Earlier this month Metropolitan Institute Associate Director Joseph Schilling and Alan Mallach of the Brookings Institution were in Los Angeles at the American Planning Association’s annual conference promoting the new PAS report on Cities in Transition. The report offers practicing planners a comprehensive menu of place-based strategies for addressing different dimensions of urban distress—from the reclamation of vacant properties to rebuilding local government and civic capacity. Schilling and Mallach view cities in transition through a typology that includes older industrial, shrinking cities, fast growing boom-n-bust cities, declining first tier suburbs and small, but growing gateway cities. All of these cities, large and small, east and west, share similar challenges of trying to confront the convergence of many socioeconomic transitions.
Distressed cities typically have chronic or acute urban decline, decreasing revenue and resources, loss of population, and high rates of poverty and crime, etc. These challenges are often concentrated in poor neighborhoods, but are now spreading to more stable neighborhoods thanks in part to our overall economic downturn. Today cities of all stripes face changes in maintaining previous or consistent growth rates as they goes through their own sets of transitions. Many cities exacerbate the problems by failing to strategically target existing resources.
In light of these complexities, the report sets forth a strategic policy planning framework that could help communities create new visions and coordinate all of these moving pieces into a more efficient suite of policy and planning interventions. Schilling explains, “Planners in distressed cities should reflect on the past, assess the present, and realign resources. It’s important for planners to break old habits and think critically about the city’s slower growth trajectory.” The report will help planners and community leaders recalibrate classic planning strategies and tools, such as comprehensive plans and zoning codes to be consistent and effective within the new reality. The report contains excerpts of “Text Box Interviews” that examine the realities of planning in distressed cities through the eyes of planners and community leaders who are experimenting with new approaches. The complete interview as well as additional interviews can be found at the Institute’s Vacant Properties Research Network site.
The PAS report on Cities in Transition was a joint project with the American Planning Association with support from The Ford Foundation’s Metropolitan program and is part of the Metropolitan Institute’s larger Vacant Property Research Initiative. Copies may be purchased at at APA Bookstore.