The 2019 Greater Ohio Summit covered everything from industrial brownfield cleanup to affordable housing in urban and rural neighborhoods. The conference with the theme of “New Perspectives on Revitalization,” took place March 14 at the Westin in Downtown Columbus.
Keynote speaker Anika Goss-Foster, executive director of the Detroit Future City Implementation Office, spoke of Detroit’s resurgence in population and economic growth in recent years, and stressed that a major goal is to restore the black middle class to prominence.
Goss-Foster said that in recent decades, the black middle class followed white flight from the city to suburbs, leaving a significant gap in community cohesiveness. Detroit wants a strong middle class in general, but Goss-Foster said that, in a city that’s 78 percent African-American, a black middle class is particularly important.
The solutions she cited for Detroit were consistent with the workshop themes at the Greater Ohio conference: building civic capacity to ensure strong leadership; remediating brownfields to make way for new economic development; financing redevelopment; “placemaking” strategies; and ensuring the right mix of affordable and market-rate housing.
Many of those solutions apply to rural counties as well as major cities. Jeffry Harris, president of the Area Development Foundation, which serves Knox County’s economic development functions, suggested that the field of economic development should expand to include housing and quality of life because those are qualities that businesses consider when they are expanding. He said that if a warehouse is going to be built near a rural highway interchange, the employer will need to consider where employees will live and how they’ll get to work.
Joyce Barrett, of Heritage Ohio, said downtown Main Street programs are important to placemaking initiatives in rural towns, mid-sized cities, and urban neighborhoods. She said such efforts need to include chambers of commerce and local officials, as well as main-street merchants. They also need to enlist support of major employers even if they’re on the edge of town, and make sure those employers understand that a strong downtown and commercial strip benefits the entire community.
The conference sessions also included a bus tour of Milo-Grogan, a Columbus neighborhood that is seeing many changes, such as the investment by Rogue Fitness in a major facility at Cleveland and Fifth avenues.
While presentations at the summit covered cities as large as Detroit and as small as Greenfield, in Highland County, they were relevant to communities of all sizes. Speakers noted that the problems are similar, even if at different scales, and that engaging residents in planning is important at all levels.