Colerain Township is sadly an example of a broke city

Colerain memorial park
Colerain Memorial Park

Colerain Township in Ohio essentially is broke, even as it might not realize it yet. Many properties are closed on Colerain Avenue. It was booming in the 1950s, a desirable place to live. However, new suburbs have displaced it, tax revenue is declining, infrastructure needs expensive maintenance, and pension debt is problematic.

Granola Shotgun has seen this pattern before in many other cities. There are no easy answers. Colerain’s problems are exemplified by a heartfelt memorial park to veterans and to 9/11 that is so badly situated that hardly anyone will visit it and when they do, street noise will be problematic.

The town is broke because there’s a structural gap between revenue and expenses due to a suburban land use pattern that can never pay for its own obligations or maintenance. The memorial park is sitting in a sea of low value surface parking lots, empty buildings, and buildings that are only occupied because they were bribed into existence with subsidies and tax abatements to keep up appearances. Meanwhile millions of dollars worth of public infrastructure sit underutilized.

Ultimately Colerain has two options. It can reduce its physical infrastructure and default on its promises to municipal employees, which is the de facto path most post war suburbs are on. Or it can add significant amounts of higher value private development to the existing public infrastructure chassis to generate more revenue. There are no other options.

This process can be even more pronounced in rural areas. We’ve lived in southern Utah. Some small cities in Utah get it and are expanding. Cedar City has a university, a 50+ year old Shakespeare Festival, and lots of festivals. Kanab is a gateway to three major national parks. Both try hard to build on what they have and are succeeding.

We just drove through Fredonia, a little town near Kanab. There’s a Dollar General, a couple of bedraggled motels, and way too many beat-up trailer homes. How does a place like this even survive? By contrast, Parowan, a town of 3,000 near Cedar City, is slowly rebounding after the real estate collapse. There is a new gas station, restaurants, and a Dollar General. Several new businesses in a town the size of Parowan is a big deal. It means jobs. It will survive. Not so sure about Fredonia.

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