Outmigration of population

Outmigration in Northeast Ohio between 1970 and 1990

What: Where people lived in the seven-county region in 1970 (green dots) and 1990 (red dots). The map shows that population spread out during the 20-year period, even though the region's population declined by about 200,000 people.

Why: We need vivid pictures like this to appreciate how Northeast Ohio has experienced sprawl without growth, a wasteful process of land consumption and duplication of infrastructure.

How: Each dot on the map represents 50 persons. The region had about 3 million people in 1970 (green dots) and about 2.8 million people in 1990 (red dots). By mapping the locations residents for the two different census years and then overlaying the results, you can see where population shifted.

Moving out

Ohioans have become profligate consumers of land. Metropolitan areas in Ohio have been spreading outward into the surrounding countryside at a rate five times faster than population growth. In Northeast Ohio, Cleveland and Cuyahoga County have seen declining populations (as have Akron and Summit County) at the same time that neighboring rural counties have been growing in population.

Some claim that this pattern of outmigration is simply the result of personal preferences (i.e., the American Dream of a big house and yard in the suburbs) and the workings of the free market. But a variety of public policies and subsidies—such as tax abatements and the highways that open up new land for development—facilitate the moves. In other words, public policy helps to create a playing field where it's easier to build on farmland than to redevelop existing urban areas.

In the next 20 years, these trends will create an extraordinary dilemma for the region's central county. Cuyahoga County will be the first county in the state to build out—to fully develop all its land. Then it will have to ask the novel question: What next? How does a county reorient itself from growth and development to maintenance and redevelopment? No county in Ohio has had to face those questions. And it's apparent that Cuyahoga County can't face that future on its own. It will need help from the state—new state policies that redirect public investment to older urban areas. One model for reform is the Smart Growth program recently adopted in Maryland.


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Regional trends

Shifting wealth
Zoned for development
Transportation spending
Lands at risk




Legend for Outmigration map







Outmigration map prepared by:

The Northern Ohio Data and Information Service (NODIS), A member of the Ohio GIS-Network
The Urban Center, Levin College of Urban Affairs
Cleveland State University, 1998

Data sources:

  1. U.S. Census Bureau Population Statistics;
  2. U.S. Census Bureau TIGER files;
  3. Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT);
  4. Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) Population Projections
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