Sunday, May 13, 2001
We need a regional strategy
The biggest threat to our region in two words? Donut effect.
That describes city population loss that leaves a hole in the middle of our region. But in the Enquirer's Great Cities comparison of Cincinnati with other regions, we found it also describes race relations, government, jobs, middle-income taxpayers, schools and development.
And it's not just a downtown problem. If the core city decays, ripples of rising crime and sinking property values will radiate to the suburbs.
That's not a pretty future.
In the 21st century, knowledge workers and innovators are king. Technology allows them to live and work anywhere. Companies, jobs and venture capital follow the talent, which is drawn to exciting, wired, inclusive, livable cities, with top research universities and clusters of ambitious, high-skill people.
Metropolitan Cincinnati has potential to become a great New Economy city. But we can't get there from here without fast, determined action as a unified region. Here are five goals:
1. Reverse population loss: Cincinnati lost 9.1 percent in the last decade; Hamilton County, 2.4 percent. Many were higher-income taxpayers. Only recently, the city began to stop clustering low-income housing in poor neighborhoods and started pushing market-rate housing.
Demand for downtown housing still exceeds supply. More homeowners who pay taxes are needed to fill the income hole in Cincinnati.
2. Racial separation: The city needs to build a partnership between neighborhoods and police. Racial isolation blacks living mostly in black neighborhoods should be reduced. But middle-class flight from the city will worsen if whites and blacks don't work together to stop crime, violence and bigotry.
To attract talent, jobs and visitors and keep its own sons and daughters from leaving, Cincinnati needs to become a national model of inclusiveness.
3. Cooperate as a region: Local chambers of commerce, the Metropolitan Growth Alliance and others are forming partnerships, but it's tough going against 472 political jurisdictions in our fragmented three-state region. Cincinnati City Council's incessant bickering and pandering hurts the entire region.
People vote with their feet. The strong-mayor who takes office in December offers hope, but City Hall has to shape up.
Great cities are efficient, well-run, responsive. They pool resources, pick strategies and work with single-minded determination.
4. Education: Cincinnati is ahead of many cities with K-12 reform and school choice: public magnet schools, charter schools, strong Catholic and private schools. Yet bad public schools are among the top reasons families leave the city. Only 56 percent of 9th graders graduate from Cincinnati Public Schools.
The drop-outs fall into a hole uneducated and unemployable. CPS efforts to improve graduation rates need support.
Our region is blessed with many good colleges. University of Cincinnati ranks 50th among top 100 research universities. The payoffs from raising that rank would be enormous.
5. Projects: The hole in this region's economic development is bigger than the empty spot where a downtown Nordstrom store was promised. There's a lack of direction an empty spot where our vision should be.
Cincinnati's proposed riverfront neighborhood, The Banks, could give us a spectacular waterfront. Let's do it.
But Over-the-Rhine, convention center expansion and other projects are still waiting.
Our region needs a strategy and the will to act on it or the donut effect will continue to eat away at the heart of Cincinnati.
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