Category Archives: regionalism

Documenting Pittsburgh's Labor Culture

Worker with United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America flag – Pittsburgh, PA

“There are no saviors, we are our own saviors. We have the capacity to save ourselves. Not individually no, but we have the capacity to band together, work together and understand that in order to create a better world, we need to create a world in where we all live better. If we create a world where only some live better, we haven’t created a better world.” – Mel Packer, Pittsburgh Activist & Community Organizer

When it comes to my work as a social documentary photographer, the image is secondary. Sure, I want my pictures to be clear and dynamic, but I need to fill the frame with interesting subjects in order to accomplish this. That’s why the experience comes first. Without it, I’m merely taking pictures.

Stephen Pellegrino, working class artist & musician – Homestead, PA

I count my involvement within the labor community in Pittsburgh to be a testament to this philosophy. Citizens of Industry, my first long term documentary project on labor culture and worker solidarity, has afforded me the opportunity to meet people that I wouldn’t have otherwise. The first installment of the project, Steel City Solidarity, uses photo documentation, interviews and various forms of multimedia to chronicle the state of labor and worker solidarity in the city of bridges. The current social and political climate of inequality has manifested itself into a complex struggle at the grassroots level; creating a strong base of community activism using alternative methods of cultivating advocacy and awareness. Pittsburgh has one of the strongest histories of unionism and civil involvement in the United States, and allows for an in-depth look at the inner workings of this ever-evolving movement.

Documenting labor culture has been a long tradition in the photographic community. Early photographers such as Otto Hagel, Milton Rogovin and Charles Rivers understood the importance of chronicling the strife of workers; not only as a historical document, but with an eye for artistic composition. Unlike straight journalism, documentary work allows for a more personal storytelling approach.

May Day March for Immigration Reform – Pittsburgh, PA

For the past year and a half, the work has allowed me to examine the industrial landscape of Pittsburgh and become acquainted with those who inhabit it. I’ve explored the roots of the region’s steel history through the ruins of its iron ore plants, and examined the essence of protest and advocacy by participating in area rallies and conversing with community leaders. I have talked with individuals who have lost their jobs by trying to unionize, and have learned about the cultural spirit of labor through the region’s artists and musicians. While these experiences have advanced my project, they have also influenced my own resolve. My confidence in the labor movement is stronger than ever.

With the first installment of Citizens of Industry coming to a close, the project will continue to grow as a multipart examination of worker culture throughout the rust belt region. It is the desire of all artists for their efforts to endure, and it is my hope that the work will not only serve as an educational piece, but as a creative narrative into the heart of the working class. Time will only tell.

– Andy Prisbylla

Visit Citizens of Industry at www.citizensofindustry.org.

Connect with the project on Facebook and Flickr.

Contact the photographer at www.andyp.org.

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Filed under Art, Editorial, Featured, Headline, Labor, regionalism

The City That Wasn’t: Shenango Valley and the Failure of Consolidation

The Shenango Valley of today is a fascinating blend of beauteous rural areas, suburban sprawl, stark urban decay, and industrial landscape. One can travel through the sprawling malls and shopping plazas of Hermitage, filled with shoppers and dense traffic, to another world only miles away. In neighboring Sharon the downtown is a picturesque, if semi-vacant shell of itself. The streetlights even fail to light on the weekends, when it’s possible to walk whole streets without seeing another pedestrian. In neighboring Farrell urban blight is mixed with old storefronts and places out of another era, like the New Deal Club and the Croatian American Civic Club.

Main Street in Sharon, PA. Via Egg Writer on Flickr

Yet, much of the Valley is intertwined, whether many will admit it or not. And over several decades of decline, plans have proliferated to unite the area in some form of regionalization. Less than a decade ago we saw the sad climax of perhaps the last attempt to consolidate the area and save the Valley. The failure of that forgotten proposal, which would have combined Hermitage, Farrell, Sharon, Wheatland, and Sharpsville into “Shenango Valley City,” has much to teach us. It’s also a glaring example of the continued regional Balkanization that affects many parts of the Rust Belt.

