GOPC Presents Smaller Legacy City Work to Mayors Association of Ohio

June 22nd, 2017

On June 15th, GOPC’s Executive Director, Alison Goebel, gave the lunchtime address at the 2017 Mayors Association of Ohio, a member affiliate of the Ohio Municipal League.  Goebel shared highlights from GOPC’s ongoing work on smaller legacy cities in Ohio with the crowd of about 75 mayors.  Many of the attendees serve Ohio’s villages and smaller towns, such as Fostoria and Eastlake. Attendees responded positively to the recommendations GOPC makes for stabilizing and turning around smaller legacy cities, recognizing that these lessons have applicability to all communities, regardless of size.

ag speaking

GOPC On The Road: Marion, Hamilton, and Middletown

June 14th, 2017

This summer, GOPC staff will be traveling across Ohio as we engage in discussions with stakeholders in Ohio’s small and medium sized legacy cities. The GOPC On The Road photo series will be highlighting the rich history of these cities as the revitalization efforts that are currently being made. Over the past weeks, GOPC staff has already made trips to Marion, Hamilton, and Middletown.

 Marion, OH

Located in north-central Ohio, Marion is the county seat of Marion County. As of the 2010 census, Marion’s population was  36,837.  Former U.S. President Warren G. Harding was a resident of Marion for much of his adult life..

Marion Mural

Marion Mural

Downtown Marion

Downtown Marion

Marion Palace Theatre

Marion Palace Theatre

Main Street

Main Street

 

Hamilton, OH

Originally founded in 1791 as Fort Hamilton, the City of Hamilton is located in Ohio’s southwest corner. Hamilton is the county seat of Butler County, and part of the Cincinnati metropolitan area. As of the 2010 census, Hamilton’s population was 62,447. 

Downtown Hamilton

Downtown Hamilton

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Inside the historic Mercantile Building

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Historic Mercantile Building

Hamilton Mural

Mural of Alexander Hamilton

 

Middletown, OH

Middletown is located in Butler and Warren counties in SW Ohio. Middletown was incorporated by the Ohio General Assembly on February 11, 1833, and became a city in 1886. As of the 2010 census, Middletown’s population was 48,694. Recently Middletown received national attention from J.D. Vance’s New York Times bestseller “Hillbilly Elegy”, in which Vance describes his life in Middletown.

Port Middletown Mural

Port Middletown Mural

Chalk Art in Middletown

Chalk Art in Middletown

Main Street Middletown

Main Street Middletown

Mural in Middletown

Mural in Middletown

“State Government and Urban Revitalization”: New Paper Outlines Principles for State Engagement with Revitalizing Cities

June 13th, 2017

By Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC Manager of Research and Policy

A new working paper written by researcher Alan Mallach and released by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy explores how state governments can support lasting and inclusive urban revitalization. By law, cities are subject to significant intervention by state governments, even in states where municipalities have home rule authority. To greater or lesser extents, states set guidelines about what cities may or may not do, which can bolster or limit their ability to build stronger economies and neighborhoods. States also typically have access to greater resources, meaning their financial and programmatic support – or lack thereof – for urban revitalization efforts can make a significant impact. In Ohio, cities have home rule authority, which allows for a degree of autonomy from state authority. But the state can still broaden or limit municipalities’ powers, including their capacity to raise revenue, or as seen recently –can choose to reduce state revenue sharing.  Municipalities’ fates are not determined by state policy alone – but state policy can be a headwind or tailwind for cities seeking to turn things around.

Mallach defines urban revitalization as a series of processes that together can create transformative change. Specifically, he identifies five key elements of the broader urban revitalization process: fiscal and service delivery capacity; healthy real estate markets; healthy neighborhoods and quality of life; economic competitiveness; and human capital development. While each element requires unique strategies and interventions, the elements are so interdependent that cities must work on all of them in concert to make real progress.

These elements are also subject to what Mallach calls an “inclusivity screen,” which measures the extent to which the benefits of growth and revitalization are available to all of the city’s residents. As discussed in the recent report “Looking for Progress in America’s Smaller Legacy Cities,” which was summarized in an earlier blog post, many revitalizing cities have struggled to make new prosperity broadly accessible to residents. But evidence suggests that more inclusive growth leads to greater economic gains and less political turmoil, underscoring the importance of viewing all revitalization efforts through the inclusivity lens.

