Sprawl vs. Smart Growth: Building an Equitable and Thriving Region at City Club of Cleveland 2/3/2021 at Noon


WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2021 AT 12 PM EST

Sprawl vs. Smart Growth: Building an Equitable and Thriving Region

  • Annette Blackwell
    Mayor, City of Maple Heights
  • Grace Gallucci
    Executive Director & CEO, NOACA
  • Edward H. Kraus
    Mayor, City of Solon
  • Moderator
  • Steven Litt
    Art and Architecture Critic, The Plain Dealer

On December 11, 2020, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) adopted a new policy prioritizing racial and economic equity when making regional decisions about highway interchanges. NOACA is the first metropolitan planning organization (MPO) in the state to require this level of analysis for proposed highway interchange projects. Previously, decisions were made primarily focused on the impact of traffic flow and safety; with the new policy, consideration will be given to economic development, environmental justice, quality of life, transit and bike use, and racial equity.

This new policy follows decades of highway additions and expansions that encouraged suburban and exurban sprawl at the expense of the urban core – a practice that is often cited as a contributing factor to the region’s racial segregation, persistent economic inequality, generational urban poverty, and struggling school systems.

Many supporters of the policy believe it is long overdue – and hope it will lead to greater cooperation to strengthen the region as a whole, rather than pitting communities against each other in competition for jobs and new development. Others question the practicality of any continued suburban expansion given the region’s flat population growth.

Join us as three regional leaders discuss the policy and its short- and long-term implications for the future of Northeast Ohio.

The livestream will be available beginning at 12 p.m. here:
www.cityclub.org/forums/2021/02/03/sprawl-vs-smart-growth-building-an-equitable-and-thriving-region?fbclid=IwAR2GQ2U4uYR3mYhumaAoeeIUDSqfuAqID7u2O-wHAYcdYHsbrOJjB3WWmRQ

Produced and hosted by The City Club of Cleveland. Community partner: League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland

Whats on the ballot Nov 6? Cuyahoga County Charter Amendments: A forum to help understand the proposed changes Oct 6, 2018


The flyer is here
Saturday October 6, 2018 at 2pm
Whats on the ballot Nov 6?
Cuyahoga County Charter Amendments:
A forum to help understand the proposed changes
Westlake Porter Library 27333 Center Ridge Rd, Westlake, OH 44145
featuring
The Honorable Ronald B. Adrine, chair of the Cuyahoga County Charter Review Commission, and other members of the Commission.
Moderated by Marcia Goldberg, former LWV-Greater Cleveland Co-President
Attendees may also verify their voter registration and collect a mail-in ballot application before or after this meeting.

PLAIN DEALER REPORT: A REGION UNITING (2007)

PLAIN DEALER REPORT: A REGION UNITINGCuyahoga County
Read The Plain Dealer’s 2007 series on Northeast Ohio’s push towards a regional government

  • Part One: Reacting with lip service — and lead feet
  • Graphic: Economic impact | What might have been
  • Graphic: The ripening of regionalism
  • Graphic: A Region Divided: The issues it raised
  • New series aims to stir interest in tackling area’s parochialism
  • Part Two: Bundling the burbs
  • Graphic: Merging the Heights: Two, stronger?
  • Graphic: How merging might add up
  • • Interactive: OH migration | NEO migration
  • Part Three: So many leaders, who will lead us?
  • What local leaders can do
  • Area leaders speak out
  • Politicians slow to take the reins
  • How regional reforms were achieved elsewhere
  • Part Four: It worked in Louisville, now Cleveland?
  • Graphic: What if we merged like Louisville?
  • Graphic: A new migration
  • Graphic: Key steps in Louisville merger
  • Final analysis: NOACA must do more
  •  

    “Home Rule for NE Ohio Communities. Should it be stronger or weaker?” October 17, 2017 @ Lakewood Main Library

    “Home Rule for NE Ohio Communities.
    Should it be stronger or weaker?”
    Tuesday October 17, 2017
    moderated by Tom Beres/WKYC-TV emeritus
    Lakewood Public Library, 15425 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, OH
    6:30-8:00 p.m. Free & Open to the Public
    Tom Bier, Ph.D, Senior Fellow, Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs, Cleveland State University

    Barbara
    A. Langhenry, Director of Law, City of Cleveland
    Gary Singletary, Chief Counsel, City of Cleveland

    Thomas Suddes, Columnist, Cleveland.com/Columbus Dispatch/Dayton Daily News
    Michael Summers, Mayor, City of Lakewood
     
    This forum will cover the pros and cons of an issue that impacts Northeast Ohio communities almost every day. Who has the right to control laws regarding Gun Control, Fracking, Police, Schools, and many other issues. Should it be local communities? Or should the Ohio legislature set the laws for your city. 