The Shenango Valley owes much of its historical growth to the rise of the iron and steel industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Companies like Sharon Steel and Westinghouse Electric attracted tens of thousands of immigrants, transforming the sleepy Valley into an industrial colossus. This growth led to the incorporation of the City of Sharon in 1918 and the City of Farrell in 1932. Before suburbanization, early efforts at consolidation focused on these two cities. In 1935, over a thousand individuals signed a consolidation petition that would have combined the two cities into a community of 50,000 people. However, like other efforts in later years, nothing came of it. Nor did it seem necessary to many after the Depression years when Sharon and Farrell, the latter dubbed the “Magic City,” still boomed.

Starting in the 1950s, more people began moving away from the mills of Sharon Steel toward places like Hickory Township. In the 1970s, after two decades of solid growth, Hickory Township became Hermitage, Pennsylvania, which became a city in 1983. During the fifties, sixties, and seventies, upwardly mobile individuals fled to the low-density confines of Hermitage, chewing up scenery and rural land in the process. In Shenango Valley as a whole during the eighties, rural land disappeared into retail and suburban development at a rate about one third greater than overall population growth.

The 1980s brought the beginning of the end for Sharon Steel. Massive layoffs drove many communities in the Valley into dire straits. In 1987, Farrell became the first city in Pennsylvania to be named a “financially distressed municipality.” The Financially Distressed Municipalities Act, known as Act 47, also allows for the consolidation of adjoining municipalities suffering from budgetary problems. Soon talks of consolidation revived, except this time centering on Sharon, Farrell, Hermitage, and the nearby boroughs of Wheatland and Sharpsville.

A study done during the late sixties, as local cities were shrinking, recommended the consolidation of Sharon, Farrell, Wheatland, Sharpsville and Hermitage. In 1998, Sharon and Farrell agreed to be part of feasibility study looking at merging the two municipalities. This later expanded to include both boroughs and Hermitage.

The Shenango Valley Intergovernmental Committee was formed to study the proposal and recommend whether or not such a consolidation would prove beneficial for the area as a whole. Perhaps the best draft proposal came from the sub-committee on “Government Structure and legal Issues.” In this draft, the five municipalities were to be combined into the third-largest municipality in Western Pennsylvania, to be known as “Shenango City,” later to be called Shenango Valley City. The five communities would have retained their identities as “districts” of the city. These districts would also have had separate “service districts,” e.g. separate fire service districts, sewer, etc. However, the real gain would have come by eliminating duplication of local services: one police department for the city, one public works department, one tax collection department, one economic development department, one zoning department, and one parks and recreation department. This would also have put an end to the senseless scramble to locate jobs and businesses within certain communities.

Each district was to have one elected city council member, with six elected “at large” members. The mayor and council members in turn would elect a city manager. The benefits of such a plan seemed obvious: The bulk of taxes could be shifted from property taxes to something called a “local wage tax,” which was to be levied on all employed workers in the city. The drafters of the consolidation plan likely saw the local wage tax as a way to assuage the concerns of home owners with higher property values in Hermitage.

The real problem seemed to be convincing the most prosperous community, Hermitage, and the least prosperous, Farrell, to accept the plan. African Americans constituted almost half of Farrell’s population, and it seemed that they might be reluctant to lose political power with the consolidation. The commission in turn approved one district in the city to be majority-minority. While Hermitage seemed to be fairly well off, and thus less likely to be tempted by the consolidation, the commission pointed out that the vast majority of Hermitage’s population growth came

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from the over-75 age group. They also brought up a more basic point: “Will your children come back to the Shenango Valley because Hermitage has a new super-Walmart?” Developing the area’s older urban centers would be crucial to attracting younger residents to the Valley.