By examining states’ roles in impacting the five elements of urban revitalization and inclusivity, Mallach derives principles that should guide state policy in supporting successful revitalization.

  • “Support cities’ efforts rather than attempt to substitute for them”: Urban revitalization efforts will only be successful if they are driven by local leadership. State governments must recognize that local officials have the best understanding of their communities’ needs, and that constraints placed on programs or spending at the state level often hinder the local creativity necessary to successfully revitalize.
  • “Neutral is not neutral”: Jurisdictions do not begin on an even playing field, which means that places that start off stronger benefit more from “neutral” policies than those that began in a disadvantaged position. States should target their resources to jurisdictions that need them most and should reexamine policies that disadvantage central cities that are in need of revitalization.
  • “Integrate urban revitalization into a regional framework”: Cities and the suburban and exurban regions that surround them make up a single economic unit, and as such, any revitalization efforts championed by state governments should encourage greater cooperation among jurisdictions in fragmented regions.
  • “Break down silos and integrate revitalization elements”: A lack of coordination among government agencies and departments is a widely acknowledged problem. States should not only encourage local governments to remove internal barriers to coordination, they should also ensure that state agencies are organized in a way that promotes collaboration with local governments.
  • “Build an inclusivity framework into state policies and programs”: Many of the challenges related to poverty and inequality are outside of a city’s immediate ability to control, and many cities fall short of addressing even those they can impact. States have an important role to play in increasing access to economic opportunity for residents, either by enacting state policies that directly benefit low-income people or by explicitly enabling or encouraging cities to create inclusive policies.

Mallach concludes that states are important actors in revitalization activities, and provides a long list of more concrete recommendations for how they can promote cities’ success. These recommendations include allowing for diversified municipal revenue sources, providing state dollars to seed catalytic redevelopment projects, and “fix-it-first” and multi-modal transportation policies. A full list of recommendations is available beginning on page 49 of the report.

 

Guests of Ann Fisher Show Discuss Emerging Land Use Trends Revealed in New ULI Report and Implications on Housing Affordability, Transportation

June 5th, 2017

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Coordinator

The Urban Land Institute (ULI) has issued a new national report titled Housing in the Evolving American Suburb, which assesses general trends in housing, income, demographics within urban and suburban areas throughout the country. Stockton Williams, an author of the report, recently appeared on the All Sides with Ann Fisher radio show to discuss emerging patterns in housing and land use and to offer insight on the report findings’ implications for Ohio, and Columbus in particular. Williams was joined on the show by Rob Vogt of Vogt Strategic Insights, who emphasized the value of boosting transportation options in Ohio as a means of confronting suburbanization challenges detailed in the report.

As many analyses have shown, the growth of suburbs came largely at the expense of downtown areas in the post-war years; one of the main discoveries of the ULI report is that today many regions exhibit suburban and urban growth simultaneously. Speakers on the show mentioned that Columbus, for instance, has seen job and population increases largely throughout suburban and city areas over the past few years. While this rise often manifests in many large cities, Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) has found that over the last few decades, many smaller cities in Ohio have seen a decline in key indicators of economic health in both suburban and urban areas. GOPC’s 2016 report From Akron to Zanesville: How Are Ohio’s Small and Mid-Sized Legacy Cities Faring?, which analyzes the economic health of smaller and mid-sized cities in Ohio, shows that this dual suburban-urban growth has yet to take off in many Ohio cities. In fact, the state’s smaller legacy cities and their surrounding metro areas experienced declines in population and labor force participation along with increased poverty rates during pre-(2000-2009) and post-recession (2009-2014) time periods.

Hb 463 webinar pic

Contrary to some popular thought, suburban areas in the US are still highly inhabited. In fact, 79 percent of the US population lives in suburbs, according to the ULI report. However, as a result of the growing popularity for the younger generation to move to urban environments, urban living costs have generally gone up, and thus many families in Ohio in turn are forced to re-locate into less-costly suburban neighborhoods. As a result of this movement, speakers on the radio show explain that transportation challenges represent a substantial barrier for many families who now live in Ohio’s suburbs, because public transportation is generally less comprehensive in these areas. GOPC strongly supports policies to build a robust network of public transportation throughout Ohio’s cities and metros as a tool for economic development, whereby potential workers have a reliable means of getting to a job. To do this, Williams emphasized the need to explore ways to improve bus service and build on current public transportation systems. Guests also discussed multimodal transportation’s related benefits, such as a relaxed demand for parking and lower traffic congestion.

