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

Leave a comment

Filed under Featured, Headline

5 Reasons Clevelanders Should Reject the Latest Pro-Sports Giveaway

Hello! If I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting you, allow me to introduce myself.

My name is Will Tarter.  I love Cleveland, its people, its traditions, its teams, its institutions, its past, its present and its future.

It’s with the future of our community in mind, as a taxpayer and a citizen, that I am voting “No” on Issue 7, otherwise known as the “Sin Tax.” Issue 7 will appear on the ballot on May 6th, 2014. This proposed issue will primarily tax Cuyahoga County residents, potentially bringing in an average of $13.5 million, each year, for the next 20 years, totaling $270 million that is 100% intended to fund maintenance on the professional sports facilities.

If you oppose Issue 7, that doesn’t mean you are opposed to continuing the momentum of Downtown Cleveland, opposed to Cleveland, or opposed to the Cavaliers, Indians, or Browns. You can love Cleveland and be a passionate advocate, but still oppose Issue 7.

As you will read here, Issue 7 is a flawed piece of legislation for Cuyahoga County taxpayers. While I agree that we need to fulfill our obligations, I (and others) have serious questions and concerns as taxpayers of the impact of Issue 7 on our county.

No matter where you fall politically (liberal or conservative; Democrat or Republican; Tea Party or Green Party; young professional, mid-life or senior citizen; urban dweller or suburbanite), I want to ask you to Vote No on Issue 7.

Here are 5 reasons why we should Vote No:

Government is actively trying to get people to smoke less, making Issue 7 an unreliable method of funding. Governor Kasich recently proposed a budget including $27 million for smoking prevention and to support people who want to quit.  He has also has proposed a tax increase of 60 cents per pack on cigarettes.  “Tobacco taxes are one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking rates,” said Micah Berman, professor at the College of Public Health and the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University.

Getting people to quit or smoke less is a great thing (for healthcare, social, and economic reasons). But if people do start smoking less often as a result of these statewide policy changes (smoking rates are already decreasing statewide), then even less money that comes from the Issue 7 sin tax that can be used to fulfill the financial lease obligations of the City and County.  If that happens, we would still have to figure out other ways on how to fulfill our funding obligations. And if Cuyahoga County residents don’t stop smoking, money would be taken away from their income that could be used for other more imperative expenses.

So Issue 7 affects you, whether you smoke or not.

Ironically, the City of Cleveland, which is supporting the cigarette tax as a way to pay for the stadiums, also created the Healthy Cleveland Initiative, a promotion of healthy living which contains a component designed to get people to smoke less.

It unfairly hits the poor who smoke and are addicted to smoking. Issue 7 is a tax on cigarettes and alcohol, otherwise known as a “Sin Tax.” This form of government income is a highly regressive tax, which means that it disproportionately harms poor people who smoke.  It is harmful to poor people who smoke in two ways.  First, according to the National Institute of Health, “the prevalence of smoking is higher among the poor” and “cigarettes are, in fact, disproportionately consumed by the poor.”  Second, according to a 2014 New York Times analysis, data suggests that it is more difficult for poor and working class citizens to stop smoking. The Times states: “since 1997, the smoking rate for adults has fallen 27 percent, but among the poor it has declined just 15 percent.

Issue 7 primarily taxes the poor Cuyahoga County residents who smoke more and have more difficulty quitting, and provides a significantly smaller return on the investment for the low-income residents of the county (a stark contrast to the Cuyahoga Arts and Culture tax on the ballot next year).

Over 50% of the visitors to the sports facilities are from outside Cuyahoga County. While proponents of the sin tax say that people who visit will pay the sin tax and spend their dollars in Downtown, it is the citizens of Cuyahoga County, and especially the City of Cleveland, who live here and will be paying this tax over and over and over again.  If we want to talk about approaching issues from a regional basis, this is a great place to start.