During this four-year study, the SVIC brought in David Rusk, former mayor of Albuquerque and legislative/program director for the U.S. Department of Labor. Rusk spent most of the previous decade researching and writing about urban regionalism. He recommended the consolation idea and speculated on what might have happened if the idea had gotten off the ground earlier: “What if a consolidated city of Shenango Valley had been created several decades ago? Would subsequent events have moved Sharon-Mercer County onto the high-growth track of its ‘big box’ peer regions rather than kept it on the slow-growth track of its ‘little box’ peers? Many past precedents argue that the answer would have been ‘yes,’ but history never answers the question conclusively.”

Despite four years of study, the SVIC came to no agreement on whether or not to recommend the consolidation. The committee’s report was long on statistical findings, but little else. All in all, it proved an embarrassing outcome. Despite making no recommendation, the committee added this warning.

In the absence of consolidation, there must be no complacency…Even Hermitage is doing relatively poorly compared to the reminder of the State and the nation. And even its relative success will not continue if the Valley as a whole continues to decline. Things are broken and need to be quickly corrected. Unless younger people begin to stay in the Valley and others move in to create wealth producing employment opportunities for themselves and others there cannot be a positive future. Those who remain will find themselves increasingly facing a community of decline.

A measure vague on details ended up on the ballot in 2004. Sharon and Farrell voted in favor of the measure; Wheatland and Sharpsville did not. Hermitage overwhelmingly rejected it. In the months before the vote a group called “Hermitage Citizens Against Consolidation” began a campaign to defeat the referendum. Despite the fact that school districts were not scheduled to change, the organization, along with many other individual voters in Hermitage, opposed the measure.

The Shenango consolidation would have created a city of 44,000 out of five shrinking communities. This new city could have attracted increased monies for infrastructure projects, more grants, and increased CDBG funds. It also could have better addressed the repurposing of brown fields and abandoned industrial property, not to mention tackling larger projects like the creation of a Downtown Sharon campus for the Penn State Shenango branch. The consolidation also would have lowered the area’s composite poverty rate.

As it stands now after the 2010 Census, the area’s future looks to be one of continued shrinkage. Sharon’s population loss more than doubled from the previous ten years. Farrell lost 16 percent of its population, and its poverty rate is over 20 percent greater than the national average. As for Hermitage, the city’s growth rate has declined to almost nothing. The median age in Hermitage is five years older than the state average. The city’s share of the coveted 25-to 34-year-old demographic is among the lowest in the county. Since 2007, the poverty rate has increased to 17 percent in the county as a whole; thirty percent of those living below the poverty line are children. Mercer County also has the fastest growing poverty rate in the state.

The failure of the Shenango Valley City initiative is a lesson in the difficulties of overcoming regional Balkanization, especially here in the Rust Belt. Despite a plethora of good ideas, the process reflected a real inability to address critical issues at the regional level in any way. Sprawl is a pernicious problem, especially in areas of declining population. Rust Belt metros facing decentralization and dwindling populations will have difficult futures. Indianapolis, Nashville, and Jacksonville completed successful consolidations that lead to renewed economic opportunities for their respective regions. The same could be said for areas similar in size and demographics to the Shenango Valley that consolidated through annexations or other means: Battle Creek, Michigan; Muncie, Indiana; Elkhart, Indiana; and Kokomo, Indiana. Regional consolidation is not a cure-all for declining post-industrial areas; however, available evidence points to this strategy as preferable to continuing down a path of “spatial suicide,” one that is slowly killing Rust Belt regions like the Shenango Valley.

–Sean Posey

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Are Michigan and Wisconsin missing a golden opportunity?

Since reading the book Aerotropolis several months ago, the topic of intermodal logistics has been on my mind. One logistical issue that routinely comes up in the Great Lakes Region is the congestion and delays that take place in and around Chicago. Being a chokepoint for numerous rail lines and highways at the south end Lake Michigan, the Chicago Region is critical hub for cross-country freight movements. With the rapid growth in just-in-time delivery, containerization, container ports, and intermodal facilities over the past few decades, any bottlenecks and/or delays here can spell big trouble for those firms depending on their goods being transported by rail or truck through Chicago.

