Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Cleveland and the Regionalism Challenge

Most people get it by now that cities compete in the marketplace as regions. Of course it matters that individual cities, towns, and unincorporated areas that make up a region all prosper, but the fate of a region is generally collective. The real battle is not between city and suburbs, but between regions, including those around the world. Now the competition metaphor is somewhat flawed since the economy is not a zero sum game, but clearly some places are more attractive than others to human capital and business. Place that spend less time fighting amongst themselves and more time working on success for their city-region will differentiate themselves.

Cleveland has long been a city and a region with challenges on this front. It is an area with traditionally high levels of distrust between city and suburbs. This was illustrated a year or so ago when the Cuyahoga County dominated metropolitan planning organization voted to block the construction of a new interstate interchange in a suburban county even though a developer had agreed to pay for it. Cuyahoga County demanded a cut of the tax revenues in return for voting to approve the interchange. I castigated this approach at the time and still think it was a big mistake.

On the other hand, there have been a lot of positive developments on the regionalism front in Cleveland as well. Clearly Northeast Ohio knows that this has been a problem area for them. They’ve responded with a number of regional initiatives, including a regional strategic planning organization called Advance Northeast Ohio, an economic development group called Team NEO (which alas uses the unfortunate brand of Cleveland+ as well), and Bioenterprise, a life sciences promotion group. There’s also a very interesting program called Tech Belt, which is about creating a technology corridor along the “Cleveburgh” corridor from Cleveland to Youngstown to Pittsburgh. That’s an even megaregional type of effort.

Many cities have a roster of similar type groups, but one that really stands out is a philanthropic effort called the Fund for Our Economic Future. Founded in 2004, this is an association of local foundations that agreed to pool their money and jointly decide on regional grants designed to boost the economic fortunes of the greater northeast Ohio area. And it isn’t just a few. There are 69 foundations that pledge a minimum of $100,000 per year to be part of the fund. That’s pretty incredible.

I’m not aware of anything quite like this out there. Detroit had an organization that was somewhat similar and was actually headed by Brookings’ John Austin for a while, but that was a separately chartered organization while this is an unincorporated association of foundations. Foundations often don’t work well together, so having this group come together is noteworthy. It’s not just regionalism, it is also about building trust among organizations. And it is a non-profit foray into the economic development world. That’s not without risk, but places like Cleveland need to take a few to change the game.

The Fund for Our Economic future was in the news recently as the largest foundation in the group, the Cleveland Foundation, all but pulled out and decided to start making its own grants in the space again. Part of the rationale appears to be a desire by the Cleveland Foundation to focus its giving on the city of Cleveland:

Richard and David Goldberg, chairman of the Cleveland Foundation’s board, said in an interview that the future fund’s mission and 16-county target area grew beyond the foundation’s Cleveland-centered goals.

Cleveland “is the core of the region,” Richard said. “Unless we revitalize downtown Cleveland and its neighborhoods, we can’t bring back the region.”

But leaders of the future fund said the foundation has essentially rejected the collaborative spirit of an effort that’s helping spur the region’s economy.

This is a bit of a bad news/good news situation. In trying to do something ambitious like this, setbacks are to be expected. The Cleveland Foundation is a community foundation (actually, it was the very first community foundation ever, and is still the second largest in the country), and they are generally restricted as to the geographic scope of their giving. A community foundation is one type of organization whose mission has been traditionally focused on a particular community. In fact, it’s almost the definition of a community foundation. Still, there were likely some personality conflicts along the way. And I can’t help but wonder what it takes to utter with a straight face, as the Cleveland Foundation’s president did, “There is no doubt in my mind that the Cleveland Foundation is the most magnificent collaborator of any foundation in the United States of America.”

But despite this, the Fund is not collapsing and other foundations are committed to continuing it. This is the good news part of the equation. Again, every endeavor is going to suffer setback and disappointments. Any real personal relationship is going to undergo some period of stress and conflict. That’s just human nature. The real question is not how to avoid all troubles, but how to react to them. If Cleveland can move forward in a positive direction from this, not allowing the Fund to die or creating a permanently poisonous situation, then this type of conflict might be one that shows a region that is growing beyond the fragile flower phase and into something more substantive and real.

