By Nicole Hennessy
The Vibrant NEO “vision sessions,” or community meetings, wrapped up Oct. 23, and the results have since been published.
More than 400 attendees in 12 counties gave their input on issues related to how to improve infrastructure, where to build, public transportation and parks and the importance of environmental responsibility.
This round of information gathering comes after the summerlong availability of the “Imagine My NEO” online tool, in which participants were asked to allocate a set amount of funds to the resources they felt are most important to the continued growth and health of the region.
While the vision sessions asked attendees more direct questions, the subject matter didn’t differ much from the online tool, especially particulars such as whether or not to reverse outward migration, worded at the sessions as, “Do you support using policy and public dollars to reverse outward migration and encourage inward reinvestment?”
Of the 361 replies to this, almost 50 percent strongly supported this idea, with only about 14 percent strongly opposed.
Numbers like these will now be used to compile a complete report that will be presented to the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium (NEOSCC) at a 1 p.m. Dec. 17 board meeting at the Akron Urban League, which the public is welcome to attend.
This is largely due to the fact that NEOSCC and its Vibrant NEO initiative operate on a $4.25 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant as part of the national Partnership for Sustainable Communities Initiative, a collaboration between HUD, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the federal EPA.
After the December meeting, 35 of the board members will vote on whether or not to approve the plan, which will then be taken to local legislators and leaders for the possibility of implementation.
Jeff Anderle, NEOSCC’s deputy director of communications, remains realistic, admitting that the participants involved in the vision sessions don’t scientifically represent the opinions of the entire region.
“I don’t think any of us are kidding ourselves in saying that this is absolutely representative of the entire region,” he said, which is why the data are very clear on the means through which these conclusions were compiled, and how many people participated in debating or commenting.
Anderle then added that, combined with surveys that are statistically valid, the results of which are available online, the “final vision document will have some credence to stand on.”
Ultimately, all approved information on how to move forward will be implemented depending upon decisions at the local and county government levels.
As the final draft of the Vibrant NEO 2040 vision continues to come together, all of the informational and administrative meetings are listed on vibrantneo.org.
At the time of the Oct. 14 vision session in Fairview Park, a petition circulated stating the results of Vibrant NEO 2040 workshops are “an effort to steer the opinions of participants and manipulate them into believing they are actively playing a role in the planning process, when in fact they are being used to establish an appearance of public collaboration to back up their pre-determined recommendations.”
Since then it has not gained additional signatures, though the issue of regionalization remains an often perplexing and much debated topic.
A group not associated with NEOSCC, and against it, follows the developments of the 2040 vision on its website, neoscc.com, which details “how regionalism undermines liberty, property rights, and impacts the growth & health of NE Ohio.”
At the Fairview session one attendee asked, “What is the problem to solve, specifically?” to which Hunter Morrison, NEOSCC’s executive director, replied, “Where are we heading? Sharing what we know about abandonment, infrastructure costs, environmental degradation from runoff, growing distances. We are providing information for planning bodies now and for the future. For those investing public dollars now and into the future to say: Are we investing wisely? Can we collaborate?”