The Banks: Believing We Will See It Greater Cincinnati: Bigger or Better?
What’s the biggest metropolitan area in Ohio? Does it matter?Among the unexpected sights in the Reds’ Opening Day Parade was a mobile crane dangling a large sign saying only “The Banks” and “April 2, 2008.”

Just as surely there was a child in the crowd who asked a mom or dad what that message means, there were adults wondering the same thing.

That Wednesday, a crowd of officials gathered on the riverfront between the stadiums to break ground for the $1 billion grand development that’s been nine years in the making. Over the next decade, as the project is phased in, we are supposed to see new places to live, work, eat, drink, shop and play.

If your attitude is “I’ll believe it when I see it,” join the ranks who have dismissed The Banks as a symbol of ineptitude. Yet city, county and business leaders pushed on through every setback, including all the roadblocks to progress they couldn’t anticipate or forestall. Just one example is the slump in the housing market. The developers — Carter Real Estate and the Dawson Co. — had to switch housing plans from condos to apartments. The Banks Working Group helped convince the city and county to pitch in $12 million to make the total financing package work.

When completed in phases over a decade, The Banks will include hundreds of new residences, potentially millions of square feet of new office space, shops, restaurants, parking and a riverfront park.

At the groundbreaking, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune said by Opening Day next year, steel girders and other signs of construction will be evident, and by Opening Day 2010 “people will have plenty of things to do [here] after the game.”

Maybe it’s that spirit of Opening Day optimism, the springtime possibilities of fresh starts, that make us want to believe that reaction to the phrase “The Banks” won’t be cynical. Perhaps some day we’ll think of it as a symbol of stubborn determination and pride, the “Little Engine that Could” of Greater Cincinnati’s civic progress.

When the U.S. Census Bureau recently announced new population estimates, local media trumpeted the news that Greater Cincinnati is now larger than Greater Cleveland. Some naysayers quickly pointed out that much of what we call Cincy is in Kentucky, not Ohio.

Bill Sloat, former Cincinnati bureau chief for the ClevelandPlain Dealer, notes on his “Daily Bellwether” blog that Kentucky and Indiana counties inflate our numbers, whereas Cleveland’s metro area is only five counties squeezed along Lake Erie.

This mini-controversy prompted us to explore the census data more closely. We found the definitions of metro areas and their acronyms could confuse and confound anyone. As the accompanying chart shows, population size depends on where you begin and end the counting.

There are Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). Those consist of one or more adjacent counties with at least one urban core area (minimum population 50,000), “plus adjacent territory that has a high degree of social and economic integration with the core as measured by commuting ties.”

Then there are “Core Based Statistical Areas” (CBSAs). These include both MSAs and what are now called “micropolitan” areas: urban clusters of at least 10,000 and fewer than 50,000 people. And there are Combined Statistical Areas (CSAs), which are special combinations of adjoining CBSAs.

Does any of this really mean anything? Well, the numbers can be used to determine allocations of federal funding. And in the “bragging rights” camp, some would say Numero Uno gets a marketing edge.

With the CBSA definition, Greater Cincinnati has edged into first place. Apply the CSA boundaries and Cleveland is considerably ahead — especially with Akron’s Summit County counted. Gaining or losing federal dollars on arbitrary and ever-shifting boundary lines is worth a closer, critical look.

Perhaps most telling is not the numbers, but population changes. Check out the CBSA or the CSA estimates, and you see Cincinnati and Columbus metro regions gaining population, while Cleveland and Dayton decline slightly. If that’s a sign of vitality for the Tristate, we’ll take it.

Ohio Population Estimates

CBSA (Core Based Statistical Areas & Counties)
July 1, 2007
July 1, 2006
Cincinnati-Middletown, OH-KY-IN
Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, OH
Columbus, OH
Dayton, OH

(Combined Statistical Area)
Cincinnati-Middletown-Wilmington, OH-KY-IN
Cleveland-Akron-Elyria, OH
Columbus-Marion-Chillicothe, OH
Dayton-Springfield-Greenville, OH
SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau

Cincinnati-Middletown CBSA (15 counties): Brown, Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren in Ohio; Boone, Bracken, Campbell, Gallatin, Grant, Kenton and Pendleton in Kentucky; Dearborn, Franklin and Ohio in Indiana.

Cincinnati-Middletown-Wilmington CSA (16 counties): all those counties plus Clinton (Wilmington).

The Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor CBSA (five Ohio counties): Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain and Medina.

Cleveland-Akron-Elyria CSA: those five plus Ashtabula, Portage and Summit.