Our Response to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

On February 26, 2016, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) published a new draft policy statement on Historic Preservation and Community Revitalization seeking comments from the public. We appreciate the ACHP’s recognition of the important connections between preservation and community revitalization. We share the goal of empowering federal, state, and local governments to achieve revitalization goals while promoting the reuse and rehabilitation of historic properties.

However, the policy statement needs to go further in clearly describing the issues involved and charting a clear path forward for federal, state, and local government agencies and partners in this essential work. We urge the ACHP to revise the policy statement so it can play a stronger role in addressing the major challenges facing historic buildings and neighborhoods in America’s legacy cities. We invite any preservationists and legacy city allies with an interest in this topic to consider our response and share your own comments with the ACHP by this Monday, April 4, 2016.… Read More

Why We Need a New Word for “Blight”

By Justin G. Moore

Driving through Soulsville, a community in Memphis that lives up to its name, we pass by modest homes, long-vacant buildings (including the house where Aretha Franklin grew up), deteriorated roads and sidewalks, and overgrown and dumped-on lots that presumably were once home to families and businesses. Our group had just met at the Memphis Slim House, a vibrant and inspiring local community arts and education organization that had mustered the will and resources to help nourish their neighborhood’s soul–one mural, one bus stop, one gathering place, one creative outlet, and one soul at a time.

But still, as we continued to explore this part of the city, it was hard to ignore all of the… blight?

Then a brief but strange encounter with the police during our visit reaffirmed that this community’s problems were deep and that the tools being used to deal with these problems are blunt and imperfect.… Read More

Brain Gain in Legacy Cities

By Nicholas Hamilton

My fellow urban policy thinker and sometimes debating partner Aaron Renn at the Manhattan Institute just released a report on Brain Gain in America’s Shrinking Cities. Next City ran an article on Thursday on the topic with some interesting examples of the types of programs Renn advises against. Renn makes some essential points to which every leader in a legacy city should take note. It boils down to this: “brain drain” isn’t happening in your city or it isn’t happening the way you think it is, so change your strategy. (Update: See Renn’s latest article about this in Syracuse.) His main points are pasted below, but the full report is well worth the read and is packed with insightful charts and tables that unpack these observations.

  • Every major metro area in the country that has been losing population and/or jobs is actually gaining people with college degrees at double digit rates.
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Federalism and Municipal Innovation: Lessons from the Fight Against Vacant Properties

bentonBy Benton Martin

Cities maintain a vital role in serving as laboratories for novel government initiatives. The prevailing view of city authority, however, is that they have only those powers granted by the state. Additionally, in seeking to be innovative, cities risk running afoul of legal doctrines that reserve certain policy areas for regulation only by the federal government.

Two examples of property regulation in legacy cities serve as important reminders to city officials about federalism in the United States.

First, consider land banking. Facing rampant blight, Genesee County in Michigan developed a creative solution involving a local government entity (the land bank) acquiring, and seeking to repurpose, vacant properties. The County faced opposition, however, from limitations imposed by state law. Taking the challenges head on, local leaders persuaded the state legislature to adopt groundbreaking legislation enabling land banking. The ensuing success prompted many other municipalities to adopt this approach.… Read More

Opening Up Vacant Lots Data

paulasegelheadBy Paula Segel

In New York City alone, hundreds of city-owned sites languish, located primarily in low-income communities of color, collecting garbage and blighting the very neighborhoods they could enliven. Taken together, these forgotten spaces — fenced-off, inaccessible and lost to bureaucratic neglect — are larger than most city parks. Uneven growth in cities, even in seemingly strong market cities like New York, is a problem that is compounded by an uneven access to information about how people can influence the development of the places where they live. In cities across America, a lack of developed and maintained green spaces is just one symptom of municipal neglect; a lack of information about how people can shape the city comes with it.

596 Acres, a land access advocacy group, has been running a pilot project that helps neighbors see opportunities in the fenced vacant lots of New York City’s most historically disadvantaged neighborhoods since August 2011.… Read More

Vacancy at Various Scales

terry_schwarzBy Terry Schwarz

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

Placemaking in Legacy Cities Must Be “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper”

The interview below was reposted with permission from Center for Community Progress. The original post is located here.

Center for Community Progress, a nonprofit focused on solutions for vacant properties (of which legacy cities see a lot of – upwards of 20% in some cases), has recently published Placemaking in Legacy Cities: Opportunities and Good Practices. The report explores how residents and leaders in Legacy Cities have used placemaking principles to transform blighted public spaces into revitalized community assets.

CCP recently spoke with the authors of the report, Francis Grunow and Sarah Szurpicki, to get a bit of an overview of what placemaking means in Legacy Cities. You might already be asking yourself, “What IS placemaking?” Well, let’s get started.

In short, what is placemaking?

Placemaking is a fairly new term used to describe the steps needed to achieve a very old idea. The old idea is that when people come together to form communities they often like to create great public spaces designed to express their values and connect with each another.… Read More