A Tale of Two Cities


hankwebberphotoHank Webber joins us from Washington University in St. Louis to discuss design interventions in cities with dual narratives of revitalization and depopulation.

The dominant narrative about legacy cities is one of decline, loss of population and increasing poverty. This narrative is, at best, dramatically oversimplified. Legacy cities do face great challenges, but they are also full of hope and resurgence, and scores of increasingly vibrant neighborhoods. Legacy cities can best be thought of not as places of decline but rather as straddling between two very different worlds.

First is the world of urban revitalization: the growth of diverse, vibrant urban neighborhoods that are becoming increasingly attractive to young people and the firms that employ them. Every large city I know has neighborhoods that are getting better by traditional economic criteria. St. Louis, the city where my wife and I live and where I focus much of my research, is clearly a legacy city.… Read More

Vacancy at Various Scales


terry_schwarzTerry Schwarz joins us to discuss the benefits of studying “natural neighborhoods,” or planning at the sub-watershed level as a way to explore the aggregate effects of the many smaller interventions happening in legacy cities.

Surplus real estate is a common characteristic of legacy cities. Population decline and the ongoing effects of the foreclosure crisis have led to an unprecedented number of vacant and abandoned buildings, which in turn has given rise to the large-scale demolition programs underway in Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo, and many other legacy cities. In the wake of demolition efforts, cities need to take a thoughtful approach to the management and reuse of vacant land, given that much of this land is unlikely to be redeveloped in the foreseeable future.

Detroit has over 100,000 vacant lots within city limits. Philadelphia has approximately 40,000 vacant lots. In Cleveland, the current count stands at about 21,000. Community gardens, greening projects, side yard expansions, and infill development are the most frequent responses to urban vacancy, but these strategies only address a small percentage of the large and growing inventories of vacant land in legacy cities.… Read More

Redeveloping Commercial Vacant Properties in Legacy Cities


A HOW TO MANUAL for Legacy Cities friends/leaders/advocates: this set of specific guidelines, tools and strategies for redeveloping commercial vacant properties and business districts in legacy cities is now available for download here.

The Greater Ohio Policy Center, in partnership with the German Marshall Fund of the United States and with support from the Center for Community Progress, has developed the guidebook including the following tools:

  • Guidance on planning & partnering for commercial revitalization
  • Methods for analyzing the market
  • Advice on matching market types & strategies for commercial revitalization
  • Legal tools for reclaiming commercial vacant properties
  • Funding sources for overcoming financial gaps
  • Menu of property reuse options
  • Ways to attract & retain business tenants
  • Methods and models for managing a commercial district
  • Strategies for building markets in legacy cities

Please share this comprehensive resource with people in your LC network!… Read More

Media Round-Up!


This week in legacy city news:

Detroit Launches Website to Auction Homes to Residents, Not Developers
by Bill Bradley at Next City
Detroit launched buildingdetroit.org on Monday, which aims to auction off houses with the goal of ensuring they serve as real neighborhood building blocks. How? Buyers have to prove they are moving in (or being rehabbed for prospective homeowners). Also, you must be a Michigan resident or business in order to bid.

Is the ‘Rust Belt’ a Dirty Word?
by Richey Piiparinen at Huffington Post
“Rust Belt”: does it connote a lost industry and the shame of being left behind, or is it a powerful way to reclaim one’s history?

America’s Urban Future
by Vishaan Chakrabarti at New York Times
A broad call for policies that advance urban interests: increasing density, city infrastructure and amenities.

From Grand Rapids to Ghana: In Developing-World Healthcare Market, Low-Tech is the New Cutting Edge
by Steven Thomas Kent at Rapid Growth Media
“When I was growing up [in Grand Rapids] it seemed like this kind of stuffy place that was not very innovative in the past.… Read More

The Shrinking Services Problem


ericscorsoneDr. Eric Scorsone joins us from Michigan State University to outline solutions to shrinking budgets in legacy cities, particularly in his hometown of Saginaw, MI.

Legacy cities often face the difficult task of providing critical public services like police and fire protection and code enforcement, just when their tax base and fiscal capacity are shrinking. These very problems are occurring just as state and federal governments are reducing their support to city governments to balance their own budgets. Higher tax rates often become necessary just to try and maintain revenue streams. Cuts to public services, which are often an important element in attracting and maintaining population, are also implemented.

Witness the city of Saginaw, MI where a shrinking tax base and falling state support has led to the police force being the same size as it was in 1900. Saginaw also faces a huge underfunded liability related to retiree health care that will force further cuts or higher taxes in the future.… Read More

Media Round-Up!


