Tag Archives: East Cleveland

As Go Cities, So Goes the State

Ohio’s cities are dying. That is the simple truth. In fact there is practically no other state in the union whose major cities have experienced the same amount of population loss. This hard truth was driven home when the results of the 2010 Census came out. The six biggest cities in Ohio, save Columbus, all experienced population loss. Cleveland, which has lost over half of its population, saw a 17 percent decline. Dayton lost nearly 15 percent. Youngstown, once home to 170,000 people, is now smaller than the city of Parma. Cincinnati, Akron, and Toledo also registered losses.

Youngstown's pain is Ohio's pain.

One of the main drivers behind this, well known to many of you, is sprawl or decentralization. This is a problem with a very long history. At the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, Ohio already had over 784 different municipalities, with 31 just in Hamilton County. This plethora of municipalities grew with little or no guidance from long term and sustainable planning.

More recently, the population density of the Dayton urban area decreased from 3,263 per square mile in 1970 to 2,209 in 2000; however, the amount of developed or urbanized land increased from 185 square miles to 327 square miles during the same time period. The Youngstown/Warren Metropolitan Area’s footprint increased by 30 percent from the years 1970 to 1990, while simultaneously decreasing almost ten percent in terms of population. Cleveland’s experience with sprawl is similar and has been well covered here.

Even the lone “success” story of Columbus is problematic. Annexation has buttressed the city’s population; yet, sprawl has contributed to a low population density, inner city decay and food deserts—the neighborhood of King Lincoln is a good example of the latter two phenomena. When comparing individual counties, in 2006 Franklin County actually had a higher rate of poverty than did Cuyahoga or Hamilton County.

Collapsing cities are a drag on regions, not surprisingly, and the state in general. Low-density cities are also a hindrance to innovation. Productivity also decreases with spatial density in the labor market. Nor are low-density cities attractive for young professionals, a demographic Ohio politicians claim to covet. And young people are precisely what Ohio is losing. Ohio recently registered the third largest drop of any state in its under 18 population. It’s possible, perhaps probable, that the state will experience a net population loss in the next census. Probably a large portion of this loss is related to jobs; only Michigan fared worse than Ohio in terms of job loss from 2000 to 2008. This is due to a number of factors, but sprawl, decaying cities, corruption, disastrous tax abatement policies and state income tax cuts for the wealthy have either exacerbated the issue or caused further losses in state revenue.

A main problem that any urban activist in Ohio must face is the fact that the state’s power base is in the suburbs. While John Kasich is a classic example of the suburban governing mentality—one that has no interest in or understanding of urban issues—his predecessor Governor Strickland also proved unable to tackle key urban problems, though Yvette McGee Brown was a promising pick for lieutenant governor.

In short, there seems to be little chance that the state or federal government will take any steps to alleviate the problems of Ohio cities; quite to the contrary, “austerity measures” are likely to make them worse. Thus, Ohioans will be increasingly forced to rely on grass roots organizing and regionalization campaigns. For short of a political miracle, this is what is left to do.

I will close by issuing a warning to Ohio’s leaders, be they in government or in the business community. I would issue the same warning to Washington:  When social scientists, journalists, sociologists and others visit Ohio to report on its state as an urban laboratory for dysfunction, it should tell you something.  It is not that there is organized smear campaign against Ohio or its cities; it is simply that the state is dying. The state is dying because East Cleveland is dying; it is dying because of the south side of Youngstown is dying; it is dying because inner city Canton is dying. The sooner you realize this, the sooner Ohio can be saved.

-Sean Posey

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Filed under Featured, sprawl, Urban Poverty

Sprawl and the Undoing of Cleveland

If you want to get a sense of how devastating sprawl has been to the urban areas of northeast Ohio, head over to Woodlawn Avenue in East Cleveland. Between the rows of boarded up buildings, a house collapses onto itself. Graffiti pays homage to dead loved ones — “R.I.P. Fife.” Nearby, stuffed animals have been stapled to a telephone pole in a memorial, presumably, to a dead child.

Travel thirty miles west to Lorain County, and they’re laying sewer pipe for a new housing development. The housing market is strong in exurban Avon, where a new highway interchange has spurred a rush in commercial real estate development on what was once forests. Here residents can commute an easy 35 minutes by highway to downtown Cleveland, while avoiding the higher taxes that come with closer-set communities, burdened by old infrastructure and the cost of providing social services to less affluent residents.

For decades, residents of greater Cleveland have been moving up and moving out. In fact, long ago, East Cleveland itself was founded by industrialists, including John Rockefeller, who were seeking shelter from what they thought were exorbitant city tax rates.

But that’s not what makes this region a special example of the destructive impacts of laissez-faire development. Housing works this way in many, if not most, mid-sized American cities, with less disastrous results. The difference in metro Cleveland is that, roughly since the 1970s, the regional population has been stagnant. That means, in essence, for every house built in Avon, a house in East Cleveland — or the city of Cleveland, or, increasingly, one of the inner-ring suburbs — is abandoned.

The result has been devastating for the central city and the smaller residential communities that encircle it.


