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How Are Mansfield And Other Ohio Legacy Cities Doing?

15 Oct , 2016  

It’s an intriguing question with what might be a surprising answer – or answers. How does Mansfield compare to cities of comparable size, and larger, in the arena of early 21st century community development?

This summer, Greater Ohio, the state’s self-styled champion for policies and practices that value urban cores and metropolitan regions as economic drivers, while at the same time preserving Ohio’s open space and farmland, issued a 28 page report entitled, “From Akron to Zanesville: How Are Ohio’s Small and Mid-Sized Cities Faring?” In particular, the study looked at what are referred to as “legacy cities,” that is, cities with an industrial past, which have lost population over the last several decades, and is not a college town or near-metro suburb (this would include all Ohio metropolitan areas with the exception of Columbus).

Specific findings that include Mansfield involved the following:

  • All legacy cities suffered under the 2007-2009 recession, with negative trends continuing but at a slower pace.
  • Population loss continues and poses serious issues, although smaller cities such as Mansfield saw decreases at a smaller rate.
  • Conditions in Ohio’s smaller legacy cities, including Mansfield, vary more than in their larger peers, but on the whole these smaller communities saw more declines in economic health. One troubling factor noted was the decrease in labor force participation rates (the percentage of adults currently working or looking for employment). That rate in north central Ohio’s two legacy cities, Mansfield and Marion, is an incredible 20 percentage points lower than in Columbus.

These findings are buttressed by data featured in charts, and by a presentation of the methodology used to come to the above conclusions. Performance, for instance, was measured by changes in various factors including population, unemployment, labor force participation, median household income, per capital income, poverty rates, long-term housing vacancy rates, media housing values, new business starts, and changes in number of employees.

There were several options advanced to address the above, which included the following:

  • Implement short and long-term strategies focused on sustaining stable and strong neighborhoods.
  • Building on cities’ place-based assets to promote economic development.
  • Encouraging regional collaborations that promote investment in downtown cores.
  • Tailoring state interventions to account for differing local conditions and avoiding “one size fits all” policies.”

In the coming weeks, we will look at how Mansfield leaders are addressing, or not addressing, these challenges and opportunities.

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