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Akron and Bridgeport Recognized for Creating Better, More "Livable' Communities

This article highlights the two 1999 City Livability Award First-Place winners for large cities. It is one of a series of articles on the 1999 City Livability Award winners. The First-Place winner for small cities will be highlighted in the next issue. For more information on the City Livability program, contact Kathy Amoroso on the Conference staff at (202) 861-6723

By Kathy Amoroso

Mayors Donald L. Plusquellic of Akron, and Joseph P. Ganim of Bridgeport were awarded top honors for large cities in the 1999 City Livability Awards Program, sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and Waste Management. The awards were announced in New Orleans on June 12 at the 67th Annual Conference of Mayors.

The City Livability Awards were presented at the Conference of Mayors' Annual Luncheon by Mr. Rod Proto, President and Chief Operating Officer of Waste Management, Inc., the world's largest provider of comprehensive waste services. Waste Management's support makes the City Livability Awards Program possible.

City Livability Awards recognize and honor mayors for exemplary leadership in developing and implementing programs that improve the quality of life in America's cities. The winning cities were determined by an independent panel of judges, selected by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Waste Management, Inc. based in Houston, Texas, is the global leader in providing waste management services. It is Waste Management's support which make the City Livability Awards possible.

Akron--Joint Economic Development Districts

Mayor Plusquellic created the idea for Joint Economic Development Districts (JEDDs) in 1998 as an economic development alternative to annexation. Faced with an ongoing struggle between the central city and its surrounding townships regarding growth and development, the mayor pondered strategies for a solution that would benefit, rather than antagonize, urban and suburban interests. Most important to the surrounding townships was independence and protection of the property tax base that resulted from business. Most important to the city was land for new and expanding business and the associated income tax base to help pay for redevelopment of the older portion of the community.

Under Mayor Plusquellic's leadership, Akron and its surrounding townships proceeded to cobble together an acceptable agreement. The mayor personally negotiated the terms of the agreement with the trustees of Coventry, Springfield, Copley and Bath Townships. The mayor, in association with the township trustees, campaigned on behalf of the agreement to convince the many skeptics of the mutual benefits of the agreement.

Through JEDDs the mayor provided a means for townships to obtain property tax-paying development while retaining their sovereignty. At the same time, his plan allowed for cities to receive municipal income tax from business by providing central water and sewer services to unincorporated areas without annexing them.

Mayor Plusquellic then worked with the region's state representatives and pushed for legislative measures that would permit the establishment of JEDDs in Ohio. Mayor Plusquellic demonstrated that the JEDD is a mechanism that allows community leaders to work locally while thinking regionally. The concept helps reduce the inherent conflict between cities and suburbs. For his leadership and creativity in addressing a common problem, Mayor Plusquellic earned First-Place Honors in the 1999 City Livability Awards program.

The final piece of the puzzle was working with the urban school district. The Akron Public Schools had some hope that expanded city limits would also allow for new students, who bring with them an increase in state education funds and local property taxes. Many of Akron's school children come from poorer families and have more difficult and costly educational needs. The JEDDs could be harmful to Akron's Public Schools, and Mayor Plusquellic readily understood the need to provide quality schools that are supported by a viable tax base. To this end, the mayor ensured that a 12 percent net allocation of the income tax revenues the city received from JEDDs would be earmarked for the city school district. This funding would then be split evenly for school operating costs and capital improvements. This funding occurs without additional students from the JEDD communities.

"The mayor was the driving force behind this initiative," said the panel of City Livability judges, "and he found a way to make peace with the suburbs and schools in an overall win-win situation. Now that's leadership!"

Bridgeport--Clean and Green Program

"If you build it, they will come," Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim said at the Annual Luncheon, referring to his city's new minor league baseball stadium. This ballpark is the cornerstone of Bridgeport's resurgence following implementation of its extensive Clean and Green program. "This award is a wonderful tribute to the hard work we have done in Bridgeport to turn things around, and we are very proud to receive it today," Mayor Ganim said upon receiving his City Livability Award.

Mayor Joseph P. Ganim's Clean and Green program was born in 1996 as an effort to address the blight, decay and general fatigue in the city of Bridgeport. In the late1980's and early 1990's, Bridgeport was in dire financial straits and on the brink of bankruptcy. During that time, little to no resources could be spent on the city's physical upkeep. Roads remained unpaved and parks were in disrepair while blighted buildings added to the overall deterioration of some residential neighborhoods.

Mayor Ganim's leadership enabled city officials to get a handle on Bridgeport's financial problems. After balancing the city budget and cutting taxes, they turned their attention to the state of Bridgeport's infrastructure. The mayor initiated an ambitious and continuous beautification campaign aimed at reviving the residents' pride in Bridgeport and animating their historically strong sense of achievement. The Clean and Green program made dramatic changes throughout the city--demolishing more than 500 buildings, constructing five new downtown parks, and developing 12 new parks throughout the city.

As the city began to take a positive turn in its physical appearance, as well as in the areas of finance and safety, residents began to enjoy their city again. With no blighted buildings for unsavory activity to take place in, people began to enjoy spending time in their neighborhoods again. New clean, well-lit parks allowed residents to enjoy pieces of Bridgeport's legacy. And with a new image and public relations campaign that reached residents throughout Bridgeport and beyond, tourists began making Bridgeport a place to visit and spend the day. Attendance at the city's zoo - the only one in Connecticut - more than doubled last summer.

The new image for Bridgeport, which people could see for themselves, truly helped to bring about the city's renewal. As people began to visit the city more frequently, businesses became willing to remain in or move to Bridgeport. As a final bonus, the new image of a city on the rise helped to attract the Bridgeport Bluefish, a minor league baseball team that set attendance records during its inaugural season.

"Again, mayoral leadership was the key to the success of this program," said one City Livability judge. "Once Mayor Ganim got the ball rolling, the Clean and Green program worked wonders to engender pride in the community and empowered citizens to do even more by themselves." Bridgeport residents are once again proud of their city.

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