Sprawl and our need for civic transformation

Submitted by Ed Morrison on Thu, 02/15/2007 - 10:26.

In confronting the challenges of sprawl, my brother Hunter raises some interesting points in his Meet the Blogger interview.

We have metropolitan planning organizations designed from the 1960's, and they haven't changed. (Listen especially to segment 9.) These organizations have difficulty defining or sustaining a meaningful exploration of alternative futures for Northeast Ohio. That's not what they were designed to do.

Yet, we now have the capability to use computer modeling to define some alternative land use patterns and their consequences.

See, for example, CommunityViz that helps people explore alternative land use scenarios.

Alternatively, look at how Dayton used Myron Orfield's approach here. Orfield is now working in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky, where we are exploring alternative development scenarios for the region under the sponsirship of Bluegrass Tomorrow.

Supporting these civic dialogues takes adjustments by a wide range of players. So, for example, we have redesigned CommerceLexington, the chamber of commerce in Lexington, to manage these dialogues, following the principles of "strategic doing".

It's perhaps a little to much to expect the GCP to assume this role in Northeast Ohio, for a lot of reasons that we can group under "Cleve-centrism".

But there are alternatives.

As Hunter points out, a regional dialogue, anchored in our colleges and universities, could begin to raise these issues and explore alternative futures.

We know what the pattern of current decisions yields: more sprawl.

Designing a better future requires us to design stronger, more purposeful civic dialogues. In my view, to sustain these dialogues, we will need to tie them to our colleges and universities.

We are now exploring in Indiana how to design such a statewide "civic transformation network" (our working title). We have serial entrepreneurs, civic entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, chambers, leadership programs, representatives from Indiana University, Ball State and Purdue participating in this exploration. Not the usual suspects.

It's early, and all this might fall apart. But I don't think so. In traveling the across Indiana for the past two years, more and more people recognize the importance of regional civic networks to compete globally.

Another person who can help lead the region in this direction: David Beach. In my travels across the country, there is no one who has a better grasp of these regional issues. His Green Cities, Blue Lake web site is extraordinary in its breadth and focus.

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The following was posted in the tax abatement discussion on Brewed Fresh Daily and posted here as well to help drive the discussion. 

Ed and others,


Respectfully,  I don’t believe that the discussion has struck on the right regional policy which, to be equitable and successful, needs to be a TAXING (not tax abatement) policy. 


 Everyone in the bfd discussion is against sprawl.  OK.  The next issue is how to get residents back into derelict, abandoned urban areas so further despoliation of virgin and agricultural ground and global warming time wasting commutes are avoided.   So far, so good,  by me.  But I don’t agree with tax abatements for new construction.  Here’s why:


Tax relief for new urban homes is eminently unfair to legacy residents and in fact INCREASES the legacy resident’s taxes.   How would you like to have lived in Cleveland for years, put up with all the deteriorated services, schools, roads, safety, air etc etc etc and have paid your taxes throughout all that, only to find that your new neighbor – who was able to pay (the tax abated max of $250,000) a quarter of a million for the new home - doesn’t have to pay a dime for their real estate tax for 10 or 15 years?  The long time resident held out for all those years, and this is his thanks.   Frankly, that would make me seethe.  If anyone should get a tax abatement it should be the long time resident!  It should not be the new buyer - who comes in heads up to the costs he faces - and it should not be a subsidy to the profit oriented developer. 


But the BIG picture has TWO ends: the urban end and the sprawl end.   Like a  teeter totter.  I say put a tax weight on the sprawl end of the teeter totter and the urban end of the teeter totter will go up.     In the regional picture what needs to be taxed, and taxed big time (which is equitable as I will explain below) is the right to develop in the virgin sprawl areas.   I grew up in California and most counties there finally figured that out.   The correct way to finance urban redevelopment is with linkage money provided by “sprawl” permit fees, not by placing further tax burden on the residence who hung in and stayed in town.    Instead of fruitlessly trying to redevelop abandoned down towns City by City, regional – better yet statewide – permit fees and continuing “sprawl” taxes need to be assessed on all building which is outside of urban areas. 


Sizable permit fees and taxes are reasonable for sprawl construction because:   Every new home developed in a area where there was no home before allows the buyer of that home to immediately use all the roads, schools, fire services, flood control structures, sewers, etc etc which that new home PAID NO TAXES TO CONSTRUCT.  Don’t you think the developers get this!?  When they sell new tract homes,  they are in essence selling everything which is off the tract as well as the homes which are on the tract.  When you buy the new home it is as if the developer is throwing in for free all the local infrastructure and services.  That’s crazy, but no one seems to mind giving sprawl a free ride…


Meanwhile, in the abandoned urban areas, the streets continue needing to be swept and plowed, the sewer infrastructure still runs under those streets,  fire houses still need to be manned, and those hapless residents who - either because they couldn’t afford to move, or because they were just troopers and stayed – are blindsided further by their myopic politicians - doing the developers bidding  - selling their constituents further down the river….


Isn’t life upside down?


 Now you know me, I'd like to insert a photo or two here (on BFD)  - or  as the heading to my post - in order to put color in your head which I believe aids in persuasion, but bfd is text only.  Is there a way to edit my post – doesn’t look like there is. 


Anyway, back to Realneo, keep up the good work here George, and especially MTB.



Ed, we are implimenting the GIS solution

I'm glad you bring up Community VIZ as Sudhir and I are working with Jon Cline, an open source GIS wiz at Case, and with Peter Whitehouse to implement exactly this type of planning resource for here analyzing land use scenarios in this region - all open source using GRASS GIS, which was developed by the Army Corp of Engineers (they do some things right). We're planning to use this for planning redevelopment of the area of Genville, in Cleveland, and East Cleveland east of the Case campus to Superior - about a 1 mile radius zone. Jon Cline has been working with this software on models for environmental remediation of the Everglades and he is an expert in the field... right here in Cleveland.

We had an excellence roundtable on this last Spring, at Kent UDC, and are now getting ready to deploy. It runs on a quad core computer with a huge hard drive and tons of RAM, running Linux. Land use models then can be explored over the Internet.

The value of this will be to map every property in this pilot zone for 100s of aspects, from value and ownership to physical conditions, historic characteristics, landscaping and upkeep, occupancy, census data, lead poisoning data, code violations.

Considering the amount of vacant and cleared property in this zone, already in land banks and in the courts, and the amount of property in disrepair, and the amount of property that needs to be planned, and can be redeveloped, this is the perfect place to model the huge range of possibilities for how some very important planning decisions now will impact the entire region over the next 3+ years. Using state of the art GIS will allow us to build strong cases for progressive initiatives and track outcomes.

One very specific application of this GIS is for a GCLAC lead poisoning prevention pilot program we are planning to implement in the same redevelopment zone in East Cleveland and Cleveland. I'll post more about that as it develops.

And thanks for pointing out Hunter's MTB - I'll make a point of listening to it.

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