Townships feel growing pains as people leave citiesPublished 1:14am Saturday, January 23, 2010
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
Across the country, cities large and small, townships, villages and counties are bracing for the 2010 census which – after a decade of vast and notable change – could have quite an impact on those areas and the aid they receive based on relative populations.
Many believe the findings of this year’s census will show a changing trend: more Americans are living in cities as compared to more rural areas.
Some agree – but in Niles, City Administrator Terry Eull said there is a reverse trend. In a state that operates with city and township governments, more people, he said, seem to be moving out to townships.
They offer availability of land for those who are interested in building and satiate a certain social need to have the quaint and quiet home life with the conveniences of the city just a stone’s throw away.
It is his belief, Eull said, “you will see a reduction in population in the city of Niles” following the 2010 census.
“It makes a difference,” he said. “Because the census, a lot of the money in state aid is based on population.”
Which creates a related but significantly different set of challenges for township and city officials.
Even with a decreasing population, the city must continue to provide the same basic services to its residents, providing solid infrastructure, police and fire safeguards, quality education and utilities with shrinking funds and bare bones staff.
“That becomes more difficult in a declining community,” Eull said.
The opportunity for growth still remains in the city, but the method of growth differs.
On the contrary, as is the case with Niles Charter Township – the situation presents itself for officials to prepare for what could be an advantageous future with the increase in civilian traffic.
Hypothetically speaking, Supervisor Jim Kidwell said, should a significant influx of people move to the township, “I think the rest of it would just follow.”
He’s talking about businesses and better cash flow through consumerism, tourism and property taxes, translating into more opportunity to provide enhanced services and programs.
“You’re going to have a bigger tax base,” Kidwell said. “I think businesses would come in on their own because of the populations.”
Right now, in terms of business, Kidwell is optimistic. With the township recently making moves to demolish the old Eastgate shopping center, he’s hoping the space will attract development – commercial development.
That shopping center serves as a symbol of what townships like Niles might be able to capitalize on the most: space.
Vast shopping centers, new businesses and manufacturing plants, fresh faced structures with unlimited possibility might thrive within the space of the township, over 40 square miles with plenty of room for growth.
“We have virtually no room to expand,” Eull said.
Rather, to attract businesses the idea becomes fitting the right business with a structure and space that may already be equipped to fit needs.
Cities will by no means become less relevant. Those residents moving out may want to put roots down in rural areas but seem to be wanting more out of their cities, more business, more attractions and more availability.
“We all benefit as a community when any one of your communities do better,” Eull said. “In order to have a vibrant community, you need to have a vibrant downtown.” Something Niles has and has been developing for some time.
As officials await the numbers they’ll likely benefit from developing plans of action and keeping in mind ways to attract new residents and keep the ones they have.
The Star will look at some of the areas that are on the priority list of those residents: health care (stand to feel the impact as populations grow and more and more of the demographic needs care), energy and transportation. Where heavily populated cities see more use of public transportation, in townships such as Niles, roads are key as many commute back and forth to work and try to get the most out of their vehicles.
The upcoming census will essentially be a glimpse of what could be coming in the future for the Niles area. Stay tuned for a closer look.