Can We Demolish Our Way to Revitalization?

alanmallachBy Alan Mallach

While the answer to that question in the title of this piece is obvious, there’s a strong case to be made that a lot of the buildings that make up America’s older cities may have to go, if these cities are to find a path to a new, better future. That was brought home recently by a NY Times article with the misleading title of “Blighted Cities Prefer Razing to Rebuilding.”

The title is misleading, because I know a lot of people in these cities, and I can’t think of a single one who actually prefers razing to rebuilding. At the same time, the article made an important point: for cities like Detroit, Cleveland or Baltimore, demolition has started to become a strategy, not an intermittent response to the individual problem building. This is a tough conclusion to reach, especially for those of us who love old buildings and admire the individual efforts that have saved many of them over the years, but an inevitable one.… Read More

New Exhibition on Great Lakes & St. Lawrence River Region

Fellow urbanists in Midwestern legacy cities might enjoy a new exhibit in Chicago on the Great Lakes Basin, part of a long-term effort to build a geographic coalition to protect the integrity of the world’s largest fresh water resource. The St. Lawrence River connects the Great Lakes to the Atlantic through the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada.

Great Cities, Great Lakes, Great Basin engages the public with the vastness and vulnerability of the earth’s largest surface freshwater resource, which spans from Duluth, Minnesota to the Atlantic Ocean. The exhibition depicts the Great Basin as one region defined by the watershed rather than political boundaries and illustrates a vision for the region as an international park that encompasses culturally-rich urban and rural areas. The exhibition also highlights initiatives around the region that Basin cities can learn from to enhance quality of life.

The exhibit was organized by Chicago Architecture Foundation, SOM, and International Secretariat for Water.… Read More

Cortez-Li-Liu © 2013

The Urban Freeway Debate: I-81 in Syracuse

If you’re not familiar with the I-81 viaduct battle in Syracuse, this video is a great way to get caught up.

Marc Norman is the Director of Upstate Syracuse, a design and research center at Syracuse University, and a leader in the field of analysis taking place to weigh city’s options as the expressway deteriorates. Marc spoke with News Channel 9 on the opportunity to reconnect the city and begins to answer the question: is this the right answer for Syracuse?

We’re not going to presuppose what the answer is but we’re going to ask the right questions. How do we reconnect the whole street grid? Do we make one-way streets two-way instead? Do we use signalization of lights? Do we create other streets or reconnect what became super blocks so that streets go through again? I think asking all those questions to the DOT will get us some other answers as to whether a boulevard is the right answer here.

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Legacy City Design / Bruner Loeb Forum 2013

Last week in Detroit, the Legacy City Design Forum convened over a hundred designers, planners, architects, developers, community leaders, public officials and policy makers to share innovative design interventions in legacy cities. Cities represented include: Detroit, Gary, Flint, New Orleans, Baltimore, St. Louis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Youngstown, Syracuse, Buffalo, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

The forum was structured to include comparative case studies between Cleveland, Syracuse, Detroit and Buffalo, and featured guest speakers and interactive work sessions. The two themes of the conference were 1) rethinking land use to create sustainable urban neighborhoods and 2) innovative infrastructure in high vacancy areas.

Check out dispatches from the forum here, courtesy of Next City:
How America’s Largest Historic Public Market District Is Resisting ‘Commercial Gentrification’
Detroit’s Repopulation Question
Syracuse Considers Urban Freeway Removal
Two Cautionary Tales on Housing Access
Rebuilding the Neighborhood Without Leaving Out Neighbors
Saving Detroit’s Basements, One Prairie at a Time

A few great recaps from Barbara Epstein for the LOEBlog, at the Harvard Graduate School of Design:
Fueling Hope
Innovation and Scale
Looking Forward
Pockets of Inspiration

And finally, an article from Architectural Record:
Learning From Legacy Cities

“Legacy Cities” was coined by The American Assembly at Columbia University, which published Rebuilding America’s Legacy Cities, a collection of policy and regulatory reforms necessary to “move the needle” on urban transformation for this unique group of cities.… Read More

Intercity High-Speed Rail and Urban Suburbs

samhershBy Sam Hersh

I am certainly not the first to point out the ability of a high-speed-rail line to bring small cities into the metropolitan area as “semi-urban suburbs.” In fact, the idea is trumpeted about so often, (especially in England where high-speed rail emanating from the south has extended the London megalopolis ever northward) that I fear we in America have started to see high-speed rail as a silver bullet for many struggling legacy cities.

