City could learn from 2010 planWritten by Matt Sattler | | email@example.com
Earlier this week PolicyLink, a national research and action institute, released “To Be Strong Again: Renewing the Promise in Smaller Industrial Cities.” While the focus of the study was cities with populations up to 150,000, there are numerous important themes that can and should be transplanted to the City of Toledo. Of particular interest was PolicyLink’s review of the Youngstown 2010 plan. The planning process in Youngstown attracted thousands of participants and resulted in an end product with broad community support. Most notably, the plan “accepts that Youngstown is a smaller city” and seeks to capitalize on existing assets without yearning for the unrealistic population of the past. In addition to reading the report, I was fortunate enough to attend a speech by Mayor Jay Williams on the subject of economic development in the Youngstown/Mahoning Valley region. Contrary to popular belief, I left inspired by the plan and optimistic about the future of the region.
Accepting a decline in residents is never popular, as evidenced by the City of Toledo’s recent quibbling with the Census Bureau’s estimates.
However, the time has come to stop attempting to corral residents into arbitrary geographies and instead seek to create a smaller, more dynamic city.
Before discounting the idea, consider that the time has never been better to accept demographic realities and capitalize on the opportunity. The City of Toledo, like the entire nation, is grappling with the twin economic dilemmas of the foreclosure crisis and a shrinking municipal budget. At the same time, economic development professionals are struggling with creating an environment that is attractive for both business and residents. By embracing a policy aimed at “right-sizing” the city, all three challenges can be addressed.
Basic economics outlines the law of supply and demand, notably any increase in the supply of housing without a concurrent rise in demand will result in a decline in prices. So while the city of Toledo watches as demand decreases, through credit tightening and foreclosures, city leaders are actively working to increase supply through their support of new construction at the Marina District and in North Toledo. It is noteworthy to point out that this new construction increase in supply is being supplemented with the rapid increase associated with the foreclosure crisis. Add to this the precipitous decline in population (and therefore demand), from a high of more than 383,000 in 1970 to just under an estimated 286,000 today. The logical conclusion that should be drawn is that housing prices will continue to decline, further deteriorating the accumulated wealth of residents and eroding an already declining tax base. In addition to this erosion, new housing translates into an increased demand for infrastructure construction and maintenance, therefore heightening the need for city services and increasing the tax burden on all residents.
Rather than focus on providing residents with new housing opportunities, the city should focus its efforts on strategically culling its existing stock of housing. A good start would be landbanking all foreclosed residential properties and holding them for future demolition. Instead of focusing efforts on construction, the priority should be on demolition. A simple regulation could call for the demolition of two homes for every one new home built in the City of Toledo. So while the Starboard Side development in North Toledo calls for 44 new housing units, the city should subsequently demolish 88 existing, obsolete units prior to construction. Because demand for housing is flat for the foreseeable future, the only way to increase price, and consequently resident wealth, is to make significant reductions in supply.
By strategically reducing the housing stock in some areas of the city and restricting limited construction to targeted areas, the city would simultaneously create vibrant and attractive neighborhoods and reduce the demand for city services. By targeting services to a smaller geography and focusing on areas with the potential for a return on investment, the city should see a reduction in crime, increased property appreciation, a reduction in taxes, and improved schools. Furthermore, right-sizing the city means that new greenspaces would exist where obsolete housing once stood, providing either new economic development opportunities or improving the quality of life for residents through increased park space.
Much can be learned from Youngstown’s unique and innovative approach, and determining the “right size” for the City of Toledo is debatable. But one thing is certain — yearning for the days of 380,000 residents is both impractical and wasteful. As Harvard economist Ed Glaeser famously writes, it is time for Toledo to “shrink to greatness.”
Matt Sattler, MPA, MUPDD, works in economic development in Northeast Ohio and was formerly an economic development specialist with the Lucas County Improvement Corporation.