Woodlawn Avenue, East Cleveland


Blighted, vacant homes discourage investment, weakening the already depressed urban housing market. Residential demolition costs anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 per house, and that’s if there are no complications, such as asbestos or auxiliary structures. This cost becomes an additional burden for the urban municipality, even as it hemorrhages property tax revenues. As a result, city services suffer, and the downward spiral continues, carrying middle-class families further outward, isolating the poor in the center.

Meanwhile, metro Cleveland’s regional planning agency, NOACA, has maintained a neutral policy regarding sprawl — which is to say, it has no policy. Regional land use planning has been a political non-starter for the agency, which is governed by a board of roughly three dozen politicians, representing urban, suburban and exurban interests in approximately equal measure.

A few weeks ago, however, NOACA’s governing board quietly took a small step forward — one that could have big ramifications for the region. Board members passed a resolution agreeing to apply for a federal grant to conduct regional land use planning through the Obama administration’s Sustainable Communities Initiative. With support from the local philanthropic community, the Cleveland area will be pursuing a planning grant, in coordination with the regional governing bodies in nearby Youngstown and Akron.

The grant would provide up to $5 million to conduct regional planning related to land use, economic development, environmental quality, housing and transportation for the Cleveland area. Supported by the budding partnership between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Transportation, the grant would require the Cleveland region to determine which areas are appropriate for future development and which are not. This document would, for the first time, guide transportation and planning decisions with an eye toward sustainability.

Regionalism has been a buzzword in northeast Ohio for years. Urban and suburban leaders alike have been repeatedly exposed to the message that they should be cooperating, coordinating, even consolidating. And the urgency of the message is undeniable. Within Cuyahoga County, home to the city of Cleveland, there are 59 municipalities — each with its own council clerk, streets department and safety forces. The cost of maintaining often duplicative services makes the local tax burden in northeast Ohio relatively high, a fact that is off-putting to businesses the region desperately needs to attract.

But change doesn’t come easily in this part of the country. Where governmental consolidation has taken place across the state, it’s been fraught with costly litigation. In some cases, consolidation efforts have been outright rejected by the voting public. To northeast Ohio government employees, regionalism carries the threat of job loss. This is a frightening discussion in a metro area where dependable jobs are becoming increasingly scarce and where a relatively large proportion of the population depends on the public purse for a paycheck.

As each community pursues development separately, businesses and homeowners overwhelmingly pick the newer, farther flung communities, which are considered safer and often times offer lower development costs. In an effort to cope, urban leaders are working to convert vacant lots in the city of Cleveland back into agricultural use. Meanwhile, in Avon and in exurban areas throughout the region, more and more ready agricultural land is consumed for housing. All the while, the gap between the quality of life in the city and the suburbs — in terms of city services, public education and safety — continues to widen.

City interests have looked fruitlessly to the state and the federal government for policy reforms that would make Ohio cities competitive again. The state has responded with a series of nonbinding development recommendations, which so far seem to have had little effect on regional building patterns. Then along comes the Sustainable Communities Initiative, with the promise of $5 million for planning, which regional leaders — both suburban and urban — cannot ignore. Will that provide the push that Cleveland leaders have been praying for?

It’s too soon to celebrate a new chapter in northeast Ohio. After all, there’s no guarantee that the region will win the grant money. Even then, it is difficult to say how faithful local leaders would be to this guiding document. But if the act of planning brings Cleveland area leaders together to talk about collectively shaping a more sustainable community, that, in itself, is a huge victory for the region.

This post originally appeared on Streetsblog Capital Hill.


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Filed under Headline, sprawl, Urban Planning

Ohio’s Poorest City: The Struggle to Remake East Cleveland

Great article in the Plain Dealer about the city East Cleveland–Ohio’s poorest city–its new mayor, and the seemingly impossible task of turning it around.

Gary Norton is young (37) and well educated (he attended Morehouse College in Atlanta and earned his master’s degree in public administration at Cleveland State University’s Levin College of Urban Affairs). And that’s a big change in a city that has been characterized by political mismanagement and corruption. Former Mayor Emmanuel Onunwor was convicted on bribery charges in 2004.


Norton’s election has injected fresh hope in the largely black, inner-ring suburb of Cleveland, which has lost more than 1,500 homes to foreclosure in the past two years–about 500 per mile, the highest in the state.

East Cleveland was once the home of Cleveland’s industrial titans, including John Rockefeller, but many of the breathtaking mansions have been overtaken by weeds and vandals.

Norton’s hoping to leverage the city’s location near the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University to attract some new development. He also has $2.2 million in federal stimulus dollars to attack blight.

On the other hand, the city has a failing school system, a 35 percent poverty rate and the lowest educational attainment stats in Greater Cleveland. Truly, and I’m editorializing here, the challenges in this city cannot be overstated.



I visited this city shortly after moving to Cleveland last year and I was shocked.

But redevelopment officials are encouraged by Norton’s cooperative attitude, according to the article. His leadership helped the city secure a $20 million expansion of Huron Hospital, a Cleveland Clinic satellite, and the city recently began a partnership with the county landbank.



Filed under Art, Economic Development, Headline, Real Estate, The Housing Crisis, Urban Planning