Source: transreporter.com

As a result, it seems to me that Michigan and Wisconsin may be missing a golden opportunity to take advantage of the routine bottlenecks in Chicago by developing a set of bypass container ports on either side of Lake Michigan for the un-congested transport of those goods moving cross-country. The container ports could be constructed at either Milwaukee, Racine, or Manitowoc on the Wisconsin side of the lake and in Muskegon or Ludington on the Michigan side. Granted this option would not be practical for all goods moving through Chicago, but those items moving towards the Eastern Great Lakes, Northeastern United States, and Eastern Canada could easily flow through these lake ports, be off-loaded onto rail cars, and/or and then be shipped eastward from there by rail or truck. Likewise for goods shipping westward to the Western Great Lakes, Northern Plains, Rockies, and Pacific Northwest. The trans-shipment across Lake Michigan could also serve as a back-up in case of a national emergency.

Some may scoff at this notion and issue of low water levels would need to be resolved, but I believe there is real merit in at least considering it as an economic development option. One only need to look at the growth of container ports across the globe to see the huge potential. Where rail cars were once shipped across the lake, could containers be a 21st Century option?

Source: clark.cmich.edu

Consider this:

  • According to a recent (2012) New York Times article, trains are delayed by as much as 30 hours when passing through the Chicago bottleneck. For some of the 1,300 freight and passenger trains, this extent of delay could provide an open door to the cross lake option, if planned and designed properly. According to answers.com and wikipedia.org, a fully loaded, medium-sized container ship can be loaded and unloaded in mere hours (10-12). Combined with the four hours for the lake crossing itself and you have a total of
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    14-16 hours. Many corporations would be thrilled to get their goods 15 hours earlier than if they went through Chicago.

Seems that an intermodal operation could be a golden opportunity for some savvy shipping firms, Lake Michigan harbor communities, businesspeople, and states of Michigan and Wisconsin to consider more fully. While shipping rail cars may not be competitively feasible as it once was (see photo above), moving shipping containers across Lake Michigan could be a whole other story. Just a thought that perhaps both states ought to at least consider and analyze, if not pursue.

Rick Brown

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Filed under Economic Development, Featured, Great Lakes, Public Transportation, regionalism, Urban Planning

The National Review's Imaginary Plot Against Ohio Suburbs

This post originally appeared at Streetsblog.

It’s presidential election time in Ohio, and boy does Stanley Kurtz at the National Review have a scoop for the good, unsuspecting citizens of the Buckeye State. Northeast Ohio political leaders and President Obama are working on a sinister plot to redistribute wealth from suburbs and give it to cities!! (Socialism!)

Stanley Kurtz, author of a book claiming President Obama is a socialist, sees a vast conspiracy to rob the suburbs in Ohio. Photo: ##http://www.eppc.org/scholars/scholarID.81/scholar.asp## Ethics and Public Policy Center##

Kurtz has found a bogeyman in the concept of “regionalism,” which has for decades been promoted (and by that I mean talked about more than acted upon) by suburban and urban leaders alike in Northeast Ohio — the most populous region in the state — as a way to improve the region’s economy by reducing government waste. Sounds pretty sinister, right? Well, Kurtz is sounding the alarm for Ohio suburbanites (coincidentally, the mightiest base of political power in the all-important swing state).

“The president and his fellow Democrats are coming for your tax money,” writes Kurtz, a “fellow” with the Koch brothers-backed “think tank” the Ethics and Public Policy Center. “Redistribution is the goal, and suburban Ohio is target No. 1.”

Before I explain how wrong and crazy that is, let’s back up for a second. What is regionalism? Is regionalism socialism? Here is how the concept is generally understood in Northeast Ohio…

The problem, for Cleveland and its suburbs, is that there are 59 distinct municipal governments in Cuyahoga County alone. Each of these government entities manages a police department and a streets program, employs a council clerk, and so forth. That makes government service provision in Northeast Ohio relatively costly and duplicative. In other words, it makes taxes high. That is generally considered to be bad — an obstacle to revitalizing the economy. And fixing the economy is priority number one in Northeast Ohio — home to Cleveland, Youngstown, and other cities likely to appear on Forbes’ annual Most Miserable Cities list.