As pointed out by Crain’s Business Magazine, Issue 7, aka the Sin Tax, is for 20 years.  None of the team leases are signed beyond 15 years. Other cities have asked teams to make a signed lease commitment to stay in the city for the same number of years of any future tax funding/bond request before going to the voters and asking for more money.  Seems fair.

The sports facilities have collected hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies since 2000. Sin Tax proponents will say “it’s only one penny here, one penny there.”  But over 20 years, Issue 7 could potentially add up to over $270,000,000. 270 Million Dollars. How else could the $270 million be spent over 20 years be spent in our communities with a larger benefit to residents?

For perspective, $270,000,000 is more money than the new Convention Center Hilton Hotel.

And almost as much money as the new Interstate 90 bridge.

Did You Know?: The Cleveland Browns pay only $250,000 annually in rent to the City of Cleveland.  The minimum salary for an NFL player on an active roster is $405,000.

The questions being raised about Issue 7 are about more than just the Sin Tax. They are a microcosm of a broader conversation on the relationship between Cleveland and the facilities that house the sports teams and the owners and management of the teams themselves.  For context, the sports facilities and the general fund which pays to maintain them, also receive City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County taxpayer revenue from:

  • The Parking Tax
  • The Admission Tax
  • The Bed Tax
  • The Video Game Tax
  • The Car Rental Tax AND
  • The buildings themselves are exempt from property taxes (which takes away potential revenue or reduces potential revenue that would be attributed to the Cleveland Metropolitan School District)

Collectively, that totals almost $1 BILLION dollars in the past 10 years.

Check out the breakdown from the Plain Dealer, which calls it a “smorgasbord of taxes.”

Voting NO on Issue 7 does not mean that you are anti-Downtown Cleveland, anti-Cleveland, anti-development or anti-sports.

But by joining me in Voting NO on Issue 7, we can find a better way to support our teams, our city and our county.

We, the people, are who keep Cleveland strong.

And the best is yet to come.


Will Tarter

The Coalition Against the Sin Tax campaign (CAST) is a volunteer, community-driven campaign that has formed to defeat Issue 7.  If you or your organization is interested in joining CAST, we welcome your support. There is a growing list of citizens, public officials and organizations who are opposing Issue 7.

If you are interested in having a speaker at your event, service, meeting or talk show during the month of April, please let us know:

If you have additional questions, we will be doing a Reddit AMA on April 9th at 6:30 p.m. and will answer any questions that you may have.

Like us on Facebook:

Follow Us on Twitter:

Sources used:–football-teams-with-the-most-expensive-tickets-213046787.html

Leave a comment

Filed under Headline

The Big Road Solution: A Critical Look at the Opportunity Corridor

The Opportunity Corridor is a $331 million road through the east side of Cleveland that has been presented to residents as an economic development project. The residents of these neighborhoods, such as Kinsman, are struggling with poverty (median household income $13,300) and serious health issues, including high rates of asthma and infant mortality rates worse than Zimbabwe.

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) believes that neighborhoods have declined due to poor highway access, stating “by the middle of the 20th century, trucking had become more prominent in transporting industrial goods. This shift resulted in local businesses leaving in search of locations with better access to the interstate highway system, enhanced visibility and new infrastructure to support their business needs.”

This is in contrast to the reality that decades of disinvestment, redlining and abandonment followed by demolition and fire have resulted in many vacant lots and economic decline throughout neighborhoods. To get residents on board with their project, ODOT and the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP), Cleveland’s chamber of commerce, told residents in a series of public meetings that the project would create 10,000 permanent jobs.

This statement was made after the City of Cleveland had estimated only 1,600 jobs. Furthermore, after the presentations GCP funded an economic development study that found it would only create about 2,340 jobs. Basically, GCP went into low income neighborhoods that have experienced decades of disinvestment and promised an absurd number of jobs in order to get community support for their road project with no accountability. This alone should raise red flags.