    In addition, some have argued that strong Home Rule laws in Ohio have contributed to sprawl and other public policy that may be damaging to Northeast Ohio as a whole

    Tom Beres
    Cosponsored by Lakewood Public Library, Cleveland.com/Plain Dealer, League of Women Voters-Greater Cleveland, CWRU Siegal Lifelong Learning
    Corporate sponsor: First Interstate Properties, Ltd.
    For more information, please email: teachingcleveland@earthlink.net

    Regional Cooperation in Northeast Ohio or How to get 59 Civic Entities to Play Together 6/17/2015

    Regional Cooperation in Northeast Ohio
    or
    How to get 59 Civic Entities to Play Together

    Panelists:
    Armond Budish, Cuyahoga County Executive
    Eddy Kraus, Director of Regional Collaboration, Cuyahoga County
    Moderator: Tom Beres, WKYC-TV

    Co-sponsored by:
    Case Western Reserve University’s Siegal Lifelong Learning,
    City Club of Cleveland,
    Cleveland Jewish News Foundation,
    League of Women Voters-Greater Cleveland

    Wednesday June 17, 2015
    Held at the Siegal Facility in Beachwood, Ohio

    Threats to Town Halls Stir Voter Backlash -Wall Street Journal 6/8/2011

    ONEKAMA VILLAGE, Mich.—Michigan has 1,773 municipalities, 609 school districts, 1,071 fire departments and 608 police departments. Gov. Rick Snyder wants some of them to disappear.

    The governor is taking steps to bring about the consolidation of municipal services, even whole municipalities, in order to cut budgets and eliminate redundant local bureaucracies. His blueprint, which relies on legal changes and financial incentives, calls for a “metropolitan model” of government that would combine resources across cities and their suburbs.

    In doing so, Mr. Snyder, a Republican, is taking aim at that twig of American government so cherished by many citizens—the town hall. The long national tradition of hyperlocal government prevails in much of the Northeast and Midwest, with their crazy quilts of cities, towns, villages and townships.

    “You do have to ask: ‘Boy, do we really need 1,800 units of government?'” says Mr. Snyder’s budget director, John Nixon. “Everybody likes their independence, and that’s nice to have. But if you’re not careful, it can cost you a lot more money.”

    Around the country public officials are asking themselves similar questions. Plunging property-tax receipts and rising pension and health-care costs have pushed many municipalities to the brink of financial collapse. The idea is that local governments can operate with fewer workers and smaller budgets if they do things like combine fire departments, create regional waste authorities and fold towns and cities into counties.

    But selling the notion in small communities like Onekama is no easy job. Public officials have floated a proposal to merge this village of 1,500 along Lake Michigan into the township that encircles it. Some residents worry that a leaner government risks becoming a less responsive one.

    Snow plowing already has emerged as a potential sticking point. If the merger passes a vote later this year, Manistee County would take over snow removal, and Onekama’s quiet streets would be among the last sections cleared.

    Bonnie Miller, a village resident for 43 years who emerged as an early opponent of the merger, doesn’t want anyone to mess with the current plowing schedule. “At five in the morning, you can hear the plow truck is already out,” she says.

    Over the years, consolidation proposals haven’t fared well with voters. Of the 105 referendums on city-county mergers since 1902, only 27 have passed, the most recent in 2000, when Louisville, Ky., merged into Jefferson County, according to David Rusk, a Democratic ex-mayor of Albuquerque and a proponent of consolidation. Last year, voters vetoed a merger of Memphis, Tenn., with Shelby County. In March, Memphis voters approved a merger of the city and county school systems, over strong suburban opposition. The county board of education has sued to block the merger.

