2020 All-America City Finalist – Portsmouth, OH

Portsmouth was a major manufacturing hub for most of the 20th Century, but changes in both the global and national economy led to deindustrialization and depopulation. This disruption effected economic stability, as well as the larger social order, making it vulnerable to a variety of social problems. 

Portsmouth was hit hard by the Opioid Epidemic, ultimately being identified as the epicenter. Despite the severity of the problems brought on by the epidemic, Portsmouth has turned to the strength of its community to fight back. The highlighted projects show how Portsmouth has been able to critically examine and improve existing social institutions and relations to ensure the community is truly supportive and inclusive of all its members.


Addressing the Opioid Epidemic in Portsmouth
In 2010, the County Health Commissioner declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency and local health departments formed a coalition of community stakeholders. This Drug Action Team Alliance recognized the need to invest in staff development and strategic planning in order to prevent new initiates to substance use. Strategies used included:

  1. Providing Information:
  • Educated prescribers on controlled substance prescribing guidelines and use of the prescription monitoring program.
  • Conducted community forums to educate the public about the opioid epidemic.
  1. Enhancing Skills:
  • Informed parents about prescription drug abuse and facilitated conversations with youth about the dangers of prescription drug misuse.
  • Implemented youth-led prevention initiatives in 8 school districts.
  1. Providing Support:
  • Targeted prevention strategies to the county’s most vulnerable youth.
  • Established a treatment-friendly Supreme Court Certified Juvenile and Family Drug Court.
  • Reversed potentially fatal overdoses through Community-Based Naloxone Education.
  1. Changing Physical Design:
  • Installed permanent Prescription Drug Drop Boxes throughout the county.
  • Embedded a Code Enforcement Officer to immediately secure and condemn drug houses.
  1. Modifying/Changing Policies:
  • Passed legislation to shut down illegitimate pain management clinics.
  • Changed laws to increase access and utilization of naloxone to reverse opioid overdose.
  1. Changing Consequences:
  • Enacted stiffer penalties for criminal over prescribers, resulting in convictions of illegitimate pain management clinic operators.
  • Passed a Good Samaritan Law, providing civil immunity to people who respond to/report an overdose.
  1. Enhancing Access/Reducing Barriers:
  • Increased state-certified addiction treatment centers from 1 to 14 from 2010 to 2019.
  • Enhanced access to Medication-Assisted Treatment for opioid use disorders.

Over time, these efforts have led to significant reductions in youth substance use and improved outcomes in the population.


Transforming Spaces
Portsmouth is actively transforming spaces in the city for 21st Century needs to create a healthy, visually appealing and inclusive city for residents.

Examples of public art transforming spaces include:

  • 60 murals along the city’s floodwall, depicting key moments in Portsmouth’s history.
  • Two murals celebrating local athletes and musicians.
  • A ‘Before I Die’ wall to encourage personal expression in downtown.
  • Banners of notable figures from Portsmouth’s history along Chillicothe Street and Second Street.

New spaces encouraging exercise and outdoor activity include:

  • A paved activity path through the park and a plaza with a monument depicting a map of the original earthwork mounds that once existed.
  • A 1.6 mile multi-use path designed for biking and walking, providing safety from traffic.
  • Five miles of hand-built mountain bike trails in Shawnee State Park.
  • A disused lot in the city’s downtown, transformed into an off-leash dog park.
  • The Portsmouth Skatepark Project is scheduled for construction.

Historical spaces that were previously assigned negative connotations as symbols of decline are now being transformed into symbols of Portsmouth’s resurgence:

  • McKinley Pool, significant to Ohio’s Civil Rights Movement, received its most substantial funding, allowing for improvements to pool facilities.
  • The Spartan Municipal Stadium, a stadium that was once home to the former National Football League team, the Portsmouth Spartans, was made safer and more secure.
  • The Greenlawn Cemetery, established in 1829 and home to over 85,000 graves, has been restored through the tireless work of community volunteers.

Downtown is also being transformed through large business investments, space renovations and the addition of an entrepreneurship center.


Community Building
After years of negative media attention brought on by the Opioid Epidemic, Portsmouth needed to boost the morale of residents and has done so through various events and activities.

  • Winterfest includes activities such as ice skating, Christmas lights, snow tubing, carriage rides, a vendor village, a gift shop and a children’s museum pop-up.
  • Glocktoberfest is the celebration of the city’s past, present, and future from the perspective of the Glockner Family and their 170+ year journey to the present.
  • River Days festival offers a daytime parade in which contestants from each local school compete with themed floats.
  • Blues, Brews and Barbecue festival includes live music, craft beer and a barbecue competition.
  • Plant Portsmouth featured 1,405 residents coming together to break the Guinness World Record for the most people potting plants simultaneously.
  • Christmas Caroling highlighted 1,880 community members breaking the world record for the most people Christmas caroling.
  • Present wrapping featured 1,482 people breaking the record for most people wrapping presents together.
  • Portsmouth Block Party includes free food, inflatables, a dunk tank, a petting zoo and live music.
  • Final Friday in Boneyfiddle is a free outdoor concert series that enhances commerce and community in the Historic Boneyfiddle shopping district.
  • The Southern Ohio Senior Games encourage older people to have healthier lifestyles.
  • Annual Service Day involves churches and organizations providing community service.

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