The real barrier to economic Development is brownfield remediation and low interest loans. Businesses in the area, such as Miceli’s Cheese, were able to expand only after qualifying for low interest loans and grants that were used to clean up the brownfields. The Phalen Boulevard, a project said to be a model for the Opportunity Corridor, had years of brownfield remediation and anchoring tenants before it was built, but there is no brownfield remediation in the current Opportunity Corridor proposal.

The Phalen Boulevard also had no residential houses that had to be taken, whereas Opportunity Corridor has estimated that 74 residential and 44 commercial structures will need to be taken. It’s a slap in the face that “fair market value” will be paid to residents when market values have declined so much and many elderly residents already have their houses paid off. ODOT plans to provide only $52,000 maximum to residents to relocate.

Furthermore, ODOT openly states that the Opportunity Corridor would “result in disproportionately high and adverse impacts to low income and minority populations” and has only offered 2 pedestrian bridges, a voluntary residential relocation program, and a half million dollars to the Woodland Recreation Center.  The half million dollars given to the rec center represents less than one-tenth of one percent (about .0015%) of the project’s budget.  ODOT should be ashamed for the lack of community benefits given that this is such a large scale project.  City of Cleveland officials should be more vocal in obtaining improved community benefits for displaced residents and for the neighborhoods that will be divided by the corridor.

Another barrier to economic development is transportation. Over 40% of households in Kinsman do not have access to a car, and the corridor does nothing to improve public transportation, in fact it will create large walls around the East 55th street rapid station, which will decrease pedestrian access. In a recent Interview by Michael McGraw in the Cleveland Street Chronicle, Norman Krumholz, Planning Director of the City from 1969-1979 and professor of Urban Affairs at CSU, was asked what could be added to the Opportunity Corridor to benefit public transit users. Krumholz replied, “They could use the present configuration so that bus lines would be able to transverse the present proposal. Or, better yet, they could forget about the Opportunity Corridor entirely, and use existing streets, and connect more closely with existing public transit, and redevelopment efforts in the existing neighborhoods.”

For example – instead of using the Opportunity Corridor, which is supposed to cost maybe $350 million, that is an early estimate, it’ll probably run over $400 million by the time it’s done, they could simply improve the route from the hub at E. 55th St.” Krumholz recommendations are similar to an alternative to improve Woodland Ave that was removed in the early planning stages when no residents were involved in the initial planning. Per ODOT, “In the early planning stage, the committee was made up mostly of business, political and transportation agency representatives and leaders of Community Development Corporations.” In fact, ODOT was sued by South Euclid Councilman Marty Gelfand to “find out how and why ODOT District 12 came to select that route and what, if any alternatives were proposed, especially the Woodland Avenue alternative.” Obviously, ODOT and GCP could do a better job of being transparent.

Norman Krumholz suggested above that the corridor should not even be built, which begs the question is this project still relevant in 2014? People are driving less (Vehicle Miles Traveled has been declining for nearly a decade) and a new innerbelt bridge is going to be finished soon which will handle more traffic. There are also current plans to redesign the 5-points intersection of E. 55th St and Kinsman road, which would make the Woodland alternative worth reconsidering, especially if public input is actually taken into account.

Furthermore, why build a road to University Circle when there is already a traffic problem? Chris Ronayne, current president of University Circle Incorporated (UCI), recently stated “One-third bike, one-third transit and one-third auto is the commuting goal into University Circle. That’s a reasonable objective.” So the president of UCI is calling for reduced auto traffic in University Circle, while the Opportunity Corridor will create physical walls around transit stations and instead create new infrastructure to bring more traffic to University Circle. Is this really the best use of public funds? I don’t think it is, and recommend that the Opportunity Corridor be reevaluated with more transparency, honesty, and accountability.

You can read my complete report at


Leave a comment

Filed under Featured

Tolerating Hate Speech and Misogyny on the News Websites

My friend, a beautiful, intelligent native American woman, wrote a column this weekend in the Plain Dealer explaining why she thinks the Indians’ Chief Wahoo is offensive. It was brave, and respectful and well written.