A discussion of the changing housing patterns and preferences along with increasing home prices and rents also feature heavily in ULI’s report. During the radio show, Fisher referred to a statistic in a report GOPC co-authored with the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio (AHACO) titled The Columbus and Franklin County Affordable Housing Challenge: Needs, Resources, and Funding Models, noting that there are over 46,000 renters in central Ohio who pay over 50% of their income on housing costs. According to Vogt, this staggering number of people considered to be “severely housing cost burdened” is reflected throughout the country, and is a function of both the price of housing and annual incomes. To narrow this gap, one example of an affordable housing solution that Williams recommends is inclusionary zoning. This tool enables a local government to incentivize a private developer to build market rate housing with some mix of below-market units in a specific area. The report GOPC co-authored with AHACO highlights inclusionary zoning and developer incentives in Denver, Colorado as successful and potentially replicable models for expanding affordable housing.

Read ULI’s Report Here

 

Shrinking Cities Reading Series Part III: Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown

May 31st, 2017

By Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC Manager of Research and Policy

Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown by Sean Safford is a commonly cited work on struggling cities, particularly smaller ones. Unlike the other work profiled so far, Safford deals less directly with issues of vacant land but examines how civic capacity and social networks can influence a city’s path. Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown compares the trajectory of two very similar Rust Belt cities – Allentown, Pennsylvania and Youngstown, Ohio – and examines why Allentown has been more successful in rebounding from economic decline and adapting to the 21st Century economy. Both cities experienced significant crises as their primary economic engine – the steel industry – retooled in the 1970s, resulting in fewer local jobs and the eventual dissolution of each city’s key local company. Despite these challenges, Allentown has recently experienced economic and population regrowth while Youngstown has still largely not rebounded from the crisis of 40 years ago.

Safford narrows in on the social networks between economic and business elites as a key point of divergence between the cities. He traces the structure of social networks back to the founding of each city to determine its effect on the community’s response to later crises. In Allentown, business scions settled among the various cities and towns in the Lehigh Valley and built a spirit of friendly competition amongst themselves. This resulted in investment in civic, educational, and cultural institutions that were ultimately to the benefit of the community as a whole. In Youngstown, on the other hand, Safford finds that business leaders were more closely knit together and identified more with their class identity than another identity tied to place or ethnic group.

In Allentown, community leaders, including the president of Bethlehem Steel, sought to increase their own power by building stronger ties among members of disparate communities. In a particularly notable example, Allentown leaders worked to build a literal bridge between two communities and raised money and support for the project through a grassroots level campaign. The stronger ties among members of different economic classes that resulted from this effort helped build networks that were resilient in the face of eventual crisis. In Youngstown, on the other hand, Safford concludes that business leaders saw little personal value in engaging with the broader community and instead actively worked to pit ethnic groups against one another.

As the crisis in steel manufacturing loomed, leaders in Allentown responded by laying the groundwork for greater economic diversification. In Youngstown, business leaders doubled down on steel manufacturing. Once the crisis finally hit in the 1970s, Allentown was insulated from the worst effects of the downturn due to increased diversification. Local leaders turned to building local economic engines outside of the steel industry. In Youngstown, Safford says that business leaders essentially left the community on its own to figure out an answer – and the fragmented communities within the city all proposed competing responses to the crisis.

Ytown downtown

Youngstown, Ohio

Safford is able to follow the connections between economic elites in both cities to trace what kinds of networks produced the different kinds of results. He found that in 1950, economic connections in both cities are relatively dense among different powerful people. In Youngstown, those connections extended into the social realm as well, as many members of the economic elite attended the same churches and participated in the same clubs. In Allentown, social networks among economic players were much more diffuse, although a few key organizations appeared to connect many of the most prestigious leaders. Safford argues that Allentown’s more diffuse network allowed economic elites to respond to the crisis more effectively. Allentown’s social networks create multiple layers of interaction among participants that are connected but not identical to one another. When one of the layers went into crisis – as occurred in the economic realm – actors had other, insulated layers of interaction to pull from to creatively respond to the crisis at hand. Safford argues that actors were able to receive more and different kinds of opinions about potential responses to the crisis by hearing from a more diverse set of actors. Additionally, a broader set of leaders could emerge than the closed off set of “usual suspects” present in Youngstown.

