An Opportunity of a Lifetime
What would it take for the Opportunity Corridor project to spark a revitalization of Cleveland’s urban core? That was the question I set out to answer this summer while working as a research assistant at the Fund for Our Economic Future. Through analysis of demographic data from the Census Bureau, I concluded that not only does this project have the potential to be transformational, but that transformation is achievable. Below is a breakdown on how we get there.
More than Just a Road?
At the most basic level, Opportunity Corridor is a road project designed to improve regional transportation connectivity by linking the I-77/I-490 interchange with the regional economic engine of University Circle. In the process, the project will pass through some of the most economically challenged neighborhoods in Northeast Ohio. On its face, Opportunity Corridor may resemble an attempt to whisk suburban and exurban residents through the core city, with little to no benefit for the people whose communities will be bisected by the new road. However, with deep community engagement and coordinated, visionary planning, this $330+ million project could build on the area’s existing assets to catalyze reinvestment in the neighborhoods and bring jobs to residents who sorely need them.
Key community institutions and economic development organizations are already undertaking efforts to ensure that Opportunity Corridor becomes more than just a road. The following analysis seeks to inform those efforts by pinpointing the kinds of outcomes necessary to substantively improve conditions in these communities.
Who Could Benefit?
The entire Opportunity Corridor project comprises 300+ acres of land in Cleveland’s urban core. To illustrate the scale of the project, the map below shows the planned project in blue, surrounded by a one-mile shaded zone. The red shading indicates economically distressed areas identified by the Fund. The Fund defines economically distressed areas as those Census tracts that both fall in the bottom quartile of median household income and have less than 65 percent labor force participation among “working-age” residents (those between the ages of 25 and 64). In 2012, this represented about 5 percent—or one in 20—of the 4.4 million residents living in Northeast Ohio.
It is clear that development along Opportunity Corridor would touch a significant portion of Cleveland’s economically distressed population.
Here are some sobering numbers to consider:
- 35,334 people live within a mile of Opportunity Corridor
- 20,571 of residents within a mile of the corridor live in economically distressed areas, representing 20 percent of Cleveland’s economically distressed population. In other words, one fifth of Cleveland’s and one-tenth of the region’s economically distressed population live within walking distance of this project.
- The median household income for the area within a mile of the project is about $18,000 a year—less than half the regional average of $47,000; in the economically distressed areas within this radius, the median household income is about $15,000, or less than one-third of the regional average. Even more alarmingly, a full-time worker making $15,000 a year is making an hourly wage below Ohio’s minimum, suggesting that many residents in these distressed communities work only seasonally or part-time.
- The labor force participation rate in the area within a mile of the project is 65 percent, but in the economically distressed areas, it drops to 56 percent. That means one in three working-age adults within a mile of the project is either unemployed or not looking for a job, and that in the economically distressed areas, the proportion is a staggering one in two.
These figures illustrate the potential scope of Opportunity Corridor’s impact on neighborhoods that face some of the grimmest economic conditions in Northeast Ohio. The project represents a rare chance to address blight and poverty in core city neighborhoods that have been crying out for wholescale reinvestment for decades.
 ACS 2012 data; estimates reflect population living in tracts with majority of area within specified radius
 ACS 2012 data and author calculations
 Based on Ohio minimum wage of $7.95 and a 40-hour work week
 Labor force participation rate is calculated at the tract level by dividing the number of people who are employed or actively seeking employment by the total population between ages 25-64. These tract-level estimates are averaged across the area in question.