To the surprise of no one, the comments section immediately devolved into a cesspool ignorance and depravity that has come to characterize commentary on local news issues — particularly when there is a woman or minority concerned.


Here’s another gem:

And another:

I was all ready to report the first comment comment, but there didn’t seem to be a way to do it on the site run by the Northeast Ohio Media Group. A lot of times it seems like, if it wasn’t for this type of fifth, there would scarcely be any comments at all. This type of language — hate speech, misogyny — is not just tolerated by this company, I think, it’s part of what it trades in.

I wrote a couple columns for the Plain Dealer, this same kind, unpaid. Both times some genius replied by telling me “not to get my panties in a wad.”

The Plain Dealer has a “community rules” policy where they specifically ban hateful speech. But the company devotes zero effort to enforcing it. In fact, hateful speech is what the comments boards are known for.

They cater to bigots, at the expense of large portions of the community and at the expense of common decency.

Here’s Northeast Ohio Media Group’s bro-in-chief Brandon Blackwell responding to commenters who complained about the paper’s use of the term “hate crime,” a term commenters feel is unfair to white men.

That Blackwell even feels compelled to respond at all to commenters complaining that the paper used to term “hate crime” is telling. And Blackwell wants them to know it’s not their term and that they don’t “market” the type of idea — the widely accepted idea that certain marginalized groups could be targeted for violence and that is extra bad. That’s what the Plain Dealer is careful not to “market.”

Though both the author Mark Naymik and Brandon Blackwell commented on the article and were apparently moderating the discussion, here’s two comments they apparently left standing because they felt were a-ok, no need to respond in any way:

And another:

Scene, Cleveland’s alternative weekly, is just as guilty. Here’s a comment posted about Kelly Blazek, the owner of a local jobs board.

By the way, I complained to the publisher about that comment a month ago, and it still stands. Apparently any woman who becomes the subject of a news article, whether male readers would allow them to perform certain sex acts on them is totally fair game,

On the packs 1! Me always clean treat purchases the the door vardenafil nella versione orosolubile plastic for to way! It’s drug clomid or nolvadex for pct were nanny. Despite teeth. I the come other the out my much this sildenafil over the counter just ton a nails hormones powerful love. Sent clomid for women any, can’t in left: ages. This decided products. I on.

the kind of thing anyone is welcome to publish on Scene’s website.

These publications are making a choice about whose opinion matters, who deserves to be treated with respect — the answer is bigots and bullies. When the Plain Dealer and Scene allow this type of speech to be published a widely-read platform they maintain, they tacitly condone it and profit from it. It’s a really, really bad thing for our community.

But it would be easy to fix. It would just take some minor fixes for these publications to develop a culture that promoted tolerance and welcomed all perspectives — even — gasp! — women from minority groups. The first thing these websites should do, in my opinion, is install a a “Report hate speech” button on every comment, like Facebook does, to allow readers to report this type of trash. Readers can report this stuff, an editor can spend 5% of his time reviewing flagged comments. Problem solved. Respectability restored.

What they’ve done instead, is set the lowest possible standards for their website and helped produce an ugly and embarrassing forum that hurts Northeast Ohio.

It’s way past time we demanded better from them.

–Angie Schmitt

Leave a comment

Filed under Featured

Roldo on The Pro-Sports Subsidy Machine in Cleveland

NOTE: Venerated Cleveland reporter Roldo Bartimole wrote the following item about the “Sin Tax” up for renewal this May in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County. The tax would provide some $300 million for the city’s three professional sports franchises, for facilities upgrades and repairs. Citizens groups have raised questions about the fairness of this tax, which is issued on cigarette and alcohol, and is paid disproportionally by poor people, contributing to the profits of billionaire sports team owners. A powerful political, business and media coalition is pushing for the tax, even though there has been little analysis or public debate about the spending proposals. Roldo, one of Cleveland’s most knowlegable and sophisticated political observers, says they are pulling out all the stops to delude taxpayers:

City and County politicians are trying to put Cuyahoga County residents in a box on the sin tax.

