Summer is a wonderful season for re-reading old books and taking long, contemplative walks with my dogs and a good cigar. This past weekend I (re)discovered Comeback Cities by Paul Grogan and Tony Proscio. This seminal book was written in 2000 when we were only first beginning to see the revival, repopulation, reinvestment and renaissance in American Cities. After years of decline and disinvestment, the book struck me as somewhere between visionary and wishful thinking at the time.
How many American cities were working well in 2000? Maybe a handful. New York City was beginning to clean up its act under Mayor Rudolf Giuliani and the growing impact of Business Improvement Districts (BIDS). Portland, OR was seeing center city revival led by a growing light rail system and Denver was experiencing substantial residential growth in LoDo around the new Coors Field. Finding a successful American City to benchmark was a challenge in 2000 but no more.
As Mayor John Cranley of Cincinnati likes to say, downtown Cincinnati is “on fire!” We recently had a chance to showcase our center city by hosting the 2015 Major League Baseball All Star Game. People from more than 200 countries (and the vast television audience) got to see our spectacular riverfront/Smale Riverfront Park, the vitality of the central business district featuring distinctive architecture old and new, and once downtrodden, now hip Over-the-Rhine. All of these areas are bustling with a diverse array of residents and businesses helping to reinforce a walkable urban environment and a growing tax base.
We are very grateful to Major League Baseball and the owner of the
Cincinnati Reds, Bob Castellini (and his team) for selecting Cincinnati for the All Star Game. There are so many wonderful, vital cities from which to choose. Last year it was Minneapolis and next year San Diego. Organizations like CEO’s for Cities have played a vital role in identifying and sharing best practices such as place-based economic development, mixed-use development, attention to diversity, multi-modal transportation, breakthrough research, and securing the environment through “safe/clean” programs and the innovative use of public/private partnerships.
Today, the resurgence of American cities is the norm. It is amazing, as we rediscover Comeback Cities, that is has only been 15 or 20 years since we first recognized this trend. I am confident this success will become a “flywheel” propelling us to even greater, more innovative and inclusive things to come.
A Growth & Opportunity Approach to Economic Development
At the Fund for Our Economic Future, you hear a lot about Growth & Opportunity as a driving strategy and a key to strengthening Northeast Ohio’s economy. Sounds like a good thing, right? Who doesn’t like growth? Who wouldn’t want there to be more opportunity?
Now reread that first sentence and put the emphasis on the “&.” That’s the special part—and the most challenging. The problem is that just focusing on creating jobs is not enough, and can actually hurt a region. It may seem incongruous, but research shows that metros that experience big increases in job growth often also see increases in poverty, income disparity and even crime.
Strengthening and sustaining the Northeast Ohio economy requires a coordinated effort to 1) create more good-paying jobs with advancement potential, 2) better prepare residents for those jobs, and 3) improve access to those jobs. In other words, we must not only create jobs, we must consider, too, the job’s wage, who it goes to and where it is located. That’s Growth & Opportunity.
What does it look like in practice?
The Fund set out to answer that question in this recently released video (produced by Airhead Media of Cleveland). It illustrates what we know from research: Too many of our citizens have been left out of the region’s recovery. One in 20 Northeast Ohioans lives in an area of economic distress, where less than 65 percent of the working-age population is employed or looking for work, and where median household income is in the bottom quartile. These areas tend to be job-creation “deserts,” with residents isolated by limited access to reliable transportation and held back by lack of needed skills for the jobs that are available.
A key part of the Fund’s work centers on establishing a baseline understanding of how economic growth and opportunity are linked and why both are integral to supporting and strengthening the region’s recovery. Meaningful progress on Growth & Opportunity requires working collaboratively and across boundaries—organizational, geographic and political. It requires that public, private and civic leaders recognize the importance of Growth & Opportunity to economic vitality, and embrace the role they can play by building the principles of Growth & Opportunity into their own organizations’ goals and strategies.
For Forest City, Growth & Opportunity is about creating that much sought-after “rising tide” that truly lifts all boats. It’s about helping to foster an even stronger community that we continue to call home. Our involvement in the Fund is an extension of the tradition established by our founders of giving back, and a function of our belief that we in Northeast Ohio can accomplish so much more working together than we can separately.
The WorkAdvance pilot (in partnership with Towards Employment) highlighted in the video is just one example of the many efforts happening around the region to advance Growth & Opportunity. We certainly hope this will help encourage more.
Contact the Fund if you’d like to know more or get involved in Growth & Opportunity efforts happening in your community.
Jeff Linton is senior vice president, Corporate Communications and Community Relations, for Forest City Enterprises Inc. In his role, Linton has responsibility for communications planning and strategy, corporate identity and branding, issues management, investor relations, media relations, and internal communication. In addition, he is responsible for community relations, corporate philanthropy and the administration of FOCUS PAC, the company’s political action committee.Before joining Forest City in 2007, Linton was a managing director of Dix & Eaton, a nationally known public relations and investor relations consultancy, where he led the firm’s transaction communications practice.
