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Interview: MORPC’s William Murdock on Planning for Growth in Central Ohio

Brent Warren Brent Warren Interview: MORPC’s William Murdock on Planning for Growth in Central Ohio
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The Mid Ohio Planning Commission (MORPC) is working with Columbus 2020 and ULI Columbus to head up a new effort called insight2050. Planning firm Calthorpe and Associates has been hired to develop a detailed description of four different growth scenarios for the region. MORPC has shared the preliminary findings from the study, which aims to show the future impact of our current development choices.

MORPC Executive Director William Murdock, along with Director of Planning and Environment Kerstin Carr, recently sat down with CU to discuss insight2050 and the importance of planning for the additional half-million people that are projected to call the Central Ohio region home by the year 2050.

CU: Can you explain first-off how insight2050 is different from some of the other efforts we’ve seen recently – I know there’s sometimes confusion about the similar names… Columbus 2050, Columbus 2020, and now with insight2050, how does it fit in?

William Murdock: As far as the plans go – Columbus 2050 was a visioning plan that ULI of Columbus did about three years ago. Columbus 2020 is an organization, but they do have a plan with certain metrics for jobs and growth. The 2050 plan is a visioning strategy for Central Ohio. So even though insight2050 has some of the same partners, and it may be talking about 2050, unlike the other things, it’s not a regional plan. What it is, is an objective data set and tools for local governments and businesses around central Ohio.

From a partnership standpoint – this isn’t just a MORPC project, we’ve got Columbus 2020 on the economic development side and ULI Columbus on the development side. We didn’t want to embark on something like this, with local governments saying “here’s our vision of the future,” and businesses saying, “here’s our vision of the future.”

The idea is that the development community, the economic development community, and the local government community are all on the same page. So it’s been an interesting steering committee, to have everyone at the same table. Yaromir Steiner from Steiner and Associates is our chair, and we’ve got a whole range of opinions and range of experience.  The whole point of having a big committee is to make sure that it’s objective. When we’re looking at housing data… who’s should we use, and are we getting all of the factors that we need for our economic development data?

CU: Can you talk a little about the why MORPC is leading this effort and what the public can expect to see in terms of results?

WM: The impetus for it is, when we’re looking at the next 35 years of growth in Central Ohio, we’re seeing significant growth, that’s going to look significantly different than the last 30 years of growth.

That has pretty big implications for housing and development and infrastructure and transportation. What insight2050 attempts to do is to get the public and the private sector on the same page with objective information about how much growth and what it’s going to look like, and then create tools so we can do our planning now for those things, so that we’re being proactive about it instead of reactive. So that’s the whole point of insight 2050.

Some of our projections show, by 2050, another 515,000 people in Central Ohio, and that’s as many people as have been added since 1980. If you look back at Central Ohio in 1980, we’re very different than we were then.

And that could bring as many as many as 300,000 jobs, and would require as many as 300,000 new housing units in the region. (for insight2050 we’re just talking about the seven county region, since that’s where the bulk of the growth is going to happen)

Those are some pretty big changes, when you look at it just on their face, but when you look at the demographics and people’s preferences, they are actually very different. So, demographically, our population is growing, but it’s growing older and it’s growing younger at the same time.

So, the number of people over 65 is going to double, and when you think of all the housing choices, and all of the services you need when you’re over 65, that’s very different. At the same time, the 18-35 age range is going from something like 4% of the growth to 20% of the growth – it’s a very significant increase in that segment. What we’re seeing with that segment, in particular, is really changing transportation demands.

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They are looking for options. Take housing, for instance – your needs are different when you’re over 65 and when you’re under 35. And this isn’t a value choice, it’s what the demographics are telling us. Another piece with the growth that’s different – single person households are going to be more than half of that growth.

So, insight2050 tries to put all that together, objectively, so that we can really think about the choices we are going to make.

When we look back in the last 30 years, most of that growth was family households, in the 35-64 age group, so the region built very well for the 34-65 age group – lots of single family housing, lots of suburban development. But going forward, the next half million people that we’re adding aren’t going to have those same expectations.

CU: Is that because of they’ll be either younger or older?

WM: Right, so certainly families and single family households and suburbs are not going away, it’s just that the bulk of the new growth is going to be in these two demographics.

We’re already seeing the impact of that based on what the market’s doing Downtown, and what you’re seeing in some of our suburban communities.