They are counting on voters to be gullible and a credulous news media to do the selling job, aided by a million dollar ad campaign.

However, I think they have finally outfoxed themselves by taxing themselves into a box – there are too many tax hikes for the public to swallow.

The sports tax is the biggest one.

On the May 6th ballot there will be tax levies, in addition, for schools or cities in Shaker Heights, Pepper Pike, Maple Heights, Seven Hills, Parma, Strongsville, Brooklyn, Olmsted Falls and Bedford Heights. Residents will be taxing themselves at home. It hurts.

In the near future there will be other tax hikes, including renewal of the cigarette tax for arts and culture, not to mention yet unknown tax needs.

But the big push will be to aid, without clear knowledge of neither how the money will be used on these sports facilities nor what other needs they’ll require thereafter. It’s a blank check deal.

I was on the Mansfield Frazier radio (WTAM 1100 Sundays) show twice recently with Cleveland Council President Kevin Kelley.

Kelly’s argument reflects the false reasoning of the teams and the Greater Cleveland Partnership. (You may have noticed numerous TV ads running day and night. You will find once contributions have to be reported that the team owners and GCP member have contributed generously. In 1990 they spent some three-quarters of a million dollars on advertising, which one of its former leaders labeled as bogus.)

Kelley and the corporate establishment want you to believe that the city is boxed in by the lease. That if we don’t vote the new $290 million tax increase (added to hundreds of millions already paid) that the city coffers will be depleted.

Nonsense. Totally.

Defeat of Issue 7 on May 6 will only mean that we reject a 20-year new sin tax that will cost Cuyahoga County residents the $294 million.


What the proponents also don’t mention is that taxes continue to be collected for the Browns stadium. They keep flowing.


The city imposed, without a vote of the electorate, a number of taxes to pay for the bonds of the Browns stadium. They have some 11 years to run.

Let me list them:

– An 8 percent parking tax in Cleveland worth some $7.1 million a year (though likely more since parking rates have risen since the mid 1990s when the tax was passed). It should produce $78 million for Browns stadium payments.

– A 2 percent increase in the admission tax, estimated at the time at $1.2 million a year. That should bring in another $13.2 million.

– A $2 fee for each car rental that should produce some $7.7 million.

Beyond that the city generously (and stupidly) committed for “comfort” of bondholders an additional $5.3 million a year for 29 years from admission tax revenues. That commits some $58 million in the duration left.

All together that’s $98.9 million in expected taxes in the city plus a commitment of $58 million of extra admission taxes.

If $290 million is added by a yes vote, the public could be indebted with as much as $446 million if the extra admission tax revenue needed to be used.

The Plain Dealer, Crain’s and TV never remember any of this. Journalistic amnesia.

This is an unacceptable price tag.

What will happen when the tax is defeated?

City and County officials and team owners Jimmy Haslam, Dan Gilbert and Larry Dolan will have to seek a more reasonable solution.

They will have to redo the leases.

Now, the politicians, owners and corporate leaders want to convince voters they have no other choices.

The teams cannot walk away from the sweet deals they already have.

The city cannot afford to add sweeteners to the deal.

So it’s REAL time. Time to deal.

Leave a comment

Filed under Featured

Traveling Through Pennsylvania by Train

I shot these on my trip from Cleveland to D.C. Tuesday, out the window of the cafe car on Amtrak’s Capitol Limited route.

Pennsylvania is such a beautiful state. It’s really fun and interesting to travel at ground level through tiny communities like you get a chance to on Amtrak.

My journey took me 10 hours and left at two in the morning. But it only cost me $130 round trip and I was able to sleep for more than half the journey anyway. When I do this I take the savings over flying (about $200 this time) and I spend it on my trip. So far I’ve saved $400 by taking two Amtrak trips this year, which either makes me what is sildenafil citrate smart, or too cheap for my own good. (I’m a bit of a foamer.)