    Proponents of consolidation come from both ends of the political spectrum. Some conservatives argue that having fewer layers and divisions of government is cost-efficient and improves the economic climate by streamlining regulation and taxation. Some liberals support eliminating local-government boundaries that they say have cemented economic and racial disparities between cities and surrounding towns.

    Researchers, however, have raised questions about whether such consolidation actually delivers significant savings. Typically, they say, only a few administrative positions overlap between jurisdictions, and further savings can’t be realized without compromising service. Public-safety agencies, for example, need a certain staff level to ensure the response times that residents demand.

    A 2004 study by Indiana University’s Center for Urban Policy and the Environment found that costs creep back in, partly because bigger pools of employees can negotiate for better wages, offsetting the savings of job cuts. Academic studies of Jacksonville, Fla.’s combination with Duval County, and Miami’s merger with Dade County found that costs actually rose post-merger as new bureaucracies emerged.

    In a study of Wheeling, W.Va.’s proposed merger with surrounding Ohio County, Mr. Rusk, the ex-mayor of Albuquerque, estimated that the potential cost savings would be barely 2% of the combined budget, because the overlap of services wouldn’t be as extensive as expected.

    Mr. Rusk says the benefits of consolidation don’t necessarily come from cost savings. Fragmentation retards economic growth, he says, “not so much because of waste and duplication of services as an inability to unify a region’s resources” in everything from business development to road repair.

    ENLARGE

    Various state legislatures are moving to spur consolidation. New Jersey, which has 566 municipalities, recently made it easier for communities to pursue mergers, and several are contemplating it. In New York state, which has more than 1,547 overlapping local governments—a system Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo once called “a ramshackle mess”—the Senate passed a bill in 2009 that gave voters the power to consolidate local municipalities and services. In Indiana, which has 1,008 townships, a legislative panel this year unanimously backed offering financial incentives to local governments that seek efficiencies through consolidation.

    Michigan’s laws make municipal mergers difficult. Minimum-staffing requirements and prevailing-wage laws protect public employees and make it hard to cut payroll costs. Thus far, only two mergers have occurred: The city and township of Battle Creek, and two cities and a village in the sparsely populated Upper Peninsula.

    Gov. Snyder has pushed legislators to dismantle those barriers. The Legislature earlier this year strengthened the state’s powers to take control of the finances of failing cities, empowering so-called emergency financial managers to void contracts, sidestep elected officials and dissolve municipalities.

    While the governor can’t force consolidations, he is trying to coax financially troubled municipalities to pursue them. He is withholding about $200 million of funds for cities in need, making that aid contingent on evidence of consolidation of services such as fire departments and trash collections. His budget sets aside $5 million in transition aid for communities seeking mergers.

    Similar incentives are being offered to school districts to share services such as busing, or to merge altogether. In addition, the governor has proposed a new policy that would in effect blur the existing school-district boundary lines.

    “It is an evolutionary process, starting with service consolidation.” Gov. Snyder said in an interview.

    The Detroit suburb of Hazel Park, in Oakland County, is considering merging its fire department with neighboring Ferndale’s. North of Hazel Park, the suburb of Pleasant Ridge is discussing sharing police and fire services with two of its neighbors.

    “The economic reality has come home to roost,” said L. Brooks Patterson, county executive of Oakland County. “They are going to have to consolidate or find themselves in the cold grip of an emergency financial manager.”

    Village President Bob BlackmoreENLARGE
    Village President Bob Blackmore KATE LINEBAUGH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

    Gov. Snyder plans to introduce legislation to ease city-county mergers and allow for the creation of metropolitan zones to coordinate services and economic-development efforts. His hope is for affluent suburbs to share resources with fiscally strapped cities. Such an effort is already under way for Grand Rapids and Kent County.

    Today’s fragmented governments grew out of voter demands for home rule and tighter control over local resources such as emergency services and schools. Voters tend to protect those resources, even if it means paying more for them. “Local voters almost never approve voluntary mergers,” says Mr. Rusk.

    Earlier this year, half a dozen struggling communities in Oakland County held votes on property-tax increases to avoid consolidation of services with neighboring towns or the county. All but one of the increases passed comfortably.

