Part II: Trends in Ohio

Overview of demographic, economic, and land consumption trends

Over the past three decades, Ohio has experienced continued population growth, with most of its major urbanized9 areas (Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, and Youngstown) growing as well, although at different rates. Even in those areas of the state where population has experienced only modest growth, urbanized areas have spread rapidly outward, in part due to Ohioans consuming much more land per capita than in previous years (see table). Employment in metropolitan areas underwent continued decentralization from core to outlying counties, although the core counties still have the highest percentage of employment concentration. In addition, the density of the urbanized areas of the state decreased markedly, resulting in greater land consumption for development purposes and loss of farmland.

Between 1960 and 1990, Ohio's population grew from 9,706,397 to 10,847,115, an increase of 11.8 percent. The state's 1997 population is estimated at 11,186,331, an increase of 3.1 percent for the first seven years of the decade. Taking into account the estimated population in 1997, the state is growing at about 0.38 percent per year. Of the seven urbanized areas, Columbus had the greatest gain, increasing from 616,743 to 945,237 from 1960 to 1990, a change of 53.3 percent. Because of population loss in Cuyahoga County, the core county, the Cleveland urbanized area's population decreased , dropping 5.9 percent from 1,783,436 to 1,677,492 (see table).

Based on data from County Business Patterns (which excludes agricultural and most governmental jobs as well as self-employed persons), employment in Ohio grew from 2,540,433 to 4,550,590 over the period 1959 to 1995.10 Job growth was more rapid in counties along the fringes of metropolitan areas compared to counties containing central cities. In the Cleveland area, for example, Cuyahoga County experienced a 26.8-percent increase in the number of private sector employees over the 36-year period. In Geauga and Medina Counties, employment more than quadrupled, while Lorain County underwent a 91-percent rise (see table). Similar employment shifts occurred in other Ohio metropolitan areas. Even though the pace of its job growth was significantly slower, Cuyahoga still accounted for 74.3 percent of the jobs in the four-county area in 1995, a figure that was down from 87.1 percent in 1959.

Metropolitan dispersal

For the period 1960 to 1990, the urbanized area of Ohio that grew the most in terms of total square miles area was Cincinnati, which added 270.2 square miles (including areas outside of Ohio, in Kentucky and Indiana). In terms of percent change in square miles of urbanized land, however, the Columbus area grew the fastest, increasing from 142.6 to 344.9 square miles, a 141.9-percent change (see table).

In contrast, the Cleveland urbanized area experienced the slowest growth; the square miles of its urbanized area only rose by 9.4 percent over 30 years. Although the land area of the Cleveland urbanized area increased at a rate that was one of the slowest in the state, the increase occurred while, as noted, the population of the urbanized area itself actually decreased by 5.9 percent (still, population of the urbanized area outside Cuyahoga, the core county, grew).11

For all seven major urbanized areas of the state, the number of persons per square milea measure of densitydecreased substantially from 1960 to 1990.12 The most dramatic shift occurred in the Dayton area, which dropped from 4,013 to 2,243 persons per square mile, a 44.1-percent decline. Density decreased more gradually in the Cleveland urbanized area, a 14-percent decline, from 3,067 to 2,638 persons per square mile. Of the seven urbanized areas, Columbus was the most dense in 1990, with 2,740 persons per square mile, while Akron was the least dense, with 2,053.

Ohio lost 4,258,827 acres in farms between 1959 and 1992, a rate of 10,755 acres per month, according to figures from the U.S. Census of Agriculture.13 The seven counties in the Columbus metropolitan area (Franklin, Delaware, Fairfield, Licking, Madison, Pickaway, and Union) account for the largest amount of farmland lost, 425,101 acres, approximately 1,073 acres per month over the 33-year period, or a 22.9-percent change. Among metropolitan areas, counties in the Cleveland metropolitan area (Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, and Medina) together lost 39.4 percent of their farmland. They were followed closely by counties in the Cincinnati metropolitan area (Hamilton, Butler, Clermont, and Warren), which lost 39.1 percent. By comparison, Toledo area counties (Lucas, Fulton, and Wood) underwent the slowest rate of loss, 15.2 percent.