Safford examined the network ties of the most powerful people in both cities again in 2000. His research showed a striking difference in the makeup of each city’s powerbrokers. Quite a few economic elites and political figures remained in prominent positions in Allentown, while in Youngstown power was much more concentrated among leaders of nonprofit organizations and educational institutions. Safford claims that Allentown was stronger because there were still economic leaders involved in its civic structure – and Youngstown suffered because that was not the case. There is little economic incentive for corporate leaders to actively participate in their communities, but in Allentown, the multiple layers of network ties led actors to find other value in participating in civic activities.

This article is part of a blog series exploring books and articles written about shrinking cities, or communities that are losing population and dealing with housing vacancy and abandonment. For more information on this series, see the first post “Reading Series on Shrinking Cities”. These summaries are provided only for educational purposes and opinions expressed in these summaries do not necessarily reflect those of Greater Ohio Policy Center.

 

“The Future of the Great Lakes Region”: New Urban Institute Report Explores How Decline in Manufacturing Industry is Shaping the Industrial Midwest

April 27th, 2017

By Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC Manager of Research and Policy

A new report from the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute examines economic and demographic changes over the past century in the Great Lakes region (Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) and projects trends into the middle of the twenty-first century.  The report finds that that region’s reliance on manufacturing has created unique challenges that set it on a different path than the rest of the country. Importantly, the challenges in the manufacturing sector have deepened dramatically in the last fifteen years. Although there were major shocks to the manufacturing sector in the 1970s, employment in the sector recovered and eventually grew to its highest level in 1999. At that point, the sector experienced an even greater shock from automation and foreign competition, causing it to shed 35 percent of jobs in the region from 2000 to 2010.

This dramatic loss in employment had a number of important ripple effects. Manufacturing jobs pay an average of $78,000, dramatically higher than average wages in the region. As a result of the loss of manufacturing employment, the Great Lakes states saw a decline in higher wage jobs while other regions experienced growth. Meanwhile, other regions saw net job growth of 17.5 percent from 2000 to 2015, while the Great Lakes states saw only 3.7 percent growth in that time period. Notably, low-wage jobs accounted for all of this job growth in the Great Lakes region.

Toledo-glassmaking

Glass-maker in Toledo, Ohio

Demographic trends appear to mirror recent economic decline. The Great Lakes region has continued to grow population slowly, but the authors estimate that the region will stop growing by 2030 as baby boomers age and out-migration continues. Between 50,000 and 105,000 people left the region every year between 2007 and 2014, but out-migration appeared to slow after the end of the Great Recession. The timing of this trend is particularly impactful because it happened just as the millennial generation came of age and began entering the workforce. As a result, the Great Lakes region lost younger workers as other regions saw growth in this cohort.

The region’s workforce is aging, particularly in the manufacturing sector: people ages 45 to 64 account for 46 percent of manufacturing employees, up from 36 percent in 2000. The number of people in the workforce is anticipated to remain flat as baby boomers retire and young people leave the region. The authors predict that this could result in a tight labor market in the 2020s, potentially pushing wages higher if the workforce has skills appropriate for available jobs.

Despite population loss – or perhaps because of it – the region is becoming more racially diverse. The non-Hispanic white population has declined back to 1990 levels, while the African-American population is 17 percent higher than in 1990. The Hispanic population has seen the greatest growth – surging from 800,000 in 1990 to 3.1 million in 2015. Correspondingly, the foreign-born population in the Great Lakes region has grown, but not to the same extent as other parts of the country. The authors argue that efforts to invest in communities of color and mitigate long-standing racial disparities are crucial to the long-term health of the region. People of color are the only growing population cohort in the region, and will make up an increasingly large portion of the local labor force.

