July 23, 2016

Partly sunny

Group game for regional planning

A consortium of organizers and civic leaders all working together to guide the future for Northeast Ohio plan to meet for public workshops and roll out an interactive online game, both designed to engage residents in the planning process.

It’s been roughly 40 years since the question “What future do you want for Northeast Ohio” has been asked with a plan to answer it, but the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium — also known in many circles as Vibrant NEO — is working to do just that with funding from a federal grant.

It was roughly a year ago when the group released the results of a survey that explored the quality of life in the region and determined residents were relatively satisfied with their lives, but thought creating a better, more sustainable region would require more cooperation.

To advance that premise, three rounds of workshops are planned. The first will be at 5:30 p.m. April 30 at the Oberlin Inn and will draw residents and public officials from Lorain, Medina and western Cuyahoga counties.

“The idea is to look at how growth is likely to take place over the next 25 years,” said Hunter Morrison, program director of NEOSCC. “Vibrant NEO gets to the point of how do we create a more vibrant, energized and sustainable place.”

Morrison said Northeast Ohio is unique in that it has several metropolitan areas as well as suburban and rural swatches of land all vying for an identity. But it has not lived up to its potential, he said.

In 1970, the last time a true regional plan was developed, population trends pushed the area inhabitants out to roughly 5 million residents by now, but that number only actually has reached roughly 3.8 million people.

“We have built for that, but we haven’t filled it in,” Morrison said.

The percentage of land developed and used has increased in area by 23 percent while the population has decreased by 7 percent.

Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda, who is on the NEOSCC board, said the data taken from the meetings will result in the kind of information that will propel smaller cities looking for a place in the larger region.

“Cities by themselves cannot make the biggest economic impact on their cities if they do not look at how they fit in the region,” she said. “What I want to be able to do as mayor is position our assets so they are maximized in the region and have the most impact that will translate into the best Elyria we can have.”

Brinda is trying to have talks on a smaller scale in Elyria and sees how difficult it is without the comprehensive analysis and plans of the city.

Similar meetings will be in Warren, Cleveland, Canton, Akron and Warrensville Heights.

Jeff Anderle, communications director of NEOSCC, said the meetings will be followed up with the rollout of Imagine NEO, an interactive online game that is a less-technical cross between Monopoly and SimCity. Imagine NEO will allow people to determine what their priorities are in planning the region’s future — better public transportation, green initiatives and public health resources — as well as the tradeoffs the public would have to give up to make the priorities happen.

This is the second time the online game has been used in the country. The first time was in Des Moines, Iowa, and it was successful in attracting a younger audience vs. the older demographic that will frequent public meetings.

Anderle said the data from Imagine NEO eventually can be broken down to show priorities countywide, citywide and by specific ZIP code.

“It’s critical in any process to understand what people value in planning,” Morrison said.

Contact reporter Lisa Roberson at (440) 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.