Parma residents should continue to expect business as usual from city government

sadness-451917_640Do you like living in Parma? Are you happy with where the city is headed? A small group of write-in candidates hopes the answer is no. Candidates as diverse as Mary Galinas, a former councilwoman; Denise Geschwender, a pit bull activist; and Steve Bayt, a cat sanctuary advocate, have their own ideas about what will reverse the current trend of decline facing the city and hope that voters are willing to take a chance on their long-shot candidacies to make Parma great again.

Whether these candidates offer a real alternative to the incumbents remains to be seen as some comments they have made makes one wonder. Bayt, for instance, is running for council in Ward 9 and has stated he wishes to “Save Cats, Save Parma, Save The World.” It is unclear what cats have to do with saving Parma, but his candidacy does shed light on the problem of stray cats running loose in the city. Geschwender, running for council president, has stated on Facebook, “It is my intention to eliminate the position of Council President.” I’m not sure that a council president, once elected, can eliminate the position of council president, but there you have it. Galinas is the most politically experienced of the candidates having served on council for 12 years and is once again running for mayor. Known for regularly infantilizing  Parma’s elected representatives by repeatedly referring to them as the boys or good ole boys, she represents the growing frustration of disgruntled residents who now live in a city that is struggling financially.

Protesters at Parma City Hall. Photo © 2015 Stefan P. Stefaniuk

Despite complaints from a minority of residents and nonresidents, whether seeking to reopen pools, create cat sanctuaries, avoid paying a trash collection fee/tax, or repeal a ban on pit bulls, the city officials have chosen to move forward with their proposals and have not changed course. In a city of over 80,000 residents, the low turnout at council meetings (usually only a dozen or so residents) suggests most residents are generally comfortable with or indifferent to the current decision-making by their elected representatives. The upcoming election will likely reveal this truth to the great dismay of Parma’s write-in candidates.

An initiative to #ChangeParma, spearheaded by Galinas, will require more than a last-minute, haphazard effort to run as a write-in candidate. It would require a long-term vision and game plan to challenge the status quo. It would require a regular slate of candidates, with their names on the ballot, providing alternative solutions to the challenges currently facing the city. This would, at the very least, offer voters an option on Election Day as to who is best equipped to represent them. The only serious options available today appear to be those put forward by the Democratic Party in Parma. The Republican Party has apparently decided to throw in the towel, though “independent” candidates with Republican backing occasionally challenge the Democratic incumbents.

2014-04-20 16.07.33Until opposition candidates are capable of seeing the bigger picture for what it is and make an effort to mount a serious challenge, residents should expect more of the same from our city government, for better or worse. Fortunately, our city continues to remain stable and relatively prosperous thanks in large part to our residents who take the time to vote and our elected representatives who are tasked with making the difficult, unpopular decisions when necessary.

On Election Day, I expect that voters will make the right decision and elect the best qualified candidates to office. Just don’t expect things to change much.

As budgetary dilemma looms, Parma must invest in trees

mapleAs our elected representatives in Parma, in order to balance the budget, choose to close the city pools, eliminate city fireworks displays, charge new trash collection fees, and try to attract new businesses to the city, such as Pitt Ohio and Rush Truck Center, maybe it’s time to also start focusing on something that could give the city the boost that it really needs. That boost I’m talking about is walkability. Specifically, neighborhood walkability and the expansive tree canopy throughout the city that would help to promote it.

Whether we’re looking to improve commercial districts such as Polish Village (Ridge Rd, Parma) or residential streets, when it comes to neighborhood walkability, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of a healthy and abundant tree canopy. In fact, it may be one the best investments the city can make. Just ask Jeff Speck, a city planner who advocates for smart growth and sustainable design, who discovered that while rich and safe streets had good tree cover, poor and dangerous streets didn’t.

“Because they have such a powerful impact on walkability, street trees have been associated with significant improvements in both property values and retail viability. Since this enhancement translates directly into increased local tax revenue, it could be considered financially irresponsible for a community to not invest heavily in trees.”