“It’s just laced with failed ideologies. It’s fear mongering.” — William Currin, mayor of Hudson, Ohio

Okay, stay with me here. This fragmentation in government also encourages intercity competition for employers. This means that a lot of local governments spend substantial public resources luring businesses to hopscotch from city to city around the region, collecting tax breaks, without adding any jobs or true economic gain. Again, in Northeast Ohio, this is almost universally understood to be a bad thing. Out of 59 government entities, 49 have signed a voluntary “anti-poaching” agreement.

But to Kurtz, this kind of cooperation between suburbs and the central city is not common sense or good government — it is self-evidently a diabolical plot.

Kurtz has a high-pitched, tone-deaf warning for Cleveland: Watch out, Obama is trying to make you like Portland, or — gasp — Minnesota. In Kurtz’s writing, “Portland” and “Minnesota” are cautionary tales.

Kurtz uses Portland and Minneapolis as bogeymen not just because he holds their values in disdain. He is warning that policies they’ve adopted — urban growth boundaries and tax-sharing agreements — could follow from a few of Cleveland’s rather toothless regional planning efforts.

But Kurtz isn’t interested in discussing whether those tools might actually be beneficial to Ohio residents, whether they live in cities or suburbs. Nope. I mean, if you follow that line of inquiry you would have to arrive at the indisputable fact that both Minneapolis and Portland are far healthier places, economically, than Cleveland, whose absence of land use planning has helped make it an internationally renowned poster child for urban vacancy.

Kurtz doesn’t go there. Just the suggestion that urban growth boundaries or tax-sharing could happen — that is reason enough for suburbanites to hightail it from camp Obama, like, well, suburbanites from Cleveland. At least, that seems to be his suggestion.

It’s true that voluntary tax-sharing agreements have been promoted by regional leaders in Northeast Ohio, most notably the Regional Prosperity Initiative, which — radical left-wing organization that it is — receives financial support from the regional chamber of commerce.

William Currin, the mayor of Cleveland exurb Hudson, is a leader of the Regional Prosperity Initiative steering committee, which helps promote tax-sharing agreements. He pointed out that these agreements are only undertaken voluntarily, and “everything they propose is of mutual benefit to the communities involved.” Currin, who is a political independent, said he was disgusted by Kurtz’s article.

“[Kurtz is] trying to politicize a nonpartisan issue: reducing the cost of government and protecting the sanctity of local government by collaborating with each other where we should collaborate,” Currin said. “It’s just laced with failed ideologies. It’s fear mongering. They’re trying to connect it to Obama. There is absolutely no connection at all. There is no grand conspiracy here under any circumstances.”

Currin said his organization looks at examples like Louisville — with its merged city-county government — as a model as much as Minneapolis. He added that, as tax-sharing agreements have evolved in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis has become the biggest contributor.

If you actually examine the way money flows in Ohio, you might notice that suburbs and rural areas are often beneficiaries of “redistribution.” Over the past few decades, for example, the state of Ohio and local governments have provided tax incentives for 14,500 jobs to move farther from the city of Cleveland.

Ironically, Kurtz holds up poor victimized Avon, Ohio — an affluent Cleveland exurb — as an example. Leaders of Northeast Ohio’s metropolitan planning agency, NOACA, forced Avon to agree to tax-sharing in exchange for a brand new interchange that was designed to spur private development, not solve any pressing transportation need. Numbers from the Ohio Department of Transportation, however, reveal Avon to be more a beneficiary of redistribution than a victim.

Source: ODOT

This chart shows shows per capita transportation spending in Avon (median household income $81,000) versus Cleveland (median household income $27,000) in 2009. It shows the direction that redistribution has long flowed in Northeast Ohio: out, out, out — away from the central city.

According to a 2003 study by Brookings: “In Ohio, however, urban counties consistently took home a smaller share of state highway funds than suburban and rural counties relative to their amount of vehicle traffic (vehicle miles traveled), car ownership (vehicle registrations), and demand for driving (gasoline sales). On the flipside, rural counties received more dollars for each indicator of need than did urban or suburban counties.”

