National Welcoming Week and News Updates

Today, on National Citizenship Day, President Obama launched the “Stand Stronger” Citizenship Awareness Campaign to celebrate immigrant and refugee contributions to our country’s social and cultural fabric, and to provide critical resources for those on the path to becoming American citizens. Noting the vital role immigrants have for our country’s continued economic prosperity, President Obama released a video message to encourage residents to commit to US Citizenship today.

In conjunction with this announcement, the White House Task Force on New Americans is coordinating with local partners who are holding over 70 citizenship outreach events across the country this week. Many of America’s legacy cities are taking the lead in creating a welcoming environment for immigrants to thrive and contribute back to their communities. The campaign was launched in conjunction with community partners and civic leaders across the country. The #StandStrongerUS campaign is also working with organizations like the PVBLIC Foundation, an in-kind grant making organization, to harness the power of donated advertising space from leading media companies.… Read More

The Shrinking Services Problem

ericscorsoneBy Eric Scorsone

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. Public services were over-consumed in the past and the city did not set aside enough funds for pensions and health care.… 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

Strong Cities: Flint, Gary, St. Louis, Macon & more

By Stephanie Sung

The Obama Administration and the Strong Cities, Strong Communities initiative (SC2) have recently announced its expansion to include seven new cities:

Brownsville, Texas; Gary, Indiana; Flint, Michigan; Macon, Georgia; Rockford, Illinois; Rocky Mountain, North Carolina; and St. Louis, Missouri.

SC2 is a program that helps link urban leadership with federal resources and expertise with the hopes that it will help reduce red tape and improve local capacity. What this means is that the federal government has placed capable officials in cities that could use them. People like Kathleen Fox, SC2 Fellow and recent Legacy Cities Design Initiative participant, have been on the ground for nearly two years in several legacy cities, including Cleveland, Youngstown, Detroit and New Orleans.… Read More

The New Spirit of Detroit

WJBK in Detroit posted the following video of a woman being attacked by a cat (after serious provocation, it should be noted).

Feral Cat Embodies the Spirit of Detroit, is Forever Memorialized in a New Statue Downtown: a headline we hope to see in 2014.… Read More

Media Round-Up!

This week in legacy city news:

An Uneasy Peace for a Cash-Strapped City and Its Prestigious Nonprofits
Emily Badger writes on the nonprofit status of higher education and medical anchor institutions in legacy cities.

Big Ideas from the 2013 Bruner Loeb Forum Detroit
Metropolis magazine gives a great overview of The American Assembly and The J. Max Bond Center’s work on Legacy City Design and the 2013 Bruner Loeb Forum on Legacy City Design in Detroit.

Turning a City Into a Homegrown National Park
A story from Good on Toronto’s Seaton Village transformation through greenery and poetry.

Why Cities Can’t Win in State Government
Richard Florida highlights a study to support an “age-old urbanist complaint” that “economically powerful cities are held hostage by rurally dominated legislatures.”

Finally, a reminder that the deadline for the Vacant Property Research Network’s Master’s Award is February 15, 2014:

The Vacant Property Research Network (VPRN) announces its first annual scholarship to sponsor two masters students whose research contributes to new knowledge and practice around vacant properties.

Read More

Federal Judge Rules Detroit Eligible for Bankruptcy

[Edited 12/4/13]

A round-up of links to noteworthy responses to Detroit’s bankruptcy announcement and implications of pension cuts:

More Cities Should Go Bankrupt at Slate

Pension Ruling in Detroit Echoes West to California in the New York Times

A great article by Detroit Free Press journalist and legacy cities advocate John Gallagher outlining next steps for Orr after the ruling

A Growth Strategy for Post-Bankruptcy Detroit, published by Brookings in July 2013


Today’s court ruling confirming Detroit’s insolvency means that:

  • The city may reduce its overall debt (a total of $18.5 billion)
  • More time and more options in sorting out how to pay off the debt that is left
  • Creditors (city unions, pension funds) can lose billions in long-term liabilities–they are expected to appeal the ruling
  • The city may now move towards restoring essential services (with court supervision)

From the New York Times article:

One central argument from lawyers for the city’s public sector unions and retirees was that Detroit’s request for bankruptcy protection came before it had made good faith attempts to negotiate with creditors.

Read More

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

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