    In Hazel Park, one of the county’s poorest communities, residents voted overwhelmingly for a five-year tax increase to avert deep cuts to the police and fire departments, whose costs, including retiree benefits, account for 64% of the city’s $13.7 million budget.

    Larry Wallace, a 46-year-old father of six, stood up at a public meeting to endorse the higher tax. He said he moved to Hazel Park two decades ago after he was robbed in his house in Detroit and a gun was held to his five-year-old daughter’s head. He said he had waited eight hours for Detroit police, but they never showed. “I will pay whatever to live somewhere safe for me and my family,” he said.

    In Onekama, two governments—the village’s and the township’s—operate out of single-story buildings half a block apart on Main Street. Each employs a clerk and a treasurer. Each has an elected board of trustees. The village has a president to run its affairs; the township, a supervisor.

    Many residents like it that way. Township residents pay lower taxes in return for a mostly hands-off administration that controls public access to Portage Lake. Village residents pay higher taxes for services that include maintaining a park on the lake and the early-morning snow plowing.

    Several years ago, the two governments came together over a shared interest: the health of the lake. Concerns about aging septic systems in lake-side cottages spurred the passage of a new septic ordinance for both areas.

    Township Supervisor David MeisterENLARGE
    Township Supervisor David Meister KATE LINEBAUGH/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

    The village and township then began cooperating on a plan to protect the lake. In 2009, both the village and township approved a special tax to help protect the watershed—a vote described by local officials as a turning point.

    Next came a joint master plan, and late last year, Village President Bob Blackmore, a retired auto executive, and Township Supervisor David Meister, a farmer and muscle-car enthusiast, began discussing an outright merger. Their goal was to avoid duplication of services and to jointly seek resources.

    Under the proposal they are considering, the village government would be dissolved and the township would take over. Village residents would see their tax bills shrink, and township residents would see them stay the same. A couple of part-time administrative jobs would be eliminated. State funds to facilitate the transition could sweeten the deal.

    But some village residents worry the plan will somehow change the character of their community, that a township government will not value what the village does.

    Ms. Miller, who runs a summer fruit stand in the village, initially called the proposed merger a “hostile takeover” by the township.

    Some township residents also are wary. Jim Trout, a retiree from Grand Rapids who recently moved from the village to the township, says he fears a merger with the village, whose voters he says are more politically active, will bring more demands, and costs, for municipal services.

    “If they demand amenities, they can go down and live in urbanland,” said Mr. Trout. “I chose to live here.”

    Public meetings that began in February raised a host of questions, recalls Mr. Meister, the township supervisor: “What’s going to happen to their streets? Is the park system going to change? Will we have a new form of government? Who is going to lose their jobs?”

    Mr. Meister is trying to work out a way for villagers to pay more to retain services such as early plowing.

    Another public meeting is slated for Wednesday to include summer residents. Officials plan to address concerns raised at earlier meetings and to outline what the new government would look like. Residents will vote later this year.

    “It will happen either now or later,” says Mr. Blackmore, the village president. “It is going to happen.”

    Ms. Miller, who says she’s beginning to soften her opposition, doubts the merger would be the end of the consolidation process. She sees Onekama ultimately being swallowed up by the county. “You can’t stand in the way of progress forever,” she says. “But sometimes you do like to see the little Norman Rockwell image of a quaint village.”

    Write to Kate Linebaugh at kate.linebaugh@wsj.com

    PLAIN DEALER REPORT: A REGION DIVIDED 2004

    PLAIN DEALER REPORT: A REGION DIVIDED
    Read The Plain Dealer’s original 2004 series on how Cuyahoga County and its surrounding communities might benefit from consolidating governments and city services
    Part 1: Is there a better way?