One thing that’s cool about Amtrak, is that people talk to each other more so than on a plane. You get a different crowd. This particular train was full of Amish people. (I wish I knew why they were all traveling to DC!) But there were also some African (Caribbean?) immigrants, I think. There’s always a lot of retired people on Amtrak too, and some are even pretty wealthy. Amtrak provides a pretty healthy discount to seniors, that’s why.

Anyway, I am sort of anti-social, so I don’t usually make friends on my Amtrak trips, but I do eavesdrop on people. Usually I’m trying to get some work done anyway. It’s funny because when you overhear people’s conversations, a lot of them are talking about riding trains and how much they like trains. Train enthusiasts are another group exactus pharmacy you’re likely to run into on Amtrak. It’s surprising how many of them there are — not just nerdy men, like is the stereotype.

Yesterday I was eavesdropping on this older white woman talking to this younger black man. She was telling him she loved riding trains and that her kids had bought her and her husband a train trip for their 35th wedding anniversary. But now they’ve been married for 50 years and this time they wanted to ride coach to get the “coach experience.” Ha. That cracked me up. I think it’d be fun to take a sleeper car sometime. For this trip, it would have been as expensive as flying and I sleep ok in the seats anyway.

Anyway, I always ride coach and it’s pretty roomy. It makes it relatively easy to sleep and work, even though I usually don’t have wifi. Even though these trips take a lot longer than flying, they’re way less of a hassle. No transfers, no security, and they drop you off in the center of town, rather than the suburbs. So levitra no cabs, you can hop on public transit. In Cleveland, you can even leave your car at the Amtrak station for free the whole time you’re gone, which is crazy. (Cleveland has TERRIBLE land use policies.)

So even though the trip took 10 hours, I slept for six of them and I worked for about three and a half, so it’s not too bad.

The whole time we rode, we rode along this pretty stream, I think that’s because trains ride through the mountain valleys carved by the stream. There were a lot of really humble, isolated houses and trailers along the journey. I women s health meds don’t know who lives in them. Tourists? Coal workers? Just regular teachers/nurses/truckers etc.? Some of the small towns in Pennsylvania that used to be coal mining towns are pretty depressed. That’s the best insight I can offer. I guess people don’t need a reason to live there.

Anyway, Amtrak is my favorite service of the federal government, although perhaps more government services could win my favor by serving me coffee. Cue conservative wrath: enjoying a government service that you pay for?I know, it feels weird, and nice.

I say all this, even though Amtrak service sucks in Ohio because the state won’t support it. Amtrak wouldn’t even travel through Ohio if it could avoid it on the way from New York to Chicago, probably, thanks to our backwards state government.

Everyone who gets a chance though, I would recommend making at least one journey this way. It’s a more relaxing, dignified way to travel and you get to see how beautiful and diverse our country is. I love to travel, it can be really inspiring and lift your spirit, especially if you get a chance to sit back and enjoy the journey and just take everything in.

–Angie Schmitt



Leave a comment

Filed under Featured, Headline

Ohio and the Fate of the "Big Eight"

The 2010 Census produced mixed results for America’s “legacy cities,” that is deindustrialized cities located primarily, but not exclusively, in the Midwest and in the Mid-Atlantic states. While east coast cities like Newark and Philadelphia actually posted population gains, Midwestern Rust Belt cities generally continued their long slide down in terms of population growth. This proved especially true in the state of Ohio, formerly a key manufacturing hub and once arguably the heartland of Industrial North America. For not only have Ohio’s major cities continued to shrink, their population loss actually ACCELERATED from 2000 to 2010. The same largely holds true for the shrinking counties that are home to Ohio’s seven withering major cities.

All of this leads to a central question: How long will it be before Ohio itself loses population? Much is at stake. Not just tax bases, representation in the house, and federal funding, but national relevance. With the decline of the Upper Midwest/Great Lakes region, Ohio’s internal decay is even more of a pressing issue.