Instead, we should look to such high-speed rail suburbs as a possible asset for metropolitan areas in need. We should not aim to pour the money necessary for a high-speed rail line into any city that seems close enough to benefit. To justify the cost of building a high-speed rail line to a legacy city with the hope of creating an urban suburb, two questions must be asked that challenge the usefulness of the line, not just to the development of the legacy city but to the metropolitan region.… Read More

Lessons from Suburbia

By Stephanie Sung

Mount Laurel, once a small, rural farming town in central New Jersey, has become a model for the integration of affordable housing in higher-income neighborhoods. A report by Princeton sociologist Douglas S. Massey called “Climbing Mount Laurel” reveals the positive outcomes of the long-fought land use battle, finding that fears of crime, drugs and blight were largely unfounded. The affluent families felt no impact, while low-income families saw their lives improve.

In a New York Times article, David L. Kirp reports:

There have been changes in life in Mount Laurel. But the changes are entirely consistent with those in demographically similar suburbs that surround the township. In all these communities, crime rates fell. Property values rose during the housing boom and dipped during the recession. Tax rates declined. Even in the Mount Laurel neighborhoods closest to the affordable housing, property values were unaffected. To most residents, the fact that poor families now live in Mount Laurel has proved entirely irrelevant.

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Rust Belt Living: A Transplant’s Perspective

Amy Hanauer, founding executive director of Policy Matters Ohio, writes in Belt Magazine about what it was like to move to Cleveland in 1998:

Six-month-old in tow, we flew here for a weekend, hooked up with a real-estate agent by a soon-to-be Kent State colleague. “I think Cleveland Heights or Shaker Heights seems like the right fit for us,” I told her assuredly, but she insisted on dragging us through Cuyahoga Falls and Hudson, her out-of-work executive husband unhelpfully along for the ride. “Hudson,” he drawled, in his Texas accent, “is a regular U-NI-ted Nations.”

Adjusting to the changing tides of the city:

We didn’t know then that the roomy bookstore would close a few years later, along with countless other bookstores in America [. . .]. We didn’t yet know that one failed school levy too many would eventually push us, then with two kids, three miles south to Shaker, another well-integrated suburb but one that more consistently funds its schools.

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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.… Read More

Welcome to the Legacy Cities Blog!

Dear all –

Welcome to the beta site of the American Assembly’s Legacy Cities blog! We are excited to continue developing this site and turn this into an active forum and base of knowledge sharing between our community working to advance legacy cities, as well as a way to connect the diverse and growing group of emerging professionals in legacy cities, including city leaders from the public sector, business owners, university presidents, community board members and the diaspora beyond.

We want to seize the opportunity to look at legacy cities from a national perspective. Our central goals embrace this “big picture” role:

1. Be a connector of ideas: track activities from other city/regional micro-blogs, along with national media sources, and draw meaningful connections between individuals and organizations active in separate but related spaces.

2. Produce content via guest contributors (opinion, analysis, case studies, interactive media) that expands on a local issue and makes it more applicable to a broader legacy cities audience.… Read More

Midwestern Legacy Cities Attract New Immigrant Waves

With help from local businesses and organizations, the city of Dayton attracts new immigrant waves from Turkey and Kenya.

Local groups gave courses for immigrants opening small businesses and helped families of refugees and foreign students. City officials worked with Wright State University, a public institution, to find ways for immigrant doctors and engineers to cut through bureaucracy and gain certifications so they could practice in the United States.

 Read the full New York Times article here »Read More