What I want to know is, where were Kurtz and his friends at the National Review when that report was released? Did they decry “redistribution” from cities to rural areas? Of course not. The truth is, writers like Kurtz don’t really have a problem with “redistribution” when it benefits their constituencies.

At its core, Kurtz’s article isn’t about policy. What he’s is setting up is a discussion about identity — suburban versus urban. And in many regions, including Cleveland, where the central city is 53 percent African American, Kurtz’s ideas amount to a thinly veiled appeal to racial identity. You don’t have to strain your ears too much to hear the sound he’s making… it’s a high-pitched whistle.

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Niagara Falls: Reversing decline in a bipolar city

My definition of bipolar urban areas are those that have two principal cities at their core but that have each taken nearly opposite paths socioeconomically. The two cities possess Jekyll-and-Hyde-like qualities–one being quite healthy and prosperous while the other suffering from poverty, economic distress, or environmental degradation. While every significant urban area has its areas of poverty, distress, and degradation, a bipolar region differs in the fact that one of two primary core communities is the site of concentrated problems.

Unfortunately, in some cases the socioeconomic differences can be so stark that it’s almost like a third-world city has developed directly adjacent to a first world city, even though in many cases they exist in the same country.

Here are some examples of bipolar urban areas in North America.

  • El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico
  • Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas
  • Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada and Niagara Falls, New York
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Camden, New Jersey
  • St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, Michigan
  • St. Louis, Missouri and East St. Louis, Illinois

A bipolar urban case study:

These stark differences can be easily observed by both the residents and the millions of tourists alike in the Niagara Falls region of New York and Ontario.

Source: vintagraph.com

The Niagara Falls region has been a tourist destination for many decades due to its awesome natural wonders–not just the waterfalls themselves, but the whirlpools, rainbows, nearby Great Lakes, and the impressive gorge below the falls. Combine those with numerous tourist attractions and historic sites and you have a recipe for long-term economic success on both sides of the border.

Source: postcardexchange.com

But Niagara Falls, New York and Niagara Falls, Ontario have followed two different paths since World War II and have ended up at nearly opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. Niagara Falls, Ontario is a busy tourist destination with a pleasing mix of modern and stately hotels, gorgeous and carefully manicured parks and gardens, scenic parkways, lovely neighborhoods, and busy commercial centers. Granted, it can be argued that Ontario has the better overall view of the American and Canadian (Horseshoe) Falls, but that alone shouldn’t have led to such a vast and visible difference right across the river.

Source: niagara-falls-hotels-locator.com

For many years, parts of Niagara Falls, New York seemed virtually desolate compared to its vibrant Canadian neighbor. Instead of relying largely on tourism as Canada did, Niagara Falls, New York also used the enormous raw power generated by the falls to become an industrialized city. As a result, when those industries began to falter, the city declined in suit.

Niagara Falls, NY – Source: flickr.com

Downtown has seen a number of revitalization schemes put in place, some successful, others not. Much of the city’s breathtaking riverfront was marred by the limited access Robert Moses State Parkway, which also cut the city off from its source of fame and fortune. While the state parks abutting the falls remain busy, access to the heart of the city was impeded. Power plants and chemical plants were built (and in some cases abandoned) in the city, while electrical transmission and distribution lines crisscross the landscape.

Among the most heartbreaking legacies are the remnants of industrial indiscretions which have left visible scars —Love Canal being the most infamous. Niagara Falls, New York has never fully recovered from its industrial course and today remains a symbol of Rust Belt decay and dismay. The city’s population loss reflects this, as it has fallen from a high of 102,394 in 1960 to a mere 50,193 in 2010.

Niagara Falls, ON – Source: rosporkad.com

On the other hand, Niagara Falls, Ontario is simply a delight to visit. Beautifully landscaped parks and gardens, neat and trim neighborhoods, prosperous business and shopping districts, a growing and very impressive skyline for a city its size, well-maintained infrastructure, and a healthy and appealing ambiance all garner kudos. Each time I have visited Niagara Falls, Ontario I have been more impressed by the pride evoked by its citizens and business community. As a result, Niagara Falls, Ontario’s population has grown over the same decades, increasing from 22,874 in 1951 to 82,997 in 2011.