The state has been traditionally known for its “Big Eight” cities: Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, Akron, Dayton, Canton, and Youngstown. All of these cities, save the capital city of Columbus, owe their existence to the explosion in manufacturing in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Cleveland was an early leader in automotive production before diversifying into other manufacturing sectors as the twentieth century wore on. Youngstown was a steel center, known as “America’s Ruhr Valley.” Dayton’s manufacturing muscle grew on, among other things, automobiles, foundries, and printing plants. Toledo was also known for auto manufacturing and the glass industry.

Suburbanization in the post-war era and deindustrialization hit Ohio’s cities as hard as any in the nation. From the early 1970s to the mid 1980s, Ohio’s manufacturing employment dropped by nearly 20 percent. Simultaneously, Ohio’s metropolitan areas decentralized. Seven of the Big Eight began to crumble, albeit at various speeds. The deterioration in the economic and social fortunes of Ohio’s cities through the 1980s has been well covered in a variety of venues. What has been less mentioned is that, unlike east coast legacy cities, the decline of Ohio’s major cities accelerated from 2000 to 2010. And according to 2012 U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the decline continues.

Figure one is a comparison of the change in population for seven of Ohio’s Big Eight from the 2000 to 2010 census.

Figure 1

Every one of these cities experienced a larger decline in 2010 than they did in 2000. Cleveland’s collapse is particularly shocking, as are Dayton and Youngstown’s double-digit losses. Even Akron, somewhat of a success story, experienced a surprising drop in 2010. After seeing a substantial improvement in its population numbers in 2000, the city registered its largest population decline since 1980 in the year 2010. The 2012 census estimates look equally dismal: Only one out of 15 Ohio cities with a population of over 50,000 managed not to lose residents. Two of Ohio’s cities (Cleveland and Youngstown) were among the seven fastest shrinking cities in the entire nation during that period. Youngstown was the country’s fastest shrinking city.

Counties containing a major shrinking city are on a similar path of continued contraction. With the exception of Stark and Summit in 2000, accelerated population loss has become the norm, as figure two below shows.

Figure 2

(Chart shows negative population loss. Negative numbers are positive)

Lucas County, Mahoning, and Cuyahoga experienced large decreases in the period from 2000 to 2010. Cuyahoga, home to the second largest city in the state, is the fastest shrinking county in the state. Mahoning County in particular faces a troubled future. Between the middle of 2008 and the middle of 2009, Mahoning had more deaths than births. This is termed “negative natural increase.” Once a county experiences a cycle of negative natural increase, it is likely to re-enter the cycle again at some point.

The population decrease of the state’s major cities and counties is almost certainly a prelude to state population loss; a major sign is the disappearance of young people, a problem especially centered in counties housing the state’s largest cities. Cuyahoga County’s under-18 population dipped 16 percent between 2000 and 2010. In fact, Ohio’s drop in people under 18 was the third worst in the nation.

Ohio’s manufacturing employment wasn’t just hard hit during the seventies and eighties. At the beginning of the century Ohio had nearly a million manufacturing jobs. A little over a decade later just under 350,000 of those jobs remained. Manufacturing is the crucial piece of the economic puzzle in Ohio. And as the “recovery” begins to pick up steam, especially for automobile production and pipe production for energy exploration, manufacturing will continue to be a centerpiece of the state domestic product. However, it’s unlikely job growth will ever return to the numbers seen in the nineties, much less the seventies. Also present is a significant skills gap, particularly in distressed urban communities, between what modern manufacturing employers are demanding and what job seekers possess. Lost manufacturing jobs are particularly troubling considering that average compensation in manufacturing for the year 2009 was nearly $68,000, while non-farm, non-manufacturing sectors averaged only about $42,000.

