Strength in numbers

By Tom Corrigan -

Led primarily by the Greater Ohio Policy Center in Columbus, some 30 representatives of private, public, nonprofit and philanthropic sectors from across the state came together during the past several months and produced and signed a document entitled “A Vision for Ohio’s Reinvention Cities,” a planning paper made public Thursday.

One of the signatories was Portsmouth Ward 1 Councilman Sean Dunne, who said the overall idea is to give Ohio’s smaller cities a much bigger, united voice in Columbus.

Dunne said GOPC officials visited Portsmouth and met with not just city officials, but also representatives of the Scioto Foundation, Southern Ohio Medical Center, Southern Ohio Port Authority and others last summer. Dunne added the GOPC, of course, went to other cities as well.

“We seemed to be the most hospitable to them. That was great for Portsmouth,” Dunne continued.

“Reinvention cities” are loosely defined by the GOPC as smaller legacy cities with fewer than 65,000 residents. “Legacy cities” are defined, in turn, as older, industrial urban areas that have experienced significant declines in population and jobs resulting in diminished service capacity and resources. Among the legacy cities in Ohio are Portsmouth and Chillicothe. Others are spread across the state, and include such spots as the cities of Lima, Mansfield, Springfield, Zanesville, about 15 in all.

Torey Hollingsworth is manager of research and policy with the GOPC. In April, she was the keynote speaker at the annual Scioto Foundation luncheon in Portsmouth. More recently, she told The Daily Times, the GOPC has spent several years studying the problems and issues of Ohio legacy cities.

“This is sort of the actualization of that research,” Hollingsworth said regarding the recently released policy document. Both Hollingsworth and GOPC spokesperson John Collier said the next step is to bring the ideas contained in the new document to the forefront in Columbus. Hollingsworth in particular said with gubernatorial and other state-level elections being held this year, now is a good opportunity to get the issues of smaller cities in front of the various candidates and the public.

“The challenge is clear: these communities need support and investment as they reorient to be competitive in today’s economy. Small legacy cities must reinvent themselves – by building on their past, these communities can find new opportunities to thrive in the future. Local leaders have the will to succeed and remain committed to their cities’ revitalization and stabilization, but supportive state policy will be necessary to realize these communities’ full potential. The next gubernatorial administration and General Assembly have the opportunity to arm these cities and their leaders with the tools necessary to address the challenges they face,” the GOPC document reads in part. The GOPC argues with the right support Ohio’s Reinvention cities can be places that are “vibrant, prosperous, connected, healthy and fair, and strategic.” The plan further details what state policymakers can do to help make this vision a reality.

So, what are some of the ideas presented in the GOPC’s vision?

– Placemaking programs that make communities attractive to talent and businesses through physical investments like façade improvements, streetscaping, public art and mixed-use buildings.

– Brownfield remediation funding and regulatory changes that encourage reuse of contaminated, vacant land.

– Assistance for rehabilitation and demolition that turn vacant properties into opportunities for redevelopment.

Policies advertised as needed to reach those goals include preservation and rehabilitation of historical buildings in downtowns and neighborhoods, promotion of parks, recreation and green space improvements that contribute to quality of life; and creation of state economic development policies which benefit small businesses that can create jobs and reutilize vacant retail office and industrial space.

While it all sounds good, is it also all a little pie in the sky? Dunne says, “No.”

“The first step is advocacy,” he added.

Dunne believes just bringing all of Ohio’s legacy cities together is a very good thing. “It’s very useful that sharing of information between cities,” Dunne said, referring not only to GOPC efforts, but a conference held for leaders of smaller cities at Ohio’s Denison University. He believes the GOPC can be an effective advocate for smaller cities in Columbus, and will help put the unique needs of those cities more and more into the minds of legislators and the public.

“They’re giving us a voice, and we have a much bigger voice working together.”

Dunne said he mentioned the GOPC initiative at the last Portsmouth City Council meeting in an attempt to persuade other city legislators to sign the vision document. He didn’t say if anyone else has or will sign the document, but he did say he intends to keep an eye on the overall initiative.

By Tom Corrigan

Reach Tom Corrigan at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931

Reach Tom Corrigan at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931