Are there ways to reverse the decline facing these urban Mr. Hydes without displacing those who have struggled to weather decades of socio-economic distress? Only time will tell. But, as urban planners, I believe part of our social, ethical, and moral responsibility is to seek viable solutions to such problems and do our level best to see them implemented.

Do I profess to have the solutions? Of course not; I would never be so vain. But I do know this–the status quo does not work. As Daniel Burnham so aptly said, “Make no little plans.”

In Niagara Falls, New York’s case, the first thing I would consider is demolishing and/or converting the limited access Robert Moses Parkway into a landscaped grade level boulevard with an adjacent but physically separated scenic bicycle trail overlooking the river and gorge. Apparently, I am not alone in the idea of removing the limited access highway. The multi-purpose bicycle trail would extend from one end of the city to the other and hopefully all the way to Lake Ontario.

Once the boulevard and bike trail have been established, a series of attractions could be developed along with a mix of low to mid-rise, ecologically friendly lodging and entertainment venues overlooking the lush surroundings. Linking these with attractions such as the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center and TrailheadProspect PointTerrapin PointCave of the WindsGoat Island, a proposed Nikola Tesla Science Museum in the world’s first hydroelectric plant, the planned restoration of the Niagara Gorge Rim, and the very successful ArtPark.

Most important would be to incorporate a variety of residential options along and near the boulevard/bike trail and provide direct walkable connections from downtown, existing residential areas, and other parks. The inclusion of residential options will assist in building a local client base for area businesses as well as provide new housing options within the city itself.

Unlike many cities facing difficult socioeconomic challenges, Niagara Falls, New York does have numerous great natural, scenic, ecological, and historical elements from which to build a strong economic base. It also has serious name recognition. From the list of existing and planned projects provided above, it is evident that they are working diligently to re-establish a thriving community. Kudos on their efforts to date and continued best wishes to Niagara Falls for the future.

— Rick Brown

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Filed under Brain Drain, Economic Development, Featured, Politics, Real Estate, regionalism, the environment, Uncategorized, Urban Planning, Urban Poverty

Making Sustainable Attainable in Greater Lansing

Monday evening I had the honor to join approximately 100 fellow participants, planners, partners, and stakeholders from throughout Greater Lansing at a kick-off meeting for the Mid-Michigan Program for Greater Sustainability at East Lansing’s Hannah Community Center. Partners in the program include the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, Lansing Area Economic Partnership, Michigan State University Land Policy Institute, Michigan Energy Options, the Michigan Fitness Foundation, Greater Lansing Housing Coalition, the Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council, and CAM-TV.

The four-hour event showcased the nine sustainability projects that will be part of the three-year effort funded through a three million dollar grant from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and $5.2 million in local matching contributions. The nine projects as described in a handout prepared by the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission are:

  • “A five-year comprehensive regional fair and affordable housing plan for the tri-county region.
  • A regional affordable housing study.
  • A community reinvestment fund to build capacity in the region for traditionally underserved and marginalized populations.
  • Develop an energy audit study of build structures.
  • Build capacity for a regional urban services management area.
  • Promote a multi-faceted and prioritized green infrastructure system.
  • Develop a sustainable corridor design portfolio using the 20 mile long Michigan Avenue/Grand River Avenue Corridor from the State Capitol to Webberville.
  • Build capacity for complete streets planning and implementation.
  • Create an online portal for sharing information, evaluating, and promoting sustainability.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These nine projects will build the impetus for propelling Mid-Michigan into a thriving and sustainable metropolitan region that is inclusive and beneficial to all socio-economic and demographic populations within the Greater Lansing community. It is a very exciting prospect to consider and long-range planning project to participate in.