Memphis is a truly unique place. The city has come into itself with the currents of the Mississippi River, washing up a spirit that birthed the home of Blues, Soul and Rock n Roll, combined with a rich cultural history that proved what can happen when citizens are truly connected to one another.
The challenges that Memphis faces are not unlike those in other cities, but the DNA of our city distinctly shapes the way we address them. We’ve brought forth some of the most innovative solutions to common problems. Memphis has a way to look at things from a perspective that is all our own. The modern grocery store, the family travel hotel, and accessible overnight shipping are all byproducts of Memphis’ creative thinking.
These things did not happen overnight, and they didn’t happen by accident. They happened because companies and people with means, courage, and commitment were joined by the vision and enthusiasm of those who wanted something better.
As Memphis continues to evolve, our latest Renaissance has brought us full circle. As a prime example, look to the Memphis Grizzlies, who were met with skepticism as they struggled through their first 23-59 season in the aging Pyramid arena. The now perpetually playoff-bound Grizzlies bring people together across every strata of the city with the common idea that “we believe.” The Pyramid itself, moth-balled for a decade, has turned into the country’s most dynamic retail operation in Bass Pro Shop. We are getting increasingly skilled at seeing our strengths and standing together to lift ourselves up, rather than being resigned to past disappointments. From this culture comes another interesting opportunity: bike share.
One could simply introduce bike share as a modern amenity and risk reinforcing the idea that “bike share is for the young professional” or “bike share is for the tourist,” which translates to “bike share is for someone other than me.” But the reality of Memphis is that everyone is a spokesperson. Cultivating and crafting a system does not only mean adding a cultural asset, but shaping a whole new transportation solution. To this end, we have created Explore Bike Share, a replicable community-based effort to investigate how bike share can best serve the distinct needs of Memphis.
We know that bike share is a way to bridge physical gaps between different communities and cultures. It is away to tie the citizens of Memphis to each other once again. But if we don’t listen to citizens from all over Memphis, we have little hope of creating a successful system. We have set up community input sessions throughout the city, are activating a street team to raise awareness, and are actively seeking feedback in-person and online. The solution we find may be unique to Memphis, but the way we find it can be recreated in any metropolitan area.
One of things Memphis has never shied away from is the attention it gets from the rest of the country, as we boldly accept who we are and move toward a vision of who we want to be. We welcome that critical eye as we explore bike share in a collaborative way that will yield a more productive, useful and equitable result. This is a city that has always faced challenges head-on, and we look forward to facing this exciting new opportunity with the openness and creativity that defines Memphis.
As founder and principal of doug carpenter & associates and a dedicated Memphian, Doug is active in many civic endeavors. He is a former chairman of the Board of Trustees for Downtown Memphis Ministries, Inc., a former member of the University of Memphis Tigers Athletic Advisory Board of Directors, was founding Chairman of the Board for Crosstown Arts Organizations, and is a member of Soulsville Foundation Advocates International. He was part of the investment and creative team behind Tennessee Brewery: Untapped, an innovative 6-week previtalization event highlighting unexplored opportunities for historic properties.
We asked Mayor Nancy Vaughan of Greensboro, NC to speak with us about what Greensboro is doing to become more economically inclusive.
“ Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” – John F. Kennedy
Leaders in Greensboro, North Carolina take the sentiment in this quote from John F. Kennedy to heart.
The community is increasingly diverse. With representatives from 98 countries, speaking 24 languages, Greensboro’s schools are more diverse than comparable urban areas in North Carolina.
Community demographics are changing in other ways as well. The city has a growing older population but workforce replacement by millennials is lagging.
Though unemployment is down and development activity and home values are increasing, the number of households in Greensboro at or below the poverty level has almost doubled since 2000.
How is Greensboro adjusting to these changes in order to have a bright future?
There are five major initiatives underway in Greensboro to address inclusive economic growth:
Small Business Loans: The CDFI (Greensboro Community Development Fund) formerly known as the Greensboro Venture Capital Fund has been created to stimulate the creation of jobs and economic activity in the Greensboro area. By providing debt financing (including subordinate debt) to minority- or female-owned businesses, the fund assists those businesses in obtaining conventional commercial loans, allowing new and expanding businesses to grow and prosper.
Minority and Women Business Enterprises (M/WBE): The goal of the M/WBE Program is to promote equal opportunity, grow capacity and foster sustainable business development for M/WBE firms in Greensboro and the surrounding market.
Greensboro-Randolph Mega Site: The Greensboro-Randolph Mega Site is planned as the home for a major employer that would provide new manufacturing and supporting jobs, benefitting the Greensboro Triad region. The City of Greensboro is working in coordination with Randolph County and State Officials on design work to develop plans to extend water and sewer services to the 1,800 acres of undeveloped land south of Guilford County in the town of Liberty, NC. Once completed, the Mega Site will be uniquely positioned to serve as a home site for an automobile manufacturer and or any kind of advanced manufacturing facility.
