Successful strategies for revitalizing post-industrial cities - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Successful strategies for revitalizing post-industrial cities

“Retrofitting old, damaged, and unfashionable cities for future use is a distinctly unAmerican idea. We prefer to throw away our damaged goods and start fresh with something new. But much value remains, even in the wake of ongoing population loss. It would be tremendously wasteful to abandon existing urban infrastructure and the embodied energy it represents, and to write off the vast cultural resources and the millions of people who still call these cities home.” 

Terry Schawrz, Director, Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative,
in a op-ed in
The New York Times, 3/28/2011 

This week, I’ve been captivated by The New York Times’ healthy online debate about “The Incredible Shrinking City.” The quote above was particularly salient to me as MPC dives deeper into the Gary and Region Investment Project, a multi-year effort to advance key transformative investments that can revitalize Northwest Indiana and its urban core communities. 

Call them “shrinking,” call them post-Industrial, call them Rust Belt – whatever you call them, there’s no doubt that the 2010 Census has reinvigorated discussion of cities that have been and continue to struggle with population loss. Cleveland, Buffalo, Detroit, Flint, Pittsburgh—these and a handful of other cities tend to be top of mind when planners and policy makers bemoan urban population loss. And, in fact, I’ll be speaking at a forum sponsored by The Community Design Center of Pittsburgh next Monday, April 4, sharing strategies MPC has used successfully to strengthen regional coordination, and civic and business engagement—strategies such as employer-assisted housing and strategic municipal collaboration. From there, I’m heading to Washington D.C. for a Brookings Institution convening with a handful of cutting-edge regional policy entrepreneurs. I’m looking forward to both opportunities to deepen my own understanding of and access to tools that can help formerly industrial areas such as Cook County’s inner suburbs and Northwest Indiana revitalize. 

I’m also pleased to announce MPC is hosting a local event when GRIP kicks off its Urban Exchange series on April 27, with keynote speaker Mayor Jay Williams of Youngstown, Ohio. Designed to share best practices from across the country, inspire local leadership, and draw more national attention to Gary and Northwest Indiana, the GRIP Urban Exchange series, sponsored in part by NIPSCO, will bring leaders of other successful redevelopment efforts to Northwest Indiana throughout the coming year. 

We’re thrilled to host Mayor Williams on April 27, both at an Urban Exchange event in Gary that morning, and for an MPC-Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning roundtable discussion at our Loop Conference Center at noon. Mayor Williams has increasingly been recognized as a national leader in rethinking the way we invest in our urban communities. He’s told us that he is excited to have the opportunity to support Northwest Indiana’s efforts and share his region’s challenges and successes firsthand with people who refuse to give up on their communities. The Times of Northwest Indiana recently highlighted Mayor Williams’ efforts in its excellent Rust Belt Resurgence series: 

Though they are certainly distinct places, Youngstown and Gary (and its neighbors) share many challenges common to Rust Belt cities. Data from the 2010 U.S. Census show that population continues to contract in Youngstown and Gary as the effects of deindustrialization deepen. Between 2000 and 2010, Youngstown lost 18 percent of its people while Gary lost 22 percent. Today, population in both cities is less than half of the historic high reached in 1960. 

Faced with the stark realization that the people and industry lost in the last several decades aren’t going to return, Youngstown has adopted an innovative approach to revitalization: The city has decided it will shrink its footprint. By concentrating population and commerce in specific areas—and by capitalizing on existing strengths—Youngstown is creating a model for other Rust Belt towns making the transition to a 21st Century economy. 

Back in Northwest Indiana, GRIP’s aim of targeted reinvestment in existing assets is aligning with the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission’s 2040 Regional Comprehensive Plan, which calls for sustainable growth within Northwest Indiana’s urban communities; the work of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, which is leading the charge to implement the Marquette Plan through strategic reinvestment near transit, lakefront, and job corridors in Northwest Indiana; and Urban Land Institute-Chicago’s Lakefront Heritage Corridor initiative. Much like Mayor Williams is leading not just a city effort, but a regional effort that encompasses greater Youngstown, GRIP will only be successful if it supports and is supported by the entire Northwest Indiana region.

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