Jeff Speck, Walkable City

One way for Parma to take meaningful action in recognizing the importance and value of trees is to pursue, achieve, and maintain a Tree City status. According to the Arbor Day Foundation, this is done by meeting four core standards of sound urban forestry management: maintaining a tree board or department, having a community tree ordinance (Parma seems to have one), spending at least $2 per capita on urban forestry (this would amount to a minimum of $163,200 spent for Parma’s population of 81,601), and celebrating Arbor Day. The following list of Tree Cities in Ohio reveals which cities have invested in trees and the length of time they’ve maintained tree city status.

beechThere are numerous benefits of trees to a community. Trees provide shade (pleasant walks; 15-35% less A/C required), reduce temperatures in hot weather, absorb rainwater (25% additional tree cover reduces stormwater by 10%), absorb carbon emissions, provide UV protection, and can limit the effects of wind. Trees have also been shown to increase property values up to 10%; increase income streams to shops on tree-lined streets up to 12%; and provide traffic calming effects benefiting drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists. A recent study of healthy street trees in Portland, Oregon revealed a 12:1 payoff, adding significantly to property tax revenues.

Again, trees may be one of the best investments Parma can make. City leaders seemed to understand that back in the 1960s when they developed a comprehensive Tree Plan listing a variety of trees for each street in the city. Back then, even the Parma Jaycees, now dissolved, took trees seriously and actively offered to plant them for Parma’s many residents.

As Parma approaches the threshold of another possible budgetary dilemma in 2016, it seems to be more important than ever for our elected representatives to take seriously the benefits trees can provide and take action to invest in the city’s long-term financial future. Can we persuade our elected representatives to move forward on this initiative to enhance our city? Or should we resign ourselves to more of the same?

New businesses at The Shoppes at Parma see delayed opening

Anticipate! Not Just Renovated! Shopping, Dining, Gathering! Arriving 2015!

Anticipate


Of course, even the cynics in Parma were probably excited when Phillips Edison & Company unveiled their big plans to revitalize the dying Parmatown Mall.  The investment, expected to be somewhere between $56M to $75M, was to completely transform the existing commercial center.

“We are not just sprucing up the property with new paint and signage,” said Roy Williams, a Phillips Edison senior vice president. “We are recreating an existing shopping center into something that will be totally different from what had been there is the past. That takes a significant investment that we are willing to make because we know it will be a success.”

Adding to the excitement was Mayor DeGeeter’s forward-thinking initiative  — forming his Town Center Task Force — to develop new ideas along with an action plan for the new Parma City Center. But now, with the current pace of redevelopment, area residents may not see much until 2016 or even 2017. And while we patiently wait for Mattress Firm, Panera Bread, and Fast Eddie’s to open at The Shoppes at Parma, originally slated to open months earlier, one can’t help but wonder – what other businesses are on the way? And why haven’t more announcements been made? Something to think about…


Despite budgetary constraints, opportunities exist

So, here we are. After the onslaught of the Great Recession, Parma, seventh largest city in Ohio, no longer provides a fireworks show for July 4th, no longer provides open public pools, and seems as though it will soon charge residents additional trash collection fees to maintain existing services.

Despite current budgetary constraints, there are several relatively inexpensive ways to provide something new with minimal upkeep costs:

  1. Dog park. The community effort to establish and fully fund a dog park offers a chance for the city, now the largest in the state without a dog park, to provide this attractive amenity to residents. There’s even a basic business plan to ensure the dog park is an ongoing success.
  2. Painted bike lanes and/or bike sharrows. At a minimal cost, these could be added to existing striped roadways or by instituting a road diet where appropriate. When determining where to add them, thought could be given to developing a network of bike paths that link up with the Metroparks. If additional guidance is needed, local organizations such as Bike Cleveland and West Creek Conservancy could be consulted.
  3. Enhanced walkability. Additional crossings in commercial areas such as Polish Village and Ukrainian Village would go a long way to encourage pedestrians to increasingly shop local. The heavier foot traffic would have the added bonus of traffic calming and increased safety.
  4. Beautification. Extensive tree, flower, and bush plantings in commercial districts would help to soften the appearance of areas saturated with concrete, make them more attractive to both drivers and pedestrians, and, again, help to calm traffic. During Mayor DePiero’s time in office, a study was conducted by the Sustainable Design Assessment Team (SDAT) in 2008 that addressed these issues and more with a focus on the importance of developing sustainable communities through design.

Comprehensive plans would be beneficial so that these ideas do not merely amount to wishful thinking. But whether additional plans will be developed anytime soon is anyone’s guess.