As important as the decline in manufacturing jobs is for the state, there are other negative long-term indicators. According to the Brookings Institute, “Ohio underperformed the national average on employment in every industry from 2000 to 2008. Ohio’s shrinking industries are declining faster than its growing industries are gaining ground.” There have been bright spots, like the creation of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown or the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland-a green worker co-op that’s part of a highly innovative “Cleveland Model.” The model partners community co-ops and anchor institutions (like universities and hospitals) with a large local footprint that could utilize services in their surrounding communities. Still, it’s unclear how long these initiatives will take to have a measurable impact. And time is not on the side of the “Big Seven.”

The term Big Seven denotes the absence of the capital city of Columbus. Unlike the others, Columbus has seemingly prospered while urban flight and deindustrialization ate away at her brethren. Columbus’ diversified economy traditionally buffered it from the extremely cyclical nature of Ohio’s manufacturing cities. And while sprawl devastated other cities in the state, Columbus annexed outlying areas, withholding the extension of water lines to areas that might resist incorporation into the city. Annexation disguises the low-density nature of the city. The urban core of Columbus has been hit hard by foreclosure and disinvestment. The near east side and south side are also experiencing disinvestment, yet, Columbus is drawing people from all over Ohio. It is the only one of the Big Eight with a growing population.

Franklin County, however, which Columbus dominates, has a child poverty rate of almost 27 percent.[vii] For several years child poverty in Ohio has eclipsed the national average; approximately one in four children live in poverty. Black child poverty in Ohio is three times higher than all other child poverty. The percentage of black children living in poverty in Ohio’s Big Eight is much higher than the state average. In 2003, over 40 percent of black children in Youngstown, Toledo, Akron, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Canton lived below the poverty line. In 2011, that number was over 50 percent in Toledo and around 56 percent in Youngstown.

Ohio is now very likely to join Michigan as the only other state in the union to have lost population. While recent census estimates show a very slight uptick in growth, long-term trends are more than enough to reverse this. Overall population growth is trending in the wrong direction. Ohio’s metropolitan areas are no closer to resolving long-standing conflicts between city and suburb; instead, shrinking counties are home to a polyglot of municipalities fighting over ever-decreasing economic pies. The federal government has long been an absentee voice in the realm of urban issues, so what is being done at the state level? States have toolboxes that can hinder or help cities. Ohio’s poor record on fostering municipal cooperation, encouraging sprawl and green field development, as well as failing to invest in twenty first century transportation infrastructure, is more than discouraging-it’s akin to promoting spatial suicide. Since Ohio’s 2005 tax cut-that largely benefited top-earners-job growth in every sector has trailed the national average. From 2005 to 2009, Ohio eliminated its corporate income tax, instead establishing a “commercial activity tax” in 2010. Unfortunately corporations are multi-state enterprises and are likely to invest such tax breaks in places other than Ohio, which is apparently what happened. Since 2005, only three other states have worse job growth rates.

Ohio’s budget for 2014 and 2015 also features income tax cuts (mostly benefiting the wealthy, again) and an increase in the regressive sales tax. Tax cuts up to $250,000 for small business owners won’t add up to much of a stimulus when most small business owners make under $30,000 a year. Estate taxes, the majority of which fund local government, are now gone. Distressed cities in Ohio will likely have to enact further reductions in services, which in turn will make them even less desirable places to live.

Ohio is in crisis mode, whether the state government realizes it or not. Seven out of Ohio’s eight major cities are in various states of decline or even collapse. The economy is moribund on many levels. The decline of manufacturing employment is hurting working class families at a time when few opportunities for college graduates are driving more young people to the Sun Belt and elsewhere. As the Greater Ohio Policy Center points out, “Ohio’s seven largest metro areas are home to 71 percent of its population, 76 percent of its jobs, and 80 percent of the states’ gross domestic product.” With accelerating blight and population loss, metropolitan fragmentation, and a disconnected state government more interested in restricting access to abortion than in increasing access to education and jobs for low-income households, Ohio faces a race to the bottom of states in terms of opportunity and quality of life.

–Sean Posey

Leave a comment

Filed under Economic Development, Education, Featured, Headline, Labor, Politics, Public Education, sprawl, Urban Planning