Other Rust Belt communities and organizations to receive sustainability grants from HUD in 2011 include the following:

  • Baltimore, Maryland
  • Binghamton, New York
  • Erie County, Pennsylvania
  • Freeport, Illinois
  • Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, Pennsylvania
  • Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, New York
  • Northwest Michigan Council of Governments (Traverse City), Michigan
  • Oak Park, Illinois
  • Warren, Ohio
  • Washtenaw County (Ann Arbor), Michigan

Rick Brown

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Filed under Economic Development, Featured, Good Ideas, Green Jobs, Politics, Public Transportation, regionalism, the environment, Urban Planning, Urban Poverty

My Northeast Ohio Policy Wish List

You probably haven’t heard about this yet, even if you work in the planning field in Northeast Ohio, but right now the region’s political and civic leaders are hashing out a regional plan that is supposed to help fix our economy and the environment.

This isn’t like the lakefront plan either, a pie-in-the-sky vision for what the region would do if the right developer comes along or if the Feds come through with a grant. This is a planning process that is supposed to result in some hard decisions that should have been made a long time ago. This is a plan backed by $5 million from the Feds. Assuming Obama is reelected, it would potentially guide much of the further federal investment in the region — including, and probably most importantly, transportation dollars — the skeleton of the region.

Anyway, it’s all in the hands of a group called the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium. The problem, as noted by many observers, is that this group is populated by many of the same characters that have prevented this region from developing a blueprint for regional sustainability and economic recovery for decades. The kind of folks that balk at the idea of tax sharing, because that would mean handing over a share of the money they make from poaching jobs from their neighbors — you know “team players.”

This group has been working on this project for a year (they have two to go) and so far and they have yet to really begin the formal public participation process.

In the interest of having a open dialogue about this stuff, I wanted to share some of my expectations for what this group should be doing for the region, a wish list if you will. This is all the type of stuff that will be on the table, or should.

#1. They should establish an urban growth boundary in Northeast Ohio. This is a planning tool first pioneered by Portland, but also in use in some form in places like Miami, Florida. It would establish an outward limit for urban development. My opinion is that the current urbanized area of Northeast Ohio should be the boundary and in the future, any development proposed outside of it would have to win approval from a board of community representatives.

The reason for this is that the NEO is shrinking. In the last 10 years we lost 2.5% of our population. But the population loss has all been in the central area of the region and the growth has all been at the edges — a pattern that is neither sustainable nor conducive to a healthy economy.

Failing this, the region should develop strong incentives for infill development and strong disincentives for greenfield (sprawling) development. In the future, all economic incentives for business location should be predicated on adherence to this generally accepted plan.

#2. The region should develop a Fix-it-First policy for infrastructure. That means we should stop building new roads and bridges we can’t afford to maintain while letting our existing infrastructure crumble. Once our current transportation system is in an agreed-upon state of good repair, then we can begin expanding it again.

#3. We should set a goal of 25% transit mode share, ie 25 percent if people using transit to get to work. In order to meet that goal we should double our investment in transit.

#4. We should develop a transit oriented development policy that offers big-time incentives, including but not limited to density bonuses, especially by rapid transit stops.

#5. Parking minimums should be lifted and parking rates should be determined by a compromise between what the market dictates and what the community believes is in its best interest.

#6. The practice of job poaching between municipalities should be formally forbidden and subject to regional economic sanctions.

I know what you’re thinking. This is Northeast Ohio, we don’t do things like that. But other regions are doing those things. They are doing them to compete in an era of energy scarcity.

Columbus’ Franklin County, for example, recently revised its parking policy to promote walk ability. In the Twin Cities the regional transportation planning board recently voted to stop expanding highways into its hinterlands and instead focus on building transit in the urban core. Indianapolis punted on a similar proposal recently, but only because of an unrelated labor squabble in the statehouse. Montreal recently established a goal of 45% transit mode share.

Northeast Ohio’s many problems require bold solutions not another endless round of unproductive meetings. We need action like this to compete in the 21st Century.

Let me know in the comments if there’s anything you think I’ve overlooked.

–A.S.

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