Butler County’s largest city has created a plan to make its city government and Hamilton as a whole greener, more efficient, friendlier to people who want exercise and overall, a better place to live.
A new program — called Sustainable Hamilton 2017 — establishes goals for three years and beyond, and part of the program is to redevelop Hamilton’s vacant houses and businesses, along with the empty apartments above them.
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Toward that end, the city plans to create a database of properties with potential for redevelopment.
When someone approaches the city’s economic-development staff, wanting to open a restaurant or locate a business in Hamilton, “We have properties that we can show people,” said Lauren Gersbach, who wrote the sustainability report and works in small-business development for the city.
City construction officials, the fire department and health officials all have information about those potential sites, and the buildings on them, she said.
“This is not always the case, but it sometimes can be a choppy process to piece all that information together,” Gersbach said. “In meeting with different departments and putting this together, that idea came up in conversation, that maybe we could streamline that process if we had a central clearinghouse of information that we have on properties.”
Among the plan’s many goals are also increasing production of green energy; making the city more walkable and bikable; boosting recycling; and increasing the profile of local arts.
David Prytherch, a geography professor at Miami University who advises in the areas of sustainability and in urban and regional planning, said he believes Hamilton is wise to create such a plan.
Sustainability plans help governments be “proactive and not reactive,” he said.
“You have to understand where you are today, where do you want to be in the future, and how do you get there?” Prytherch said. “The benefits are that you can shape your community in the future.”
“Cities like Hamilton are anxious for investment and to become attractive places to work and live, so they’re trying to attract people by being a leader in the region,” he said.
“My impression is that Hamilton has very pro-active and forward-thinking city management, and this is about trying to become an attractor for cutting-edge businesses, start-ups, people who will find a combination of Hamilton’s location and affordability, and the skill of its workforce,” Prytherch said. “Oh yeah, and you have renewable energy, too. Those things matter to companies and people who could live lots of places.”
Here are some of the many goals in the sustainability plan, to give an idea how broad it is:
- Increase retail/commercial occupancy by 10 percent over three years in the central business district, German Village and main street areas;
- Increase residential units in the urban core (the central business district, Rossville, German Village, Dayton Lane and the Second Ward) by at least 350 units.
- Replace 600 utilty poles per year (there are about 15,500 in Hamilton that are city-owned); at least 700 per year of the approximately 9,000 street lights with high-efficiency light-emitting diode replacements; and at least 3 miles of natural gas mains (there are 275 miles of gas pipes in the city).
- Develop a plan to increase access for the handicapped, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Increase areas of the city that are "walkable," and "bikable," while increasing ridership on the Butler County Regional Transit Authority's "Job Connector" route.
- Ensure at least 90 percent of jobs the city provides incentives for meet an average yearly wage of $29,120, the amount needed to provide "a decent standard of living in Hamilton." In 2015, the great majority of such jobs were below that level, although with ODW Logistics, which has 40 jobs, the average annual salary was $53,003. No job incentives were offered in 2016.
- Increase the city's civilian labor force.
- Evaluate the feasiblilty of solar projects in the future, to complement the city's other green-energy hydroelectric plants — two on the Ohio River and one along the Great Miami River. The city has significantly decreased its Carbon-Dioxide, Nitrogen-Oxide and Sulphur Dioxide emissions since 2007.
- Continue growing the fleet of natural-gas-fueled vehicles (10 in December of 2016) and hybrid electric veniches (2 as of December).
- Expand occupancy efforts for other business districts, including Lindenwald, the Fourth Ward and Ohio 4, including plans to fill upper floors of buildings with apartments.
- Make city government and the city as a whole — homes, businesses and factories — more energy-efficient.
- Roll out a more robust recycling campaign, including for homes and businesses; and require recycling plans for all events that receive city permits.
- Continue planting at least 300 trees per year to increase the city's "tree canopy," which improves quality of life. Trees also lower energy costs by shading buildings in the summer and breaking cold winds during cold weather.
- Map areas of Hamilton that are "food deserts," and then work to provide fresh, healthy foods to those areas.
- Work to create community gardens.
- Evaluate street lighting in neighborhoods from a public-safety percpective, promote and support neighborhood crime-watch groups and take other steps to prevent crime and illegal dumping of trash.
- Increase the number of engaged volunteers and create a computer application that allows residents to more easily make requests of city government.
- Increase investment in historic districts and increase property values in those districts.
- Continue building Hamilton's arts identity.
How much will it all cost?
There’s no way of knowing, Gersbach said, given the large number of projects and how they may be approached.
Also, she noted, “A lot of the actions that are outlined in this are things that city staff is already working on. “It’s not 100-percent new things that we’re pulling out of the air to be doing. A lot of this is already part of our city operations that we’re doing.”
While many older cities, including Hamilton, have been losing young people to other cities, Prytherch said: “Hamilton, to their credit, already is doing a lot to turn brain-drain around. They, for example, have a fellowship program to capture recent grads who are passionate about city issues, sustainability. The fellowship is like a pipeline to attract top talent into city government.”
Many city projects, such as arts lofts, “I think are specifically targeted to retain young people that you hope will start the new successful business, who will live downtown, and who will raise families.”
“You look at our census data in Butler County, a lot of young people, like Miami students, they move away,” Prytherch said. “They may move back later, when they have families, when they’re in their 30s, but if we could keep more of that talent — whether it’s Miami Oxford, Hamilton, or Middletown — I think it would really benefit our region.”
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For example, he said, “Some of our more successful local businesses in Oxford were started by Miami grads who stayed. If we could do more of that in the region, it would be good.”
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