By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnati's population has dropped at a faster rate than all but five large U.S. cities' since April 2000. Only two Hamilton County municipalities managed to gain residents since then.
But census population estimates to be released today show that Greater Cincinnati also is home to some of the fastest-growing communities in Ohio and Kentucky, as the region's growth spreads to far-flung suburbs and away from older urban communities.
The new report is the first to measure the growth of cities and villages since the 2000 head count, and it reveals that Cincinnati's loss, though substantial, isn't the sole culprit for Hamilton County's 1.4 percent population decline.
The census counts the city of Cincinnati's population at 323,885 as of July 2002, a 2.2 percent drop from April 2000. The only U.S. cities of 100,000 or more to shed people at a faster rate were Savannah, Ga.; St. Louis; Detroit; Flint; Mich.; and New Orleans.
Once upon a time the sixth-largest city in the United States, Cincinnati has dropped to 55th on the list of the nation's largest cities. It was edged out by Southern California's Anaheim.
Why is Cincinnati losing people at such a fast rate?
Pete Witte, president of the West Price Hill Civic Club, offers one explanation: middle-class frustration over problems such as crime, litter and other quality-of-life issues.
"They're marching on, baby," said Witte, who plans to stress neighborhood flight issues in his run this fall for City Council. "It's become a very easy scenario for middle-class families to say it is a lot easier in Northern Kentucky or Delhi Township."
The new estimates are important for Cincinnati and other communities because the federal government studies these figures when deciding how to divvy up grant dollars for low-income housing, development, medical care and other social service programs. Also, many consider the estimates a key measure of a community's economic health because tax-paying residents help fund essential police, fire and emergency services.
However, a new report released by the Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission suggests that the core county has gained jobs over the last decade even though it has lost population.
"We talk about sprawl, but the (Hamilton County's) economy keeps growing," said Christine Nolan, the report's author. "We think regional development is great. We need folks in other counties for our work force."
Previously released figures showed that the Greater Cincinnati region is still growing, albeit slowly. The 15-county metropolitan region's population expanded less than 1 percent over the two-year period to 2,040,746.
The region's growth largely comes from fast-growing suburban communities in suburban Boone, Warren and Butler counties.
Three Northern Kentucky cities - Cold Spring (18.4 percent), Crestview Hills (9.1 percent) and Independence (8.9 percent) - ranked among the Bluegrass State's top 10 fastest-growing communities.
The figures also show Mason is now Ohio's fastest-growing city. The southern Warren County city added more than 3,500 residents over the two-year period for a growth rate of 16.5 percent.
Mason's high-scoring schools and quiet ambience are a selling point for newcomers like John Quinn.
Quinn and his wife have lived out of state over the past few years, but there was little debate about which community to choose when a transfer returned the couple here. Quinn wanted a good school district for his 7-year old son, so they bought a home in Mason.
"We liked what we saw," he said.
Despite the growth, Mason's engineering department is actually counting fewer building permits.
It has issued 146 single-family permits this year through June, compared with 203 permits for the same period a year ago. Apartment permits are down, too.
While the suburbs are booming, the population-loss problem is spreading beyond Cincinnati to older suburbs in Hamilton County.
In fact, 33 of 35 cities and villages in Hamilton County lost residents over the two-year period. Only Indian Hill (up 2.9 percent) and North Bend (up 2.5 percent) added new residents, and population was flat in Amberley Village and unincorporated Hamilton County. (Township figures weren't released.)
Norwood and Elmwood Place (both down 3.2 percent) lost a larger part of their population than any other Hamilton County city.
New commercial development has prompted the demolition of homes and apartment buildings in Norwood, said development director Rick Dettmer.
For instance, developers bulldozed more than 15 single-family homes and four apartment buildings to make way for the new Cornerstone office project off Interstate 71. Anderson Real Estate is attempting to purchase another 79 homes across from the popular Rookwood Commons project with plans to demolish the homes for a mixed-use development.
Staff writer Erica Solvig contributed to this report.
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