Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Group adopts scale to chart Tristate vitality

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A coalition of civic groups has come up with its list of the 14 most critical indicators of the Cincinnati region's health today. Unfortunately, many of them are headed in the wrong direction.

For example: the 20- to 35-year-old population is shrinking and violent crime is rising.

• The 14 indicators the Sustainable Cincinnati Coalition has concluded are the best measures of the health of the eight-county region:
• Entrepreneurship, as measured by new business starts.
• Movement in or out of the area by the 20-to-35-year-old population.
• The percentage of students who finish high school ready for work or higher education (a measure that's still being developed).
• Percentage of the workforce earning enough to be self-sufficient.
• About 38 percent of land here is devoted to people, 38 percent to agriculture, 3 percent to roads and the rest is unknown. The per-capita amount of solid waste sent to landfills.
• Air quality.
• Water quality of streams flowing into the Ohio River.
• The obesity rate and the number of adults without health insurance.
• Residents' sense of community, as measured by volunteerism, political involvement and other factors.
• The violent crime rate.
• The use of public transportation.
• The percentage of people who feel treated with fairness and respect in public interactions, regardless of race, sexual orientation, etc. (another measure that's still being developed).
• Racial segregation based on the widely used planning tool called the Index of Dissimilarity.
The group, Sustainable Cincinnati, says it's a milestone that its diverse members - from government planners to environmental groups to the chamber of commerce - have agreed to the factors that will shape the region's future.

. "It's something that all of us are going to try to integrate in our own planning and thinking," said Elizabeth Brown, operations specialist for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and an organizer of Sustainable Cincinnati.

The 14 measures cover the economy, environment, individual health and social relations.

The three-year-old Sustainable Cincinnati group will dissolve now that the indicators have been identified. The Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission will update the report annually.

Still, with no one agency or group responsible for changing indicators that are going in the wrong direction, the challenge will be to keep the effort moving, said the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati's Josephine Steagall, another member.

The report comes on the heels of grim census news that Hamilton County's population fell by more than 7,000 last year, to 833,721. Among the nation's 100 largest counties, only San Francisco and San Mateo, Calif., lost population at a faster rate.

Sustainable Cincinnati decided to only look at the 20- to 35-year-old population because those workers drive the high-tech industry the region would like to attract. Young professionals are the most mobile, however, and their numbers dropped 5.3 percent between 1995 and 1999.

"That one was very eye-opening for folks," Brown said. "It rang true for a lot of people that if our kids are leaving, we're in trouble for the long run."

But Sustainable Cincinnati's report has a couple of bright spots. The use of public transportation is up, and residents are slightly more likely to volunteer than those in many other metropolitan areas.

The report looked at the eight-county metro region that includes Hamilton, Clermont, Butler and Warren in Ohio; Boone, Kenton and Campbell in Kentucky; and Dearborn in Indiana.

E-mail candrews@enquirer.com

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