What are the limits of the Cleveland metropolitan area?
One way to tell is to measure 30-minute commuting distances from major employment centers. Local highway planners have done that, and their maps show an eerie blob spreading into rural areas beyond the Cuyahoga County line. (See commute map 1.) Thus, vast expanses of Lorain, Medina, Summit, Portage, Geauga and Lake counties are now ripe for suburban sprawl.
"Thirty minutes is about the maximum amount of time most people want to drive to work," says Howard Maier, executive director of the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA). "In the post-war years before interstate highways, that meant intensive development was largely limited to the inner-ring of suburbs around downtown Cleveland.''
With the highways, however, the easy commuting range extended to outer-ring suburbsWestlake, Brecksville, Solon. More recently, the sprawl of suburban commuters has spilled into surrounding counties. Formerly rural communities such as Avon and Brunswick are being suburbanized.
But the potential for sprawl doesn't stop there.
Nowadays people don't commute just to Cleveland's central business district, Maier says. Increasingly, they commute to new office and retail centerssuch as Interstate 77/Rockside Road, Interstate 271/Chagrin Boulevard or Great Northernemployment centers which have sprouted on what used to be the fringe of the metropolitan area.
One such commuter is Richard Cornish, construction manager for Biskind Development, the major developer of Great Northern. He lives in Wellington Township in southwestern Lorain County. From his home deep in farm country he can drive to work at the Great Northern Corporate Center in North Olmsted in about 35 minutes.
"I hit one stoplight on Rt. 58 and then not another one until I get off I-480 at Great Northern Boulevard," he says. "The Rt. 10 extension and I-480 have really opened up western Lorain County for commuting."
Places like Great Northernoften dubbed "edge cities" by plannersare an increasingly significant part of the regional economy. According to a 1991 survey by the Victor S. Voinovich commercial real estate firm, the west and southwest suburbs of Cuyahoga County alone now have more than 7 million square feet of leasable office space in large, multi-tenant buildings. That's nearly 40 percent of the space available in downtown Cleveland.
"If you consider these edge cities as places of employment and figure that people are willing to commute about 30 minutes to them, then what happens to the region?" NOACA's Maier asks. "It burgeonsexpands to areas that people always thought were rural." (See commute map 2.)
"The planning implications are immense," he adds. "Rural townships are going to be part of the metropolitan area in ways they never anticipated. They will need to have plans in place to control how they want to develop. Do they want to stay rural? Or do they want to become a suburb?"
Edge cities not only make it possible for suburbia to chew up more woods and farmland. They also promote greater dependence on the automobilemore commuting across suburbs, more congestion on suburban and rural roads, more energy consumption and pollution, and a more dispersed population that cannot be served by mass transit.
"Increased commuting from suburb to suburb is one of the big stories of the 1990 census," says Robert Layton, manager of NOACA's regional economics group. "Travel patterns in the region have changed dramatically in just the past ten years. The commute into downtown is still the largest, but things are changing."
It's important to realize that edge cities don't grow by accident. The glassy office buildings and shopping malls would not exist without heavily subsidized highways and other public infrastructure.
These projects are sold to us with the usual promises of jobs and growth. But, by promoting inefficient sprawl development over wider and wider areas, they may end up weakening the entire region.
Rural townships are going to be part of the metropolitan area in ways they never anticipated. They will need to have plans in place to control how they want to develop. Do they want to stay rural? Or do they want to become a suburb?