Friday, March 23, 2001

Take action

Citizens can prevent sprawl

        Census 2000 results keep making Greater Cincinnati out to be a doughnut.

        The ever-expanding suburbs represent the ring of dough. The city of Cincinnati is the center.

        Nice concept. But not very healthy. A steady diet will kill the entire region.

        If Greater Cincinnati does not plan wisely for growth and cooperate regionally, the doughnut's ring will go stale and the center will be nothing but an empty hole.

        Calculations from the 2000 Census give Cincinnati a 9 percent population decline since 1990. No other city in Ohio lost more people.

        Hamilton County also came out a loser with a 2.4 percent population drop.

        Meanwhile, the other 12 counties in the sprawling Tristate region — including Warren and Butler to the north, Clermont to the east, Boone, Kenton and Campbell to the south and Dearborn to the west — grew an average 8.9 percent.

        The doughnut keeps expanding. Ohio counties in the region's outer layer — Brown, Clinton and Highland — averaged a population increase of 16.6 percent.

        The outlying Kentucky counties of Grant and Gallatin grew 42 and 45 percent, respectively.

        And there's no end in sight. Census analyst Mark Carrozza, director of the Southwest Ohio Regional Data Center at the University of Cincinnati, foresees the day when the area becomes part of a super-doughnut.

        “Within our lifetime,” he said, “we will see a Super Metro Region extend from Columbus to Dayton, Cincinnati and Louisville.”

Our call
        Experts I spoke with said a Super Metro Region can be a good or a bad thing. It's up to us.

        “You can't stop progress,” said Glen Brand, Midwest Conservation Organizer for the Sierra Club's Cincinnati office. “But you can manage it wisely.”

        That means learning from past mistakes. In modern times, Colerain Avenue, Interstate 71's Fields-Ertel interchange and Clermont County's Route 32 once ran through farm country. Now, the first two are strip-mall nightmares. The third resembles a junk-food restaurant hall of fame.

        Sprawl will infect Brown, Highland, Clinton, Grant and Gallatin counties. Cincinnati's population will continue to shrink. Unless we work to put a stop to both.

        “We created sprawl. We can fix it,” said Catherine Hartman, president of the Smart Growth Coalition.

        The group brings together area citizen-action advocates, government officials and planners. Starting this summer, the coalition will conduct a year-long, eight-county survey aimed at eliminating sprawl.

Crossing boundaries

        The coalition favors regional solutions. Revenue sharing and zoning changes can keep farmers plowing their fields instead of selling to developers of subdivisions whose sewers and other services increase taxes. Shared funds can be plowed into the city and old suburbs to redevelop the center of the doughnut and the oldest level of the ring.

        To eradicate sprawl, citizens must act. Tell government officials how to spend our tax dollars. Elect informed candidates. Remind them they serve the people, not developers.

        Unless action is taken, sprawl will continue. Taxes in the suburbs will rise astronomically. Downtown will go the way of Detroit.

        And no one will want to take a bite of Greater Cincinnati's doughnut.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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