WARREN - Laying out a future for the entire northeastern Ohio region - plans that include economic development, revitalization of jobs and creation of quality living environments - is a daunting task, and one that Vibrant NEO has boiled down to three major components it presented Thursday.
Building inner city development, increasing ease of transportation and conserving open space, in no particular order, are the 1-2-3 of the regional planning initiative's framework discussed with a crowd of about 30 people in the Wean Foundation Building Thursday morning. The tentative results come after numerous think tank events have been held in the 12-county spread.
"It is not a plan, it is a framework for making decisions," said Hunter Morrison, director of the project.
Tribune Chronicle / Margaret Thompson
Hunter Morrison, director of the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium, left, chats with Warren Mayor Doug Franklin after a presentation Thursday at the Wean Foundation Building.
He began the presentation by outlining the area's most pressing issues for the future. By 2040, if nothing changes, the program's researchers estimated there will be 175,000 homes abandoned and county governments will be facing even steeper financial challenges than they are today.
They also noted that while urban area's are hollowing out, business developments are forming on their outskirts. Filling in this area, Morrison said can happen by focusing on local assets such as the historical significant of "legacy cities" or Western Reserve Towns.
"I think it is very important to invest in our inner cities,'' said Susie Beiersdorfer of Youngstown, who attended the presentation. ''We need to encourage people to come back to the city."
Beiersdorfer said that in her opinion, it is more important to invest in existing infrastructure before focusing on extending it.
"It's an incredibly optimistic vision for the area," she said.
The second aspect of increasing transportation would require coordination among the major urban centers of Youngstown, Akron and Cleveland. Morrison said it might be a goal reached closer to 2040 through a rapid transit bus route.
Using electronic clickers, the audience voted on whether they find their commutes too long. Most said they were fine with how far they travel, though they would be in favor of money being spent to repair existing roads and make room for bikes.
With the final goal of conserving open space, Morrison noted that there are several green areas already developed, but that the next step would be connecting them. Access to Lake Erie has also been difficult in the past since most of the ports are industrial in nature, he said.
"I like where they are going, keeping our open spaces open," Don Sutton of Kinsman said.
Sutton brought up during the question-and-answer section that he believed tourism was a resource that could be used to draw people to the region.
"Even bird-watching, something as simple as that, to promote it," he said. ''For every dollar spent on tourism, there is a return of $15."
Some in the audience expressed their hesitation to agree with the plan without having more precise details on how the lofty goals could be accomplished on a local level. Others said the focus needed to be on creating jobs to keep the younger generation in the area and questioned where the funding for the suggested steps would come from.
Ultimately, the ideas presented and the possibility for change will lie in the local governments, Morrison said. Transportation is overseen by the municipalities and land use is controlled by townships and cities.
"Maybe we can work together to cross those lines," he said.
They plan to release a finalized framework mid-December. Vibrant NEO is a program developed by Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium and is funded by a first-of-its kind $4.25 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities initiative.