  • • A new Cleveland without borders?
  • • PD’s Doug Clifton: Regional government deserves exploration
  • • Five models of regional government
  • • Regional cooperation in Greater Cleveland goes back a long way
  • • Chart: Should two cities become one
  • Part 2: Burning questions
  • • One big fire department?
  • • Fighting fires before they start
  • • Fire department consolidations
  • • Chart: What’s it cost to fight fires?
  • • Boots and ladders
  • • PDF: Where’s the fire [station]?
  • Part 3: An Issue of black and white
  • • Reframing the debate
  • • The meaning of influence
  • • Chart: Blacks in Cuyahoga County
  • • Chart: Government reform
  • Part 4: Joining forces
  • • CSI Cuyahoga County?
  • • One county, 47 city jails• Chart: All dressed up and ready for ‘GO!’• Chart: Mixed signals
  • Part 5: The Minneapolis plan
    • What if we shared the wealth?• Chart: Regional comparison• Chart: South St. Paul by the number• Chart: What if Northeast Ohio shared?
  • Part 6: New math for schools
    • Could 31 districts ever equal 1?• Chart: Big districts spend less
  • • Chart: Separate and unequal schools
  • Part 7: New math for schools II
    • In schooling math, more can be less• Chart: School consolidation hot spots
  • Part 8: Disorder in the courts
  • • Verdict: inefficient and fragmented
  • • PD’s Doug Clifton: Challenges remian as we face the future in NE Ohio
  • • Chart: Caseload burdens
  • • Chart: Legal maze for Cuyahoga families
  • Part 9: Disorder in the courts II
  • • On DUIs, justice is all over the map
  • • Chart: Different Courts, different results
  • • Chart: Which courts stike the most deals with drunken drivers?
  • Part 10: Playing Together
  • • Sharing the cost of a big rec center
  • • Chart: Fit to compete
  • Part 11: Degrees of Cooperation
  • • Colleges consider pooling resources
  • • Chart: Public colleges and universities in Ohio, US
  • • Chart: Colleges nearby for Northeast Ohioans
  • • Chart: Degree overlap
  • A new Cleveland without borders?

    Sunday, January 25, 2004

    By Robert L. Smith

    Plain Dealer Reporter

    Corrections and clarifications: The following published correction appeared on January 29, 2004:Because of a reporter’s error, a story on Sunday’s Page One incorrectly ranked the population of Louisville, Ky. Upon merging with its home county last January, Louisville became America’s 16th most populous city.

    ————————————————–

    A REGION DIVIDED / Is there a better way?

    Welcome to the city of Metro Cleveland. We’re new, but we suspect you’ve heard of us.

    We’re the largest city in Ohio, by far. With 1.3 million residents, we’re the sixth-largest city in America. Right back in the Top 10.

    Our freshly consolidated city covers 459 square miles on the Lake Erie shore. Our economic development authority, enriched through regional cooperation, wields the power to borrow a whopping $500 million.

    So, yes, America, we have a few plans.

    How do you like us now?

    Merging Cleveland and Cuyahoga County into a single super-city is only one example of “new regionalism” being discussed across the country. In fact, it illustrates one of the most aggressive and seldom-used strategies to revive a metropolitan area by eliminating duplicated services, sharing tax dollars across political boundaries and planning with a regional view.

    At the other end of the spectrum stand places like present-day Cleveland, a tired city with rigid boundaries watching helplessly as its wealth and jobs drain away.

    In between are dozens of regions where city and suburbs agreed to plan new industries, or began sharing taxes, or staked out “green lines” to slow sprawl and encourage investment in urban areas, cooperative strategies aimed at lifting the whole region.

    Some dreams came true and others did not. Regional government does not solve every problem or achieve overnight success, experts caution. But the evidence suggests it allows cities like Cleveland to do something not dared here in a long time. It allows them to dream.

    Dream big.

    “Regional government would let Cleveland compete in the new economy,” said Bruce Katz, a specialist in metropolitan planning for the Brookings Institution.

    “Overnight, we’d become a national player,” said Mark Rosentraub, dean of the College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University.

    “These ideas are not crazy,” insists Myron Orfield, a Minnesota state senator and one of the nation’s best-known proponents of regional planning. “Regionalism is centrist. It’s happening. Ohio is one of the few industrialized states that has not done anything.”

    Orfield is often credited with popularizing new regionalism through his 1997 book, “Metropolitics.” It details regional partnerships he fostered in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, strategies like tax sharing.

    In 1969, the seven counties surrounding the Twin Cities began sharing taxes from new business and industry, pooling the money and giving it to the communities that needed it most.

    Designed to revive the cities, the plan worked so well that Minneapolis now sends taxes to its suburbs.

