermanence. Thats what they do. The places that Ive seen close up are often restaurants the common victim of entrepreneurship.

A new fancy eatery down the street, Bistro Grace, does not follow these ideals. Northside is an area of largely middle- or lower-class people, including myself, who cant regularly (or even rarely) afford to eat at overly expensive restaurants Bistro Grace is exactly that. Eating there, therefore, is not really available to Northsiders, and this seems very wrong to me. How permanent can we expect this place to be? How much about the area does this place appear to understand or respect? Its important to remember that art galleries, on the other hand, are not only free to enjoy, but do not truly expect to make much money in the long-run. This is another element to their impermanence, and something that I think embraces areas like Northside with both their monetary accessibility and their curating of local artists. This, to me, is a smart way to encourage regionalism and the pride native to it.

So my question is this: why look at these galleries as gentrification? Why not embrace their impermanence and availability as they do? The majority of the Rust Belts fall (arguably, sure) was based on a false permanence and a lack of adaptation, but these houses of art have learned from those mistakes; an act which, to me, is the greatest and most useful form of respect. In this way, these spaces and places are not only bringing life back into the hollows, not only creating urban renewal and reasons for both locals and tourists to visit an area and feel a sense of pride (and to, in turn, contribute to its redevelopment and growth), they are also showing us they know their place in history, however fleeting.

C.J. Opperthauser

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