Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Urban Revitalization Diaspora

The London School of Economics (LSE) has issued a report detailing how 7 European cities "survived the destruction of manufacturing and the 1980s recessions to reinvent themselves as centres of innovation and inspiration." As you might imagine, Rust Belt boosters are interested:

That success has drawn international admirers. Parlaying the benefits of innovation and research clusters into cleaning up inner city areas is "smart economically, and sustainably, since densely built cities use less energy and generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions," says Bruce Katz, director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Washington-based Brookings Institution. "The revival of older industrial cities in Europe has much to teach their counterparts in the U.S."

But there are differences. American cities are typified by much greater urban sprawl than that seen in Europe. "If you take population loss and job losses, the American cities have gone through very dramatic shrinkage and vastly greater suburban expansion," says Anne Power, professor of social policy at the LSE, and one of the guide's authors. With public funding for redevelopment is often less available in the U.S., "the result," says Katz, is "weaker city cores [and] the rise of an exit ramp economy. We need a 180-degree turn in federal and state policies in the U.S."

That's not to say there aren't bright spots. Industrial jobs and residents disappeared from the Tennessee city of Chattanooga in the 1980s, but thanks to a local task force, its downtown stands revitalized, with newly created hospitality and leisure sector jobs boosting employment and income levels far more quickly than in comparable cities through the '90s. Elsewhere in the U.S. old industrial towns seem keen to learn, at least. Greater Ohio, a network of groups working to revitalize cities in the state, recently ordered 60 copies of the LSE's guide to distribute to local city mayors "as a way of giving them inspiration and aspirations," says Lavea Brachman, Greater Ohio's co-director and a senior fellow at Brookings. "We here in Ohio, need inspiration." As the U.S. heads deeper into a recession you can bet they aren't the only ones.

Given the different geographic contexts of Europe and the United States, a closer look at the Chattanoogas might be more useful for Greater Ohio. Heck, commission the LSE to study America's own Postindustrial Magnificent Seven. But the University of Akron would do in a pinch.

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