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Consortium seeks strategy to avert dim future for region

OBERLIN — A bleak future for Northeast Ohio in 2040 is predicted if trends continue.

Modest job and population growth is expected with about 4 million people in the region and about 1.8 million jobs, according to James Minor, principal owner of Sasaki Associates, a Watertown, Mass.-based consultant. Minor works for the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium, which held a brainstorming session Tuesday involving about 120 area government officials and private group members at the Oberlin Inn.

Minor predicted population in the 12-county region will increase by about 3,100 annually with small job increases.

“There’s a lot of regional churn. Where we’re seeing growth, we’re seeing loss,” he said. “There is a net growth, but it’s modest.”

While there will be new suburban home building, Minor said about 10 percent of the 1.6 million homes in the region will be abandoned and local governments will spend more than they take in. Minor, who based his predictions on U.S. Census data and county building permits, said the region will become increasingly fragmented, with residents leaving central cities unless there are incentives to stay.

“If people can have a new house in a new neighborhood for the same price or less than they can in an existing urban area, they’re going to move. That’s not unique to this area,” Minor said after his presentation. “There has to be something for people to serve as a major attraction or reason for them to want to live in these urban areas.”

Deindustrialization has caused major depopulation in Northeast Ohio, but Minor said that industrial areas in cities still have attractions such as good access to roads and ports. He said data-driven plans like the one being developed are designed to better spend limited taxpayer money.

For instance, Minor said studies show that neighborhoods with about 33 percent of homes that are abandoned are unsustainable. Knowing which neighborhoods have reached the tipping point will allow for better decisions on whether to invest in them.

Minor and Grace Gallucci, Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency executive director, emphasized the plan is not a mandate. Gallucci, whose agency is assisting the consortium, said the plan was more a vision based on “values” and “priorities” rather than a specific blueprint.

The consortium in 2010 received a $4.25 million federal taxpayer grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to promote sustainable growth, according to consortium spokesman Jeff Anderle. The nine-member consortium is seeking input for a nonbinding plan to be completed by the fall. The plan will include a “business as usual” scenario as well as “alternative” and “preferred” scenarios.

Regional planning

The Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium is holding brainstorming to develop a regional plan for Northeast Ohio in 2040. For more information on the plan and sessions, visit www.vibrantneo.org/workshops.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.

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