A Letter to the Region

April 29, 2013 in Engagement, Scenario Planning

Join Us this week! We all have our reasons for loving Northeast Ohio, and because we love this region, we want to see it thrive and grow, just as we want to see the challenges facing our region addressed and put behind us.

The Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium (NEOSCC) is working to help residents preserve and build upon what we value, and fix those things that are challenging. NEOSCC is a regional collaboration of public agencies, elected officials, philanthropic and non-profit organizations, colleges and universities and community members. Our mission is the development of Vibrant NEO 2040, a vision for how to make Northeast Ohio a more vibrant, resilient, and sustainable place to live and work.

To develop that vision, we need a solid understanding of the “facts on the ground,” so NEOSCC started by convening over 150 experts from across Northeast Ohio to study over 200 existing policy studies and planning documents and assess the region’s demographic trends and development patterns over the past 4 decades.

The picture that we’ve found, available at cat.neoscc.org, is nuanced. This region, inarguably, has a wealth of assets which are a magnet for new residents and businesses, and a foundation on which to build future endeavors.

There are also clear, unsettling and economically challenging aspects of our region’s long-term development patterns. Over the past four decades, the percentage of our region’s land which has been developed has grown by more than 21%, but our population has declined by about 7%. This means, quite simply, that as a region, we are maintaining more infrastructure and have more housing and commercial property than we can support with a slightly smaller population than we had in 1970.

The consequences of this pattern can be seen throughout the region—from weak housing markets in many of our region’s core city neighborhoods  and first suburbs to the decline of our region’s downtown retail districts and—more recently—the abandonment of shopping malls and retail strips in many of the region’s suburbs.  It can also be seen in the debates—often heated—between the leaders of long-established and newly-developing communities about how best to invest the region’s scare infrastructure resources in their respective communities. The question for the region is stark: How can we maintain the quality and economic vitality of our already-developed communities while meeting the emerging needs of communities experiencing the pressures of new development?

This region’s future will be decided by how we answer that question, how we deal with challenges like development without population growth, and by how we connect and leverage the unique assets of our people and places.  At NEOSCC, we understand that we can only tackle these questions together, as a region.

In order to create a vision for a sustainable future, we have to figure out what choices we can make now that will give us the greatest chance for success.  To do this, we are using a tool called Scenario Planning, and we hope you will be a part of this effort.

Scenarios summarize likely future outcomes based on what we know about the present and what we know about how the world works.  (Every weather forecast, for example, presents a scenario for the future, based on what meteorologists know about the current weather and what they know about how weather patterns develop.)

VibrantNEO 2040’s scenarios will tell stories about our possible futures, based on where Northeast Ohio is today and the choices we might make about how we use land and how we invest.  Our Scenario Planning process uses different scenarios to try and answer some important questions: What will Northeast Ohio look like in the future if we keep doing what we’re doing? What if we pursue different priorities?  What scenarios and priorities lead to the best potential future for our region? How do we prioritize our choices given limited resources? And finally, what does the preferred vision of Northeast Ohio’s future look like?

The first round of Vibrant NEO 2040 Scenario Planning Public Workshops focuses on the “Business-As-Usual” scenario.  It outlines what Northeast Ohio’s future will look like if we keep doing what we are currently doing – what will our communities look like, how successful will our economy be, and how much will it likely cost us, if we keep our current policies and approaches to land use, transportation and development in place.

Once we know what will happen if we keep doing what we are doing, then we can start to ask how the future might change if we do some things differently.  It’s the first step in a three-phase process that we will be conducting over in the coming months.

As a region, we face tough but important questions, and the answers can only come from the people of Northeast Ohio.  That’s why we hope you will take advantage of at least one of the several opportunities this year to add your voice, perspective and ideas to the Scenario Planning process.  The initial opportunity is just around the corner; the first round of workshops take place across the region at convenient locations on April 30, May 1 and May 2, from 6:30 to 8:30 PM.  Visit VibrantNEO.org and register for the location and day most convenient for you, and join us as we begin to work toward a common vision for a more vibrant, resilient and sustainable Northeast Ohio.

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