While many of the findings of the report are quite sobering, the authors suggest that wise investments in human capital, civic capacity, and community revitalization can help reverse decline by encouraging young people to stay and by sharing prosperity more broadly among residents. Recommended investments include sustainable financial support for upgrading and maintaining water and energy infrastructure to bolster economic development. Critically, these investments cannot be focused only on the largest metropolitan areas in the region. The Great Lakes states’ deep challenges are present – sometimes to an even greater extent – in small cities and rural areas as well, and efforts to restore the region’s prosperity must be fully inclusive of these communities.

New paper explores the connection between economic growth and opportunity in smaller legacy cities

April 26th, 2017

By Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC Manager of Research and Policy

A new report examining the role that funders can play in promoting equitable economic growth in smaller legacy cities was recently released by a collaborative of four Federal Reserve Banks and members of the Funders Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities. The report features case studies from four smaller legacy cities – Cedar Rapids, IA; Chattanooga, TN; Grand Rapids, MI; and Rochester, NY – that have shown some signs of economic revitalization since the Great Recession. The report’s authors travelled to each of these cities to get a better sense of whether there was an “arc of recovery” for revitalizing smaller legacy cities and to see what lessons could be learned from these comparatively strong communities.

Instead of identifying a single arc of recovery, the authors observed that there are truly two arcs of revitalization in smaller cities: an arc of growth and an arc of opportunity. The arc of growth reflects improved economic performance, with stabilized or growing populations, increased jobs, rising household incomes, new business starts, and other signs of economic growth. The arc of opportunity, however, traces how widely the benefits of economic growth are shared within the community. While each of the cities examined were moving steadily along the arc of growth, few of them appeared to have made significant progress in spreading opportunity among all members of the community, particularly low-income and minority residents.

In studying the arc of growth, the authors found important common features among the case study cities. Economic revitalization in each of the communities was kick-started by some kind of catalytic event that convinced local leaders they had to take action. Leaders from a variety of sectors, including the business community and philanthropy, stepped in to address significant challenges. Critically, these leaders – locally-focused funders in particular – could provide access to long-term, patient capital to fund revitalization efforts that did not align well with the time-horizons of public dollars or most private capital. These projects were largely successful in reshaping downtowns, but their benefits did not spill into neighborhoods across the city.

Local stakeholders reported that conversations about revitalization were beginning to acknowledge that economic growth alone may not be sufficient to improve outcomes for all residents. This mirrors the conversation in the academic literature, which is increasingly coalescing around the notion that inclusive growth is more sustainable and robust than growth that only benefits some people. The authors conclude that local funders have a unique role to play in helping to unite the two arcs, due to their access to patient capital for revitalization projects and their role as conveners of cross-sectoral partners. In particular, funders can promote accountability in connecting growth with prosperity by continually raising the “equity question.”  

The authors also identified promising strategies that funders in the four case study cities had begun to pursue to ensure broader access to the benefits of economic growth:

  • Place-based interventions to address poverty: Funders are engaged in multi-generational, multi-pronged approaches to poverty reduction that are focused on a particular neighborhood or community.
  • Policy changes to address poverty: Funders are advocating for policies that help marginalized communities access opportunity and ensure that economic development efforts help alleviate poverty.
  • Focus on preserving affordable housing while revitalizing downtown: Funders are promoting investments in affordable and family-oriented housing near emerging employment centers.
  • Focus on business retention and supply chain recruitment: Funders are encouraging communities to place emphasis on retaining existing businesses through workforce development and focus recruitment efforts on companies in the supply chain of existing industries.
  • Develop new leaders: Funders are guiding communities to focus on ensuring the next two generations of civic leaders are cultivated and will work to connect the arcs of growth and prosperity.
  • Make evidence-based decisions:  Funders use and publicize data on neighborhood and regional conditions.

This piece raises important issues around how to ensure that urban revitalization efforts are equitable and sustainable in smaller legacy cities and beyond. As more communities recover from the Great Recession, these questions will become increasingly important in ensuring long-term growth and prosperity. 