This week in legacy cities news:

The Persistence of Failed History: “White Infill” as the New “White Flight”?
by Richey Piiparinen at Urbanophile
Piiparinen explores the “back-to-the-city” movement, an inversion of 1968’s flight to the suburbs, challenging the little proven trickle-down effect of “white infill” in the inner city.

Can Youngstown Make It On Its Own?
by Alan Mallach at Rooflines
“The entire region [has] to realize not only that Youngstown isn’t going away, but that their decline and that of the city are totally intertwined—and that the region isn’t going to revive until or unless Youngstown does.”

When Will We Hear About the Actual People in Detroit?
by Bill Bradley at Next City
Bill Bradley wonders when public officials will talk about the real problems in Detroit: poverty, crime and social inequity.

How to Make Detroit’s Data Accessible
By Nancy Scola at Next City
Also at Next City, an interview with nonprofit Data Driven Detroit director Erica Raleigh.… Read More

Community Gardens as Arenas of Change


marouhMarouh Hussein writes on the transformative effect of community gardens in distressed neighborhoods and offers insight as to what legacy cities might learn from Harlem’s community garden movement.

Community gardens are not a new phenomenon but they have received increased attention in recent years because of their proven benefits. Whether they are spaces of food production, leisure, or recreation, the presence of a community garden in a distressed neighborhood often catalyzes change beyond these usages. The community garden movement in the mid-1970s and 1980s in Harlem, a neighborhood in New York City that, like legacy cities, experienced dramatic population decline, was a powerful tool that residents used to reclaim their neighborhood.

The first community gardens were used as a defense against the dilapidation and poverty that were plaguing Harlem in the 1970s. They were a means for residents to turn vacant lots that had become playgrounds for drug dealers, prostitution, gangs and rodents into spaces for the community to gather.… Read More

From Kiev to Cleveland: Immigrants & Industry in Legacy Cities


annetrubekAnne Trubek is the founding Editor-In-Chief of Belt magazine and publisher of Rust Belt Chic Press. She has published articles in The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Wired, and has appeared on NPR’s Weekend Edition, The Diane Rehm Show, and Talk of the Nation. She is currently writing The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting (Bloomsbury USA, Fall 2014).

This article originally appeared in Belt magazine and is reposted with permission from the author and publication.

Say Cleveland manufacturing and many think steel. But there was a large, influential, and vibrant garment industry in the city, too. By the middle of the 20th century, a good percentage of the clothes that Americans wore were produced in Cleveland. At one point, one in seven Clevelanders worked in the garment industry, the city employed thousands of seamstresses and pressers, was second to New York in size and the source of much America’s ready-to-wear clothing.… Read More

Is Gentrification Different in Legacy Cities?


headshottoddswanGuest contributor Prof. Todd Swanstrom joins us to share findings on changing neighborhoods in St. Louis.

Most research on revitalizing neighborhoods views them as instances of “gentrification,” the movement of young, often single, professionals into low-income, heavily minority, neighborhoods near urban employment centers. The dominant view in the literature is that low-income and minority residents are pushed out by gentrification as the local culture and consumption patterns are taken over by upwardly mobile professionals.

Most of the research on gentrification has been conducted in strong market metros, like Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle. Hank Webber (Washington University) and I recently conducted research on upwardly trending neighborhoods in the St. Louis metropolitan area. What we found does not fit the gentrification model.

We began by identifying all of the older parts of the region that were built up by 1950 – what the Census Bureau calls the “urbanized area” (basically all census tracts with a population density of at least 1,000 people per square mile in 1950).… Read More

Legacy City States More Prone to Overspend


ChrisProfileGuest contributor Chris Eshleman reports on the recent release of US Census Bureau data set on state deficits.

In late January, the US Census Bureau compiled and released data showing that in 2012 state governments spent well beyond their means — for the third time in four years. Revenues lagged behind expenditures in 34 states.

The implications of state deficits for city-level fiscal health are myriad. They cover everything from the future of revenue-sharing programs and borrowing rates to state legislatures’ ability to compile healthy annual capital budgets.

But when you break the numbers down, the implications were worse for some states than for others. The 20 states with at least one legacy city overspent in 2012 by $391 per state resident — that’s the amount that state expenditures eclipsed revenues divided by the number of state residents (as counted in the 2010 census).

StateSurpandDefThe states with the largest deficit (New Jersey, Massachusetts and Louisiana) are home to legacy cities; the three states with the largest surplus have none.Read More