Remaking Cities Congress Sketches Agenda for the Post-Industrial City

bradshawhoveyBy Bradshaw Hovey

Three hundred fifty city-makers from across the United States and Europe convened in Pittsburgh last week (October 15-18) to craft an agenda – perhaps a manifesto – for the regeneration of the post-industrial city.

The outlines of the work produced by the “Remaking Cities Congress” will be familiar to supporters of the legacy cities movement: promote reuse of vacant buildings and land, support education and innovation for economic growth, improve mobility for all and address the deep inequities of opportunity and condition that rend the city fabric on both continents.

The workshop element of the conference included five themed groups each of which featured paired European and North American case studies: Bilbao & Milwaukee, the Ruhr Valley & Buffalo, Manchester-Liverpool & Greater Toronto, Rotterdam & New Orleans, Turin & Detroit.

“Propositions” that received overwhelming support from the attendees in closing “clicker” or keypad voting included:

• Invest in education to cultivate talent
• Connect the city through multi-modal mobility
• Grow entrepreneurial capacity
• Make housing adaptable and flexible
• Provide financial incentives for re-use
• Confront racism and marginalization
• Cultivate the “soul” of the city

Those preliminary results, along with extended profiles on the case study cities, will become the subject of a book on reemerging post-industrial cities for publication in 2014 or beyond. But the results of the voting and many of the presentations will be available soon at www.remakingcitiescongress.org.

The conference marked the 25th anniversary of the Remaking Cities Conference, complete with video-taped greetings from Charles, the Prince of Wales, who was the honorary chairman of both events, and whose Prince’s Foundation for Building Community provided support.

Pittsburgh, PA

The good news is that Pittsburgh is in far, far better condition in 2013 than it was in 1988. But more than that, the question that hung over the first conference – will American cities survive? – has been answered resoundingly in the affirmative Alan Mallach, among others, confirmed.

The government shutdown – although Congress voted to end it during the conference – cast a distinct shadow over the proceedings, and not just because HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan was prevented by law from delivering his keynote address. More importantly, paralysis in Washington has left urbanists wondering if they can expect any help at all from the Feds in the future.

Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institute told the assembled that the largest 100 metropolitan regions – which includes Youngstown, Scranton, and Syracuse as well as Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo – will produce the overwhelming share of job and income growth in the 21st century – whether the Federal government takes a serious role or not.

Making that happen, Katz said, will require a shift from an economy based on consumption, debt, and financial engineering to one based on innovation, technology, advanced manufacturing, low carbon and exports. It also calls upon city-regions to find their appropriate trading partners in the growing global network of metros and not wait for Washington.

“The Federal government may be closed,” Katz said. “We’re open for business.”

The conferees heard a full-throated appeal for greater attention to equity from Angela Glover Blackwell, CEO of PolicyLink; Mindy Fullilove, Columbia Professor of Psychiatry; and Toni Griffin, Director of the Max J. Bond Center for Architecture at City College of New York.

“We are not a poor country,” Blackwell said, “and we need to stop acting like one.” Griffin called for “urban justice” on behalf of “people and places left behind.”

Richard Florida echoed the call from a slightly different angle. He reemphasized the role of the “creative class” in metropolitan growth, of course. But he also stressed the central role that cities play in supporting those processes. And he foreshadowed the next big thing by flagging problems of those members of the “working class” and “service class” who fall outside the circle of privilege.

Moreover, Florida said, concern for equity along racial and ethnic lines is a practical as well as moral concern given that the American workforce will soon have a non-white majority – Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and others.

Tom Murphy, Mayor of Pittsburgh for three terms during its most recent revival, offered a counterpoint to the predictable discussion about collaboration and consensus building. Collaboration is fine, but if it becomes an excuse not to take action, it has reached its limit. Leadership, risk-taking, and taking the heat for unpopular decisions are just as vital.

Attendees got a close-up look at the renaissance Murphy helped guide – in tours focused on neighborhood revitalization, brownfield redevelopment, waterfront planning, technology and innovation, industrial heritage, green buildings and downtown development.

Bradshaw Hovey, Senior Fellow of the Urban Design Project at the University of Buffalo, is a city planner, writer, analyst, and teacher with extensive experience in urban politics, community planning processes, citizen participation, and public information.

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