So we’ve got growth, we’ve got changing demographics, but we’ve also got changing preferences, so the younger population – the 18-35 group – is looking at different housing and transportation options. But when we’re looking at all of the demographics and their preferences, we’re seeing that people are demanding walkability, they’re demanding more types of housing in their communities, but they still value open space, and they still value good, safe communities and good schools.

Our suburban communities are not going to go away, but the preferences of the people we’re going to be growing with are going to be different. So when you look at what’s happening in Dublin with the Bridge Street Corridor, Worthington, Westerville, Powell, Canal Winchester, they’re all seeing apartments for the first time. And this is just a response to that.

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Kerstin Carr: I think, talking about the suburbs, this is a huge opportunity for them to redevelop and redefine themselves, and to focus on some of the urban cores that they already have. Creating those mixed-use options, with the walkability, and adding those different types of housing units to the mix.

So it’s definitely not saying that this is the end of the suburbs, in fact, this just means that there is a bigger opportunity for the suburbs to redefine themselves, and to create places.

WM: The suburban communities in Central Ohio that are going to want to grow, are going to have to be strategic about it. They can’t build for the growth in the last thirty years, they have to look at these demographics, and work with the market, and see what that looks like. Insight2050 is not going to tell them where to develop, not even going to tell them how to develop, but this tool that we’re developing will help them see the impacts of those growth decisions.

So, first we’re looking at the whole region, but eventually we’ll be able to look at corridors, or individual sites – the goal being, if we develop this way, as a region, with a mix of housing and things, how is that going to affect household income, transportation costs, environmental factors, local government budgets?

If we develop a little bit different, all those numbers change, and that’s important information to know. Instead of just going with what qualitatively we like, having that objective data is good.

CU: When do you drill down to individual corridors or sites?

WM: That’s phase two and three… this first phase, which is giving us the regional look, is over in November or December, so next year we’ll start looking at possibly doing future phases.

Just looking at some of the initial things we’re seeing, it’s really compelling information… if we develop this way, that’s going to require 2,000 more square miles of land than another way, and that’s just by changing the type of development a little bit.

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When you think of transportation investments, a shift can mean a billion dollars in infrastructure costs. To know what the cost of our decisions on growth is going to be – as a region, it’s important. But a lot of the local governments and business leaders – they want the more specific, drill-down data, so we’re getting to that.

CU: Where did the added population number – the 515,000 number, come from?

KC: Those are our state projections, up to 2040, and then we extrapolated with the consultant another ten years.

WM: The important thing about that number is, it’s not a guarantee. One-third of it is in-migration, the rest is the growth due to natural growth. It could be more, if we meet the market expectations, or it could be less, but that’s the best guess that we have right now. It may even be a conservative estimate, when you look at how consistent Central Ohio’s growth has been through the decades.

CU: You mentioned that this is not a plan, who exactly is the audience for it?

WM: There are two types of audiences – those who are going to be using the tool actively, so local governments or a developer looking at a development plan, and being able to look at consequences of different types of development. This is really meaningful because what we’re saying is that there’s not a right or wrong way to develop, but each type of development has consequences – so this allows you to talk about it. If you want to take a type of development that’s going to cost you more fiscally but it’s better environmentally, you can do that, if you want to do the opposite, it can do that – that’s why it’s not a plan.

And there’s a much broader audience – thinking about Central Ohio in the next few decades, these are some big things that are happening, and that could impact all sorts of planning for not just development, but for different services, cultural things, agriculture. It’s something to know about Central Ohio that unlike some other regions in Ohio, we’re growing, and we’re growing differently, and that’s pretty compelling. Other places have used this in different ways, too, with a broader audience.

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KC: I think it was really important to us, too, to bring the public and the private sector together in the same room, and have them hear the same information, and actually start speaking the same language. To make sure that then in the future, the local land use and zoning plans would also reflect what some of the developers are planning to build and vice-versa.

WM: This is Columbus-specific info – we’re not just extrapolating national trends – that’s why it’s taking several months, we’re collecting a lot of the data sets on the ground and integrating them in. Other places have used this approach to look at things like the impacts of water usage, or transit corridors. Providing the information to say, if we develop this way with a transit corridor, what are the impacts, versus if we just develop traditionally with a highway. That’s the kind of model that we’re trying to build – the ways it can be used, we haven’t figured out completely yet, there could be a number of “phase twos,” depending on the corridor, depending on the project.

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