    (SEE CORRECTION NOTE) These days, a newer model of regionalism is drawing policy planners and mayors to northern Kentucky. Louisville merged with its home county last year to form the Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government, becoming America’s 23rd-largest city as Cleveland slipped to 34th.

    Much of the messy work of merging city and county departments remains, but Louisville Mayor Jerry E. Abramson said his community is already enjoying cost savings and something more: rising self-esteem.

    Louisville residents had brooded as civic rivals Nashville and Indianapolis used regional cooperation to lure jobs, people and major-league sports teams. Fearful of being left forever behind, voters approved a dramatic merger that had been rejected twice before.

    “I think people saw that those cities were moving ahead more quickly,” Abramson said. “We decided we would do better speaking with one voice for economic growth.”

    History suggests such unity would not come easy to Northeast Ohio. Look at a detailed map of Ohio’s most populous county, Cuyahoga, and you’ll see a kaleidoscope of governments: one county, 38 cities, 19 villages, two townships, 33 school districts, and dozens of single-minded taxing authorities.

    The idea of huddling them behind a single quarterback is not new. At least six times since 1917, voters rejected plans for regional government, spurning the most recent reform plan in 1980.

    “You know why? People like small-town atmosphere,” said Faith Corrigan, a Willoughby historian who raised her family in Cleveland Heights. “It’s been said Cleveland is the largest collection of small towns in the world.”

    Any effort at civic consensus in Northeast Ohio also means bridging a racial divide, which helped to defeat the last three reform efforts. Black civic leaders suspected a larger, whiter city would dilute their hard-won influence and political power. Those sentiments remain.

    “Yes, we’re fearful of less representation,” said Sabra Pierce Scott, a Cleveland City councilwoman who represents the Glenville neighborhood, which is mostly black. “It’s taken us a long time to get here.”

    Meanwhile, residents of wealthy suburbs may see little to gain by sharing taxes with Cleveland, let alone giving up the village council.

    “I think it’s almost a fool’s dream to think you could even accomplish it,” said Medina County Commissioner Steve Hambley.

    Yet opposition to regional government is softening. Recently, Urban League director Myron Robinson told his board members that regional cooperation could give black children access to better schools and should be discussed.

    Mayors of older suburbs, facing their own budget woes, are questioning the wisdom of paying for services that might be efficiently shared, like fire protection and trash collection.

    And Cleveland business leaders, many of whom live in the suburbs, are emerging as some of the strongest supporters of regional sharing and planning. They say a strong city is essential to the region’s prosperity and that Cleveland cannot rise alone.

    For models of what might work, they look to any one of a dozen metropolitan areas that forged regional partnerships in recent decades; and to a few impassioned local believers.

    “If I were God for a day,” CSU’s Rosentraub declares, he would simply merge the city and county bonding powers behind a planning agency with teeth. He would create a $500 million revolving development fund, big enough to launch the kinds of projects that change skylines.

    That kind of cooperation, Rosentraub said, would also send a message across the land. We’re big. We’re regional. We’re working together.

    To comment on regional government or this story:

    theregion@plaind.com, 216-999-5068

    Focusing Better on Big Picture: Concept of Regionalism Grows on Local Leaders: Joe Frolik Plain Dealer/NEOMG February 12, 2006

    ONLINE: Read more, including The Plain Dealer’s “A Region Divided,” on the Web. www.cleveland.com/region

    It was Plato who first identified necessity as the mother of invention.

    But if the Greek philosopher were to pop up in Cleveland these days, he just might conclude that necessity has another child: regionalism.

    Not so long ago, regionalism was an orphan concept dismissed as — pick your poison — too vague, too idealistic or even too threatening to warrant serious discussion. Now, everyone’s talking about it. Consider:

    The new mayor of Cleveland plans to hire a regional economic development director, who will be part deal maker, part visionary. He’s also cozying up to a group of suburban mayors and city managers who want to start a regional development fund and to replenish it by sharing tax revenue.

    Meanwhile, it’s hard to find one of those suburban mayors who isn’t talking about some regional approach to everything from recreation to fire protection.

    And the Cuyahoga County commissioners are quietly crafting a regional investment package that would address big capital needs, money for the arts and even brain drain.