 

Urban Expert Richard Florida Warns of Deepening Crisis of Cities But Believes Mayors Can Help Reverse Course

April 25th, 2017

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate

Last week, University of Toronto professor and urban theorist Richard Florida delivered a series of lectures in Columbus. In front of a large crowd at Ohio State’s Mershon Auditorium, he spoke about his new book, The New Urban Crisis, which describes the worrying decline of the middle class in cities throughout America. After highlighting the major points of the book, Florida asked questions about solving the new urban crisis to Columbus Mayor Andy Ginther, Findlay Mayor Lydia Mihalik, and former Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams.

Florida argues that whereas the urban crises of past decades manifested in the outward movement of people and wealth from city centers into the suburbs, today’s urban crisis is marked by a growing wealth and opportunity gap throughout neighborhoods in cities, including Columbus. While the vestiges of the old urban crisis continue to live on, Florida sees a startling inequality both between various cities and even within cities. Today, a “winner-take-all urbanism” has emerged that sharpens the contrast between “winner” and “loser” cities. As young, talented, and educated, people seek to work together on innovative ideas, they cram themselves together in those areas of concentrated resources and wealth. Even within “winner” cities, suburban areas, along with some traditional urban areas, have experience marked decline and poverty while economic cleavages between neighborhoods have become more pronounced.

Check out Greater Ohio Policy Center’s (GOPC) new blog series on shrinking cities

To combat this modern crisis, Florida believes that mayors must be given the political and fiscal tools to develop local solutions, instead of following a one-size-fits-all federal urban policy, which Florida admits he previously championed. Devolving more responsibility to mayors recognizes the reality of deep social and political differences in America, which were conspicuous during the last presidential election, and allows mayors and community leaders to promote urban policies unique to their cities. In alignment with this idea, Williams believes that Youngstown should take the unconventional step of embracing its “shrinkage,” rather than expending energy on attempts to attract new residents. To do this, the city must develop policies that accept the nature of population decline while seeking to capitalize on the great ideas and creativity already flourishing in Youngstown.

Richard Florida lecture OSU

 Seated Left to Right: Williams, Mihalik, Ginther, and Florida

Ginther, Mihalik, and Florida expressed that improving and expanding local public transportation systems will help boost economic opportunity for struggling families. For residents in many neighborhoods in Columbus, a lack of reliable transportation imposes a barrier to employers and the potential employees seeking work. In Findlay, Mihalik notes that over half of the city’s workforce actually commutes from outside Hancock County; as a result, many people are pushing for bolstering public transportation. Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) supports efforts to connect Ohioans to job opportunities by improving public transportation networks throughout the state.

While many people are encumbered by today’s often divisive national politics, Florida sees less partisanship and more willingness among stakeholders to work together to achieve results at the local level. Florida notes that when he meets mayors, he usually has little idea or concern about whether they are Republican or Democrat, because party identity is less defining of the policies mayors pursue. Mihalik emphasizes the idea that mayors can elevate important public policy discussions, and should do more to promote civil dialogue among citizens. She also believes that leaders need to offer more potential solutions to problems, rather than simply criticizing what they think needs to be fixed. In sum, combining mayoral action with citizen input will help expand economic opportunity for more Ohioans.

 

Shrinking Cities Reading Series Part I: Design After Decline

April 21st, 2017

By Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC Manager of Research and Policy

Read the Introduction to GOPC’s Reading Series on Shrinking Cities

In his book Design After Decline, author Brent Ryan explores the historic role of urban and architectural design in combating (or accelerating) decline in cities and explores how good design can help shrinking cities boost quality of life for residents. Design After Decline argues that shrinking cities may not be able to reverse decline, but they can make cities more equitable for residents living in them.

Ryan begins by looking back at the legacy of urban renewal in the United States, and argues that the end of urban renewal was a double-edged sword for declining cities. It was positive in the sense that it ended the often brutal treatment of existing neighborhoods and residents, but negative because it meant the end of a comprehensive and optimistic government-backed vision for the future of urban communities. Although urban renewal tore apart neighborhoods in favor of massive concrete high rises, government planners (wrongfully, unfortunately) believed that these Modernist buildings could help transform neighborhoods for the better by virtue of the way they were designed.

