After three years of work by more than 5,600 participants and 170 organizations, and with the completion of the Vibrant NEO 2040, we have reached the starting line in the journey toward a more vibrant, resilient, and sustainable future for Northeast Ohio.
Vibrant NEO 2040 is Northeast Ohio's vision for our future, and a set of recommendations and tools to achieve it. The Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium, a group of 33 governments and non-profit organizations from across our 12-county region, facilitated the development of Vibrant NEO 2040. But the Vibrant NEO 2040 Vision was created by Northeast Ohioans to inform and inspire us toward a future for our region that reflects our common goals and shared values. It is focused on preserving our quality of life and expanding choices for area citizens while respecting local government and individual property rights.
Our region's future will be built from the combination of our individual choices. If we want a better future, we have to make better-informed decisions. Making these decisions, particularly about how we use land and allocate resources, is often easier if our communities are well-informed and are working together rather than acting alone.
Northeast Ohio communities face common challenges and share a strong foundation of natural and built resources that we have inherited from previous generations and then built upon. While we have much in common, we have not had a shared aspirational vision that we can use to build a more prosperous Northeast Ohio. Vibrant NEO 2040 describes our shared vision and provides a framework for working together to build a promising future both for our region and for our individual communities.
During the past two decades, Northeast Ohio experienced minimal growth in population and jobs, while continuing to spread out. If we develop this way between now and 2040, we will need to pay for new infrastructure to support our developing communities while we simultaneously pay the price for abandoning additional houses, retail centers, industrial properties and lose significant assets in our long-established communities.
Paying these costs without significant growth in our jobs and population will put relentless fiscal pressure on every county and make it increasingly difficult for all of our communities to maintain a high quality of life with available local revenues. This will leave Northeast Ohioans with two bad options: accept a diminished quality of life or pay significantly more in taxes.
This is the future we are heading toward - and we can't just "grow" our way out of it. The research supporting Vibrant NEO 2040 shows that even better-than-expected growth in the region's population and job base won't bring our revenues and expenses into balance.
We can control our own fate and balance our books if we make better-informed choices. By pursuing the priorities, policies and personal actions identified in Vibrant NEO 2040, we can eliminate almost all projected abandonment, reduce further stress on our natural resources, and turn anticipated operating deficits for Northeast Ohio's local governments into across-the-board operating surpluses.
So, beyond addressing some of Northeast Ohio's most alarming problems, what does the destination described in Vibrant NEO 2040 look like? Among other attributes, it's a future where: our regional economy is competitive, fiscal health in our communities is improved and our system of parks and natural areas are stronger.
This is the destination that Northeast Ohioans have defined for our region. Vibrant NEO 2040's Vision and Framework lay out how we can make the journey by working together to pursue four broad goals:
We have to strengthen our established communities by shifting investment in strategic ways to support mature cities, villages, townships, and neighborhoods throughout our region, instead of continuing to fund the trend of outward migration.
We have to increase transportation choice, making it easier to move around Northeast Ohio. A balanced system of regional transportation will give us more choices to get to work, services and amenities by walking, biking and taking public transportation, as well as by driving.
We have to preserve and protect our natural resources, by safeguarding our air, water, soil and habitats and creating a regional network of parks, open spaces and protected areas.
And we have to promote collaboration and efficiency, so we can move more quickly to define our challenges, identify our strategic actions, and work collaboratively to improve our communities while spending less to do so.
Morrison is executive director of the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium and Getchey is executive director of the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.