Dispersed development patterns are certainly part of changes in transportation behavior in Ohio (although other factors, such as increased labor force participation, are at work). According to Access Ohio, the state transportation plan (see below), while Ohio's overall population increased by only 0.45 percent over the past decade (1980-90), the increase in vehicle miles traveled in Ohio was 29.7 percent, going from 71.7 billion miles a year to 93 billion miles a year. Trips are more frequent and longer as well. In 1990, according to the plan, Ohioans averaged 3.1 trips per day, compared to 3.02 trips per day nationally. While average trip length nationally increased almost 10 percent from 1977 to 1990, from 8.3 miles to 9.1 miles, Ohio's average trip length for 1990 was even higher at 10.76 miles.14

Promoting low density

State investment decisions, of course, have influenced these changes, particularly in the area of transportation. For example, a 1996 review by the Cuyahoga County planning commission on the impacts of proposed lane additions to Interstate 90 in Lorain County, to the west of Cuyahoga County, observed:

The patterns of outmigration which were established in the 1950s have been further accelerated by the development of the Interstate Highway System in the Greater Cleveland area. As new freeways were added, interchanges constructed and arterial roads improved and upgraded, outlying areas began to take advantage of the increased traffic capacity by zoning large tracts of valuable farmland for low-density residential, retail centers, and industrial parks. As a result major shifts in population and employment began to occur. . .

Between 1970 and 1990, the population of Cuyahoga County decreased by 13%, while the combined population of the six surrounding counties [Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage, and Summit] increased by 4.4%.

In the ten-year period between 1980 and 1990, 157,580 people moved from Cuyahoga County to the surrounding counties, while 104,635 residents moved from those counties to Cuyahoga County. Thus, in that ten-year period, the central county experienced a net loss of 52,945 residents to adjacent counties. Of these, the largest exodus, in the amount of 31,555 persons, was to Lorain County.15

In a subsequent 1998 analysis of the land-use impacts for the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) District 12 Major Investment study, the Cuyahoga County planning commission pointed to the construction of I-71 in Medina County as a factor in corresponding population loss by Cuyahoga County:

In 1960, Medina County's population was 65,315 and Cuyahoga County's was 1,647,895. By 1996, the population of Medina County had increased by 112% to 138,847, while Cuyahoga County's decreased by 246,343. These population changes are based on a number of factors. . . . [I]ncreased road capacity, the decline of manufacturing, the Cleveland [public school] desegregation suit, and the start of busing in Cleveland influenced the trends of Cuyahoga and Medina Counties for the past 36 years. The largest increase in Medina County's population (37%) and largest decrease in Cuyahoga County's population (13%) occurred in the ten-year period following the opening of I-71.

Since 1990, Medina County has had the fifth highest population growth rate of the state's 88 counties, increasing 13.6 percent. Cuyahoga County had the tenth largest rate of decline, 0.7 percent, and had the largest actual population loss of 10,588."16

In an extensive study of development patterns in Medina County, Cleveland State University's Patricia Burgess and Tom Bier offer another perspective on the nature of change there. In the early 1970s most of the county's land was in active agricultural production and many of those who lived in the cities and villages worked in the county in agriculture-related jobs or meeting the consumer and service needs of Medina County farmers and other residents. They observe:

Despite its proximity to Cleveland, the county did not perceive itself--and was not perceived by others--as being within the Cleveland metropolitan area. In the 1980s, however, population growth became visibly apparent as new subdivisions appeared at the edges of the cities. The pace has picked up in the 1990s, especially with the increased sales on five-to-ten acre parcels. Many of the new residents of the last fifteen years do not work in Medina County; they commute to neighboring Cuyahoga or Summit counties, often to employment centers on the fringes of Cleveland and Akron. The county is now clearly within the greater Cleveland metropolitan area, and its development is seen as evidence of "sprawl." 17

Burgess and Bier point to home building on five-to-ten acre parcels as having a much greater impact on the character of Medina County than conventional subdivision development (in Ohio such development typically bypasses local platting procedures through an exemption in the Revised Code that applies to unincorporated areas). This development is now stretching out along minor township roads as well as county or state highways, they report. "For every year since 1991 between half and two-thirds of the residential building permits issued in Medina County have been for parcels outside of the three cities [of Medina, Brunswick, and Wadsworth]. . . A foreseeable problem is that land will be sold off in five-to-ten acre parcels for residential development at a faster rate than demand for such development grows, leaving the land undeveloped but no longer suitable for agriculture because of its size, location, and loss of agriculture tax class."18

Factors other than state agency decisions of course influence these changes in development patterns as well. As a 1995 study by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency pointed out, reductions in household size, combined with changing household composition, have created a demand for additional housing units, apart from the general modest growth in population in the state. However, the OEPA report acknowledged that the "movement of in-state households (e.g., from central city areas to the suburbs) also accounts for much of the suburban development that is now occurring around Ohio's largest cities."19


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Smart Growth Working Paper
Part I: Historical background
Part II: Overview of trends
Part III: State agencies' policies
Part IV: Land-use planning models
Part V: Smart growth for Ohio
Next steps

Back to main Smart Growth Agenda


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