In a reaction to the overreaches of Modernist urban renewal, the next generation of planners and designers abandoned innovative architectural design in favor of traditional, suburban-style development in what Ryan calls the “era of nonexperimentation”. In Detroit, the city became less dense as existing homes were torn down, leaving either vacant lots or new, low-density suburban style development in their place. Additionally, new development only occurred in a few relatively stable neighborhoods in the city, leaving other neighborhoods to decline. According to Ryan, little of this new development was driven by the interests of residents, which led to relatively limited success. In Philadelphia, however, redevelopment in declining neighborhoods also took a suburban form, but was driven largely by the interests of local residents instead of developers. In part due to its location, North Philadelphia is now contending with the challenge of gentrification instead of decline.

flint2    sidewalk

Ryan finds that neither the approach of urban renewal nor suburban-style development has had much positive impact on the trajectory of shrinking cities, especially as it relates to outcomes for low-income residents. Instead, Ryan sets forth a series of proposals for promoting “social urbanism” in shrinking cities. The idea of social urbanism comes from Medellin, Colombia, where dealing with social issues has been linked squarely to urban design and architecture. The city hopes to create “the most beautiful buildings in the poorest parts of the city,” a lofty goal that Ryan admits will be challenging to achieve in the U.S. Still, he suggests pushing for change even while accepting the constraints of the current system.

Ryan proposes five principles for social urbanist, shrinking-city design. The first is palliative planning, or the recognition that intervention cannot reverse decline, but can only improve quality of life for remaining residents. The second is interventionist policy, or the idea that cities should not hold back from taking risks through bold action. The third is democratic decision making, or an explicit focus on improving the lives of poor residents directly or indirectly. The fourth is projective design which “provides residents with a sense of achieved aspiration and conformance with social ideals” – in other words, housing is attractive and thoughtfully designed, but is still comfortable for the average family. The final principle is patchwork urbanism, or the understanding that development across the city will not be uniform and may create new urban forms over time. Through these urban design interventions, Ryan believes that shrinking cities can be more effective in creating equitable communities for residents.

This article is part of a blog series exploring books and articles written about shrinking cities, or communities that are losing population and dealing with housing vacancy and abandonment. For more information on this series, see the first post “Reading Series on Shrinking Cities”. These summaries are provided only for educational purposes and opinions expressed in these summaries do not necessarily reflect those of Greater Ohio Policy Center.

 

Introduction to GOPC’s Reading Series on Shrinking Cities

April 20th, 2017

By Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC Manager of Research and Policy

Many of GOPC’s followers are likely familiar with the concept of “shrinking cities” – communities that have experienced significant population decline and property abandonment over a period of decades. But what exactly this term means – and the feelings it can provoke – varies from person to person and community to community.

A few cities, including some in Ohio, have decided to embrace the concept of shrinking and are refocusing their planning efforts on how to “right-size” the city’s infrastructure for a smaller population. Others, also in Ohio, have rejected the idea and are implementing strategies to regrow their populations. Neither choice is necessarily right or wrong, but the question of how to deal with substantial population decline is one that most of Ohio’s legacy cities will have to answer. 

While “shrinking cities” as a concept is still relatively new in the United States, academics and urban planners have started to explore the question of how U.S. cities can manage population decline. As part of a literature study led by Dr. Mattijs Van Maasakkers at The Ohio State University, Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC’s Manager of Research & Policy, read a series of academic books and articles exploring the complex questions surrounding shrinking cities. Because the issues arising in shrinking cities align closely with GOPC’s mission of urban revitalization and sustainable growth, we will be launching a new blog series that summarizes some of the books and articles that were the most interesting or relevant in Ohio.

Portsmouth Historic Buildings 2

A key theme that runs throughout much of the literature on shrinking cities is a re-examination of the concept of growth. Can a city “grow” even if it is shrinking? Are there opportunities to create greater prosperity and opportunity for residents even in the face of population decline? These are important questions for people who work in or care about cities with declining populations. We hope that these summaries provoke even more questions and raise some ideas for paths forward.

We will be posting these summaries over a series of weeks. If there’s a book, article, or other work about shrinking cities that you’ve found useful or interesting and want to see covered – please let us know. 

This article is part of a blog series exploring books and articles written about shrinking cities, or communities that are losing population and dealing with housing vacancy and abandonment. For more information on this series, see the first post “Reading Series on Shrinking Cities”. These summaries are provided only for educational purposes and opinions expressed in these summaries do not necessarily reflect those of Greater Ohio Policy Center.