Ed Morrison is generally a Cleveland critic, but he sees significant upside potential in the Cleveland Foundation decision. In his view, the Cleveland Foundation can concentrate on Cleveland, while the Fund becomes a more truly regional entity.

The recent decision by the Cleveland Foundation to reduce its commitment to the Fund for our Economic Future (the “Future Fund”) opens the door to a new, promising future for Northeast Ohio. In the past, the Future Fund concentrated its investments on a handful of important regional initiatives.

Now, it appears, these regional organizations will continue to move forward, but with different funding formulas. The Cleveland Foundation has invited these organizations to apply directly for support. This step frees the Future Fund to concentrate on the development of a more network-based approach to regional economic development.

The development of a truly regional strategy in Northeast Ohio has been slowed to some extent by the perception that most regional initiatives are anchored in Cleveland. In other words, the regional entities based in Cleveland (including the Future Fund) faced difficulty to overcome the perception of being too “Cleveland centric”.

Concentrating too much on Cleveland ignores the major competitive strength of the region. Unlike most regional economies, which rely on a single anchor metropolitan economy, Northeast Ohio operates with multiple metros. This diversity creates strength, if the assets of each of these metros can be strategically linked.

Morrison, an economic development consultant who also is affiliated with Purdue University, is a strong proponent of networks, with methodologies he refers to as open source economic development and strategic doing. His web site goes into much more detail on these. (As an aside, it is also clear that Morrison understands his region’s geography and its applicability to urban success).

The types of positive outcomes are what Cleveland should look to achieve. This Cleveland Foundation move is a test for the community. Will it deal with the fallout and move on positively, or fall back into bickering and recrimination? The answer will be a sign of how far Cleveland has come on the regionalism journey.

And it is a journey. Regions don’t get there overnight. Whatever happens here, Cleveland has gone from being a metro that was nowhere on regionalism a decade ago to having many active regional programs underway today. Regardless of how far northeast Ohio may still have to go, it has come a long way already, and that’s a real accomplishment.

Topics: Regionalism
Cities: Cleveland

14 Responses to “Cleveland and the Regionalism Challenge”

  1. aimutch says:

    You might be thinking of the Community Foundation for SE Michigan.

  2. Wad says:

    Forbes did a bullet-point drive-by piece on the 20 most miserable cities in America. The Midwest, particularly northeast Ohio, is overrepresented on the list.

    Cleveland is No. 1. Canton is No. 9. Akron is No. 12. Youngstown is No. 18. These are on the Tech Belt.

    Of the 20, a dozen of them are in the Midwest.

  3. Anon says:

    Thank you for writing on a Cleveland issue. Evidently, this isn’t controversial or sexy (like the women on bikes), since there aren’t too many comments.

    I hope they can work out some kind of federalism of these foundations. We need whatever benefit can be obtained from cooperating with Akron, Youngstown, Pittsburgh, etc. But we also need someone thinking about the city proper.

    I took a look at the Cleveland Foundation site. The projects they show are a bit-of-everything quality of life type stuff. Something for the elderly, something for the disabled, something for the arts. That’s nice, but entirely different from trying to create a biotech industry.

  4. John Morris says:

    I really do think Richard Longworth had a great point about state capitals distorting our social networks and limiting our vision.

    My hope is that as the Feds, and governements at all levels have less and less to bribe people with, more focus will be put on private informal networking efforts.

    How hard would it really be to create websites and online mapping to list a lot of the assets that already exist or to have a regional arts blog or tech blog?

    People really equate all “community” with the government.

    As to foundations, they have to abide by donor wishes which is really interesting in the internet era. Say you had an online job board for a wide region–could a foundation set up to only help one city support that?

  5. John Morris says:

    I guess I want to make a pitch for expanding your blog roll. (Pretty please, can my blog be on it)

    I know it seems like a small thing, but given the general lack of connections and dialog every little link helps.

    When I came to Pittsburgh and started a gallery, it with some expectaion that there were more regional links and exchanges than it turned out there were. (gallery closed)

  6. Alon Levy says:

    Wad, the Forbes list was based, among other things, on how the local sports teams are doing. In other words, it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.

  7. Wad says:

    John, the arts is no less a risky proposition than the conventional for-profit world, and it poses its unique set of challenges.

    The arts, in particular, has the problem of becoming high school all over again. Arts communities tend to group into cliques, and there’s the obsession with status (coolness, status, relevancy, etc.).

    It plays out over larger and smaller communities. Pittsburgh would have one of the largest and most mature regional links and exchanges. Then again, even if you were focused on the neighborhood level, you would have likely faced the problem of not being accepted into the circle.

  8. jon eckerle says:

    The interesting thought bubble that is brewing out of the budget / financial discussions at the City of Cleveland, has two words in it, “Metropolitan Goverment?”
    When you think about it makes sense that it is coming now. Cleveland’s census numbers are going to go down to 325,000 or so. As Cleveland shrinks so does the budget. The questioned posed would be could we develop a system where we create a local control of major neighborhoods in the city,(examples: Westpark, Collinwood, Greater University Circle, Downtown, Metro and Old Brooklyn). If we are going to continue to deal with the political reality of lots of micro govermental entities in the county can we limit the scope of their power to local politics. The utility functions of goverment should be administered based on operational efficiencies. Since most of the govermental operation on the city level is service based ,( water, streets and garbage), we should be able to create a politically viable evolutionary metro goverment . The micro cities would have a mandate to collaborate on a common platform. This is easier in the ring suburbs because they are financially viable entities. East Cleveland, Mt Pleasant, Metro and most of the city of Cleveland are not financially viable. Core foundations of a new govermental structure needs to deal with this problem. There needs to be a realistic plan on how to make these neighborhoods viable and functional. In the country the villages and the cities are doing revenue sharing. It is possible to sell progressive planning options. A metro goverment plan needs to address the needs of the poor core neighborhoods, or they will, rightfully, disrupt the discussion.
    If the region is ever going to be viewed as a area worth considering by the rest of the world, then we need to have a population of at least 2 to three million. If that means that we need to form some kind of confederation of goverments… then we need to do it. A population in the care city of 320000 will wipe us off the world map. Metro Goverment is our only hope.

  9. Anon says:

    I’m not sure I follow what you’re suggesting, but I do think a reorganization could help us. We need to align, to some extent, benefits, costs, and control. I’m a homeowner in the city, and I wish we had the option of using some of the methods to fight blight that are available in the suburbs. I would pay more for additional policing, and so would my neighbors, but people in other neighborhoods of the city either can’t or don’t want too. I would like strong point-of-sale housing inspections and aggressive code enforcement. Again, that isn’t happening because the people in the distressed neighborhoods couldn’t afford it.

    A lot of the things we do regionally, we do fairly well. RTA isn’t perfect, but its much better than most cities our size. The Metroparks are good. The Libraries are excellent (with substaintial state funding). Even our county hospital is quite good relative to comparable county hospitals.

    I think we should consider making sales and income taxes regionally collected and shared. We all cross jurisdiction lines to work and shop. Local sales taxes lead to subsidized overbuilding of retail. North Olmsted tries to grab some revenue from Brooklyn and Woodmere grabs from Beachwood. The income taxes paid by downtown and university circle worker are controlled by Cleveland residents, and primarily benefit Cleveland residents. The people stuck with the cost have incentive to move to Independence, Mayfield, etc.

    Property taxes, in contrast, are tied completely to the location, so these should be set locally and pay for neighborhood level services and amenities. If the neighborhoods buy services like plowing and trash from a regional provider (public or private) they will be motivated by cost savings.

  10. Anon says:

    We need to consolidate at least in name and for reporting purposes. As a metro area our numbers (education, income, crime, housing values) are average to good. But people often compare central city to central city, in which case, we look like a third world country. This is disasterous for PR.

  11. John Morris says:

    Jon, could you be more specific about what your talking about and what functions might be merged or which synergies and collaborations might emerge. I think I get what you mean. I don’t know Cleveland well at all.

    My guess is Pittsburgh should be following a similar path with gradual mergers and alliances rather than an all at once county/city merger which seems very unlikely.

    A number of the old streetcar suburbs (most without streetcars now) like Dormont, Mount Lebanon, Edgewood and even Fox Chapel have a lot in common with the city and should be able to find common benefits in working together. Some are almost urban in many ways, have downtowns and with a bit of tweeking could be less car oriented and return to the beneficial relationship they once had with the city.

    The newer exurbs have much less to gain, have little chance of supporting transit links and often are not even in the county.

  12. jon eckerle says:

    The general premise is that most of goverment is a service. Say 75% is service oriented and 10% is administrative and the balance is political. If all of the political entities were forced to use the same metrics and accounting systems, then cost benifit analysis would be easy. We could determine economies. If it said we could do this service better and cheaper by merger then we do that. The service part of the problem is easy. Do you want to pay more to pick up your garbage or merge. The administrative parts get harder, because you lose some local control over fixing the pothole. The political part of the equasion can remain. Perhaps the focus will become more about quality of life and less about administrative nightmares. A hyper local goverment would eventually become more like a village goverment.
    The factory aspects of goverment would be measured and awarded to those that are most capable. These services would be evened out over the county or the region. East Cleveland would have the same garbage value as Beechwood.
    We would all save. The whole system would be administered on the internet. Transparency. Equalization of services. Various federations for different geographic areas…. but an equalization of value across districts, including Cleveland. The core city is the core solution, and problem.
    If we are to divide Cleveland into a federation of neighborhoods (boroughs).. and that federation is part of a larger federation called “Metro Cleveland,” then we need to share the pain together. Like the european federation, the week and the strong together make the whole stronger. The perspective on the issues will change… The infrastructure costs of sprawl will become an economic issue for everybody. Long term repacement costs of infrastructure will become an issue that will have us carefully choosing what to build. The Metro area will have a brand that represents a large geographic area and population. The economic impact of Metro Cleveland will be viewed as having substance instesd of aenemic.

    In order to make the problem digestible we need to address the needs of the cities, Cleveland’s neighborhoods, the basic services, and the realities of the political animal.
    Cleveland will need to redefine itself politically, it is making the big sacrafice. The suburbs need to approach this with the thought that by helping Cleveland neighborhoods, in the long run, we are helping everyone. The ‘burb’s changes will be much more evolutionary and by choice. If Cleveland’s govermental structure does not change then the whole thing will not work.

    Cleveland’s neighborhoods need to be transformend into identified structures with populations of 40 to 50 thousand, a councilman, a CDC, grade schools, a middle and high schools, fire house, police station, a goverment house for the peoples business, a community circulator and if I have my way a newspaper. These would be natural areas based on self identification rather than gerrimandering.
    Areas such as Greater University Circle, Collinwood, Edgewater, West Park, Ohio City, Metro, Old Brooklyn, and Downtown. Cleveland as a concept needs to define the region not the core. People need to own West Park like people in Lakewood own Lakewood.

    The census that is being done right now is going to make this a do or die issue.

  13. John Morris says:

    Bringing up the EU, likely isn’t wise since it almost certainly has made Europe weaker and poorer in the long run by helping to hide and enable disfunction rather than curing it. It’s failure won’t be pretty.

    The real cure probably comes from pushing as much responsibility down rather than up the chain. I think I grasp your concept in general. In Pittsburgh, school districts are the giant nut since nobody wants to be controlled by the Pittsburgh board of ED.

  14. Alon Levy says:

    The Euro was a mistake, but the rest of the EU wasn’t. Most countries on Europe’s periphery, including Ireland, Greece, and Spain, would probably have remained second world if it hadn’t been for access to the common European market.

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