Collective Community Workforce Initiatives: As a city, Greensboro is ripe with workforce and entrepreneurial development support. The Guilford County Workforce Development Board serves as a liaison between the business community and the workforce. The board is charged with connecting companies to employee training and workforce development, as well as to multiple entrepreneurial and start-up programs. Opportunities abound for business and residents to grow into their next career.
Incubators: The Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship, Inc. (NCFE), is a private non-profit corporation founded in 1987 to enhance start up business development in Greensboro and the surrounding area. To accomplish this, the NCFE operates a business incubator located in the heart of Greensboro. The incubator is designed to support non-retail, new or emerging businesses. The Center provides modestly priced office and light manufacturing space along with shared support services such as business counseling, a receptionist, mailboxes, and data entry.
Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts: The Tanger Center will be a state-of-the-art facility with approximately 3,000 seats to serve multiple functions, ranging from Broadway shows to the Bryan Series to symphony performances to comedians, pop and jazz concerts and family entertainment
A closer look at the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts
The Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts is a $65 million project that recently broke ground. It will anchor a multi-cultural district, connecting the library, parks and other downtown institutions. The Center will also serve as a catalyst for new downtown development. In an effort to promote business diversity, all construction partners for the Center agreed to use at least 20% MWBE businesses.
According to the AMS Planning and Research Corporation report, the Tanger Center will bring $7.3-10.1 million annually to the local economy. It is projected to bring 268 jobs once the venue is operational.
In 2000, Greensboro lost advanced manufacturing jobs related to the aerospace industry as part of the downward shift in the economy. When the jobs left, it was believed that, due to the cyclical nature of the economy, unemployment levels would bounce back without government intervention. Mayor Vaughan recognizes that unemployment issues need to be addressed deliberately in order for economic recovery to occur. She and leadership in Greensboro are working to ensure economic prosperity for all residents.
No, I am not a Cleveland fan JUST because of Lebron James…
At the end of junior year, many students do not know what they want to do with the rest of their life, or even what they want to do next month. This was me (and it still is me in some ways.) However, unlike most, I knew where I wanted to spend my summer, and generally how I wanted to spend it. Cleveland is a city very dear to me. My father and his entire family grew up in Cleveland, and since I attend Denison University, I visit quite often.
When I think of Cleveland, it brings nothing but good memories with my family to mind, such as visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, having a lovely dinner at Blue Point Grille, and taking walks by the lake. I have known since freshman year of college that I wanted to live and work in Cleveland someday. This is why I was ecstatic to find a perfect internship at CEOs for Cities through the Summer on the Cuyahoga (SOTC) summer internship program. Since my acceptance in April, I had been awaiting this summer of new experiences and adventures. Now, here it is!
The Real Deal
Before coming to Cleveland, I was anxious, nervous, and a bit panicked. Along with starting a new (and first) internship, meeting my new roommate, meeting my co-workers, and leaving my family, I also had to learn how to live in the city. Completely overwhelmed, I did not think I was going to be able to do any of these things or enjoy them.
However, I was completely wrong. In the first few hours in Cleveland, I realized what Summer on the Cuyahoga, or SOTC, really was, instead of just reading about it on the website and hearing about it from others who had been in the program. SOTC recruits students from eight elite colleges: Case Western, Colgate, Cornell, Denison, Ohio Wesleyan, Smith, University of Chicago, and Yale.
During my first day, I was able to meet at least one person from each of these schools, which made me realize how unique this opportunity is. SOTC partners with for-profit and non-profit organizations in the Cleveland area, providing summer internships for students from the colleges I mentioned. This is how I became interested in CEOs for Cities. SOTC not only allows students to explore professional options in the Cleveland area, but also a variety of social activities that are central to Cleveland. SOTC provides the opportunity for students to sign up for as many events as they want, which I really appreciate about the program. SOTC understands that we have other priorities with our internships, but still gives the option to attend what we wish.
After getting acclimated and settled into my new living space on Saturday and Sunday, it was time for my first day of work on Monday. I was so nervous that I could barely speak when I walked into the office that morning. Instantly, I was warmly welcomed by CEOs for Cities’ staff and my nerves were calmed after just five minutes of speaking with my new co-workers and boss. I immediately fell in love with the organization. After learning more about CEOs for Cities, I found that much of their work is exactly what I am studying at Denison University – social justice, environmental planning, civic involvement, and innovative energy, are a few of the areas in which CEOs for Cities is involved.
Welcome to Cleveland… Now, on to Pittsburgh!
My second day at CEOs for Cities was not your typical second day of work. It consisted of driving to Pittsburgh and setting up for the organization’s 2015 City Cluster Workshop. The main topic of the workshop was inclusive economic growth, which I define as improving wealth and opportunity by engaging the community, maintaining equity, building connections, and promoting talent and innovative thinking.
What I thought was going to be one of the