    For now, the commissioners and most of the mayors use region as a synonym for Cuyahoga County or a group of adjacent communities. But other conversations are exploding on an even bigger canvas.

    Foundations from 15 counties are investing in a regional economic development initiative and want thousands of average folks to help plot Northeast Ohio’s future. Business organizations from Lorain to Youngstown created Team NEO to market the region and aid companies looking to move or expand here. Two-dozen local colleges and universities are co-

    operating to sell students on this region as a great place to learn — and to live after graduation.

    In part, these efforts reflect simple reality. Geographic regions are the defining units of commerce in the 21st century. To Adam Smith’s invisible hand, every community here — be it a big city like Cleveland or an exurban outpost like Burton — already feels connected.

    “The marketplace sees the region and the marketplace is where we have to have impact,” says Joseph Roman, president of the Greater Cleveland Partnership. “And to do that, we have to use every available resource.”

    Which gets us back to necessity. Although many of our companies excel, and many of us enjoy an enviable quality of life, this region overall has not kept pace with economic growth elsewhere. The result is the half-century of stagnation that we’ve come to call Greater Cleveland’s “Quiet Crisis.” And it touches almost every aspect of life.

    The cost of government services keeps rising faster than property values or tax revenue. Citizens want those services, but are too concerned about their own economic prospects to accept higher taxes. As the region fails to generate enough new wealth, foreclosures and blight creep into affluent suburbs. Talented young people look elsewhere for opportunities. Old racial and class lines harden at a time when openness and diversity are more prized than ever.

    If you’re a mayor or other elected official, you have to find ways to cut costs without eroding services, so you start thinking about sharing some burdens with your neighbors. Business leaders look for lower taxes and less red tape to become more competitive and create more jobs. Leaders of minority or inner-city communities realize that, unless the economy grows, their constituents will never reach their potential.

    Thus the newfound interest in regionalism — not as an end to itself, but as a tool to fix what ails us.

    “In some respects, this region doesn’t have a choice but to try something new,” says John Powell, director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University. “Yes, it’s hard. Change is always hard. But keeping the status quo is harder.”

    Powell’s very presence in the regionalism discussion reflects its new tone. He and two other nationally recognized African-American policy experts have been hired by the Presidents’ Council to examine what kinds of regional approaches have been tried elsewhere and what might work here, given Greater Cleveland’s history and culture. The council is comprised by leading black business owners who want to ensure that their community is not only at the table when regionalism is discussed, but ready to help set the agenda.

    That’s significant, because until now most black leaders have viewed regionalism with skepticism, or even hostility. They would hear regionalism and figure it’s a code word for a government consolidation that would dilute black voting power and strip Cleveland of its assets. End of conversation.

    Now, says the Presidents’ Council’s Lonzo Coleman, “It’s better for all of us to be at the table and have the right conversations.”

    (It’s worth noting that many folks in outlying counties still hear regionalism and figure it’s a code word for siphoning their assets to Cleveland. But that’s another column).

    Think of the change at City Hall in just five years: When Michael R. White was mayor of Cleveland, he dismissed regionalism talk by asking its proponents when they planned to pony up for the city’s public schools and public housing. Jane Campbell talked a more favorable game, but usually focused on what Cleveland needed from its neighbors.

    Frank Jackson is the first mayor to speak in terms of partnership and mutual benefit — though he, too, is crystal clear that education needs to be seen as a regional responsibility. After all, how can this area compete if it relegates thousands of children every year to second-class schooling in a world where economic power and education go hand in glove?

    Jackson remains vehemently against government consolidation, but so is almost everyone at this point. So why not look for areas of possible cooperation — shared services, purchasing, job attraction — rather than pick a huge fight that will lead nowhere?

    When OfficeMax was deciding where to locate its merged corporate headquarters, Campbell and Shaker Heights Mayor Judy Rawson brought together 14 public and private entities and 22 funding sources to pitch Greater Cleveland. It still wasn’t enough, but it offered a glimpse of what has to happen in the future.

    “Before, when somebody mentioned regionalism, it was, ‘How is my ox going to be gored with this new idea?’ ” says Rawson. “Now it’s, ‘Can we make the region stronger?’ And if so, ‘. . . Does it benefit my community?’ And the answer to those questions, increasingly, is yes.”