The Enquirer would have us believe that the latest population figures from the Census Bureau add up to "good news" for the city. The article states that the city of Cincinnati now has 296,223 residents; down 0.2 percent from April 2010. Likewise, the larger surrounding Hamilton County is down 0.3 percent (a figure influenced heavily by the city departures). This is cast as mostly good news because the declines appear to be slowing down compared to years past.
However, our 15-county region actually grew by 0.3 percent to 2,128,038. Yet the Enquirer article says nothing about why the outlying counties are adding people while the central city loses people. Apparently, the much maligned suburbs are doing something right. Apparently, this region still has attractive places to live -- in the suburbs.
Maybe the reason for the continuing population shift reflects still-out-of-balance priorities at City Hall. Cincinnati (and Hamilton County) have pumped massive, unreasonable amounts of public tax dollars into propping up downtown development. Yet it has done very little to improve the other 51 neighborhoods in the city -- the places where the vast majority of city residents actually live.
So why shouldn't a home owner leave the city? Our suburban local governments appreciate, support and encourage home building. In general, they respond to the concerns of home owners. They support a house-focused lifestyle. And since most people prefer living in houses, suburbs attract people -- despite the commuter traffic jams, underfunded parks and often weaker fire and EMS service.
But in the city of Cincinnati, the agenda is laser-focused on developing and supporting apartments (and condos) in the central city. Millions for Washington Park. Millions for Fountain Square. Millions for the Banks. Millions for a downtown streetcar. On and on.
Meanwhile, the city's housing stock rots, its streets crumble and its neighborhoods disintegrate. If the city really wants to reverse its population losses, its leaders need to focus on ways to attract people to houses throughout the city, not just apartments in Over-the-Rhine. Without strong, tax-paying home owners, the city cannot thrive. Apartment dwellers are not an adequate substitute. So quit paying lip service to "in-fill" development and get busy fixing up Cincinnati's potentially impressive stock of nice houses and historic neighborhoods.
Otherwise, the future shape of the Cincinnati area will resemble a reverse donut -- with growth in the center and along the outer ring, yet decay and decline in the inner ring.