Folks on the coasts like to sneer at the Midwest, but I should know better. I've lived in Illinois all my life. (And, no, I'm not going to reveal how many years that's been!)

So I shouldn't have been surprised to see, during the American Public Works Association's annual convention in Columbus, Ohio, how well the public and private sectors cooperate. Now there's a city that takes the "private" in "public-private partnership" seriously.

Four of Ohio's 15 "special improvement districts" are in Columbus. Membership is mandatory; fees are assessed and collected by the city treasurer's office. The city even pays assessments on its own property. So when local businesses say they'll remove garbage, graffiti, and weeds; pick up litter; and sweep and plow sidewalks, they have the money and the motivation to make it happen.

I mention this because I toured a mile-long section of formerly abandoned business district that's been transformed from a six-lane, one-way street to a lovely two-way street with trees and flowers in a center median and along sidewalks. Rain gardens, bike racks, 87 new trees - all that warm, fuzzy stuff the public eats up. Restaurants have opened; condos built and bought; people walk, bike, linger.

Here's the part that caught my attention: The Public Service Department's workload is virtually the same pre- and post-construction. Condo developers maintain the area's irrigation system; the business community maintains the landscaping. Businesses also work closely with the department to coordinate things like making sure sidewalks are swept before the street sweeper comes through.

The city's revitalizing without burdening public servants or public budgets. Rather than dump more work on underfunded departments that are already stretched thin, the private sector is taking responsibility for providing services their customers take for granted.

While you may not find this unusual, I got the distinct impression that my cohorts on the tour did. And obviously, I felt that was something worth writing home about.