Friday, March 7, 2003

County report looks at trends, points to problems needing fix

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A new report paints a dismal picture of Hamilton County's - and even the region's - future if we can't get a handle on racial segregation, deterioration of the "first suburbs" and other problems that reflect national trends.

A 1999 Fannie Mae Foundation survey of urban experts predicted these will be the top factors influencing American life in the next 50 years:
• Growing disparities of wealth
• Suburban political majority
• Aging of baby boomers
• Perpetual "underclass" in central cities and inner-ring suburbs
• "Smart growth": environmental and planning initiatives to create sustainable communities and metropolitan areas
• The Internet
• Deterioration of the "first-ring," post-1945 suburbs
• Shrinking household size
• Expanded superhighway system of "outer beltways" to serve new edge cities
• Racial integration as part of increasing diversity in cities and suburbs
The Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission staff surveyed 26 officials from universities and civic groups for a local list of top expected influences on the region in the next 50 years:
• Disparities in education quality
• Fragmentation of political interests
• Racial, ethnic and economic discrimination
• Weakening of the urban core
• Population loss
• Deterioration of inner-ring suburbs
• Growing disparities of wealth (tie)
• The New Economy (tie)
• Quality and diversity of cultural amenities
• Education's poor funding
Source: External Influences: The Impact of National Trends on Hamilton County's Future
"They will result in longer commutes on clogged highways, more civil unrest and more gated communities surrounding crushing poverty," according to "External Influences," a report by the Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission.

The evaluation also identifies some ways to change course. It's the latest effort of Community Compass, a public-private initiative to develop a master plan for the county. It will be used to develop an annual report card for the county, said Ron Miller, executive director of the planning commission.

Thursday's report is based on a Fannie Mae Foundation survey in which 149 urban scholars identified the trends they expect to shape the next 50 years. The planning commission also surveyed 26 local academic and civic experts, who compiled a different list.

The No. 1 trend on the Fannie Mae list is growing disparities of wealth, while No. 1 on the local list is disparities in education quality.

"The crux of any knowledge-based economy is going to depend on the quality of the education, and the ability to bring everyone along," said local survey participant Dorothy Air, associate senior vice president for entrepreneurial affairs at the University of Cincinnati.

Although the lists directly intersect on only two points, they actually have a lot in common, said planner Manning Baxter, who compiled the External Influences report: "Growing disparities of wealth has a lot to do with the growth of an underclass (No. 4 on the national list), which has a lot to do with disparities in education."

Other common themes on both lists are racial issues and the growth of outlying suburbs at the expense of inner cities and, increasingly, the older inner-ring suburbs.

The planning commission cannot effectively tackle these issues alone, Miller said, but Community Compass has brought together communities and civic and private groups that can make changes.


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