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Cleveland Suburbs (continued from previous page)

December 1, 1999 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Last October more than 200 city and state leaders converged in Cleveland to formally embrace the Consortium's legislative strategy for curbing sprawl. Modeled after the "Smart Growth" plan approved by Maryland in 1997, (see the Spring 1998 issue of the Great Lakes Bulletin) the Consortium is calling for significant changes in public investment priorities so that state and federal money for transportation, housing, schools, and jobs are directed to existing downtowns and neighborhoods instead of outward to the urban fringe.

Will Smart Growth fly in Ohio's Legislature? One of those who attended the conference was an aide to Robert Taft II, the new Republican governor, who said growth management would be a priority in the Taft Administration. Two others who spoke were state representatives, one Republican and one Democrat, who have teamed up to pass new legislation next year to conserve farmland and asked for support from the Consortium. In addition, mayors from suburbs in Columbus, Dayton, and Toledo agreed to join suburbs in Cleveland to expand the First Suburbs Consortium into a statewide organization.

Runaway Growth

Ohio, a state defined by sharp regional differences in geography and civic character, is now poised for a decisive debate on sprawl. The Buckeye State is one of the most urbanized in the country, with a concentration of 16 metropolitan areas, each with more than 150,000 people. Ohio also is one of the most important agricultural states, with more than half of its 26.3 million acres devoted to farming. Runaway growth and development is now blurring the distinctions between rural and urban Ohio in an ooze of new highways, malls, subdivisions, and office parks that are spreading into the countryside at an astonishing pace.

According to David Rusk, the former mayor of Albuquerque, N.M., and author of the book, Cities Without Suburbs, Ohio's population grew by just 13% from 1960 to 1990. During the same period, the urbanization of land increased by 64%. In other words, Ohio is consuming land at a rate five times faster than population growth. The trend is most worrisome in the Cleveland region. Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is located, lost 308,000 people from 1970 to 1990, an 18% decline. The five-county region surrounding the city also is expected to lose 3% of its population by 2010. Yet the total acres devoted to new businesses and residences in outlying farm counties like Medina will increase by 30%. Summed up: The Cleveland metropolitan region is experiencing sprawl without population growth.

Pulling Together

The implications of that trend, and the dislocation and hardship it is causing, attracted scarce attention in city councils, political circles, and the media until 1992. That year David Beach, a Harvard-educated journalist, founded EcoCity Cleveland, a monthly journal of reporting and commentary about how the region was being harmed by sprawl. EcoCity Cleveland, which quickly gained 1,000 subscribers, was one of the first publications in the country to report on the links between sprawl, the environment, civic redevelopment and quality of life for a general audience. "We've tried all along not just to complain about environmental problems, but to provide a positive vision of how things can change," said Mr. Beach.

In the mid-1990s leaders of the first ring suburbs closest to downtown Cleveland picked up on Mr. Beach's work and began talking to each other about disinvestment and how to combat it. "There are 59 separate municipalities in Cuyahoga County, and we all thought of ourselves as 59 separate city-states, all toiling pretty much in isolation," said Mr. Montlack. "At one of our city council retreats, in 1996, I suggested we try to conduct some outreach for better cooperation.

"We want to change policies from those that subsidize 'out-migration' and disinvestment in our communities, to those that promote redevelopment and nurturing of our neighborhoods," he continued. "We have this window of opportunity now to accomplish that goal."

Sources and Contacts

Ken Montlack, Cleveland Heights City Councilman - 12434 Cedar Road, Cleveland Heights, OH 44106 Tel. 216-421-5800/Fax 216-421-0058

Keith Benjamin- First Suburbs Consortium, 40 Severance Circle, Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118 Tel. 216-291-2856/Fax 216-291-3705

David Beach, Editor - EcoCity Cleveland, 2841 Scarborough Road, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118 Tel. 216-932-3007/Fax 216-932-6069/E-mail <ecocleveland@igc.org>

John Gilligan, Former Governor of Ohio - 2200 Victor Parkway, Apt. 903, Cincinnati, OH 45206 Tel. 513-559-9906

Thomas Bier
– Housing Policy Research Program, The Urban Center, Cleveland State University, Cleveland, OH 44115 Tel. 216-687-3907/Fax 216-687-5068/E-mail <tom@wolf.csuohio.edu>

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