A new survey of Northeast Ohio residents by a regional planning group captures welcome signs about a general willingness among residents to change direction. In light of the findings, the challenge for the organization, the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium, is to build on the positive attitudes, offering specific solutions that dispel the negatives. At this point, the population is divided about whether the future is getting better or worse.
The consortium, a three-year planning effort supported in part by a $4.5 million federal grant, will need all the positives it can muster. It is aimed at reducing sprawl. In a region where the population is declining, sprawl means unsupportable costs for infrasructure and overhead, which gobbles up resources that could be directed toward economic development projects.
Given the history of similar planning initiatives, the consortium’s task won’t be easy. Still, the survey found a remarkable degree of consensus in 12 counties on making sure Northeast Ohio is economically viable and growing, with 93 percent of respondents saying that goal is extremely important or very important. For most, sustainability is job-related, not surprising in this economy. Almost all (94 percent) said that developing a wide variety of good jobs is an extremely or very important factor contributing to sustainability.
In terms of public policy, the survey found support for regionalism, the idea that communities in Northeast Ohio must collaborate to find new ways to grow the economy and for adapting to changing conditions. There was strong agreement (89 percent) that local governments should work together more closely, with 72 percent agreeing that it is better to adapt to change than preserve traditional ways. Almost three-fourths (74 percent) agreed that the future of where they live depends a lot on the rest of the region.
The survey found little support for more taxes for local government, with 49 percent unwilling to pay more local taxes even if they benefitted from them. That said, residents of Northeast Ohio often show extreme tenacity in resisting government consolidation, fearing the loss of their community’s identity.
While the survey found a general satisfaction with the quality of life in the region, only 39 percent said things are getting better in Northeast Ohio, with 30 percent seeing things getting worse. Sadly, residents 18 to 24 years old, the demographic group needed to ensure the region’s future prosperity, appear to be the least likely to be satisfied and are the most pessimistic about the future.
As the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium moves ahead, it must outline detailed strategies, sure to stir up parochial concerns. The survey will help provide a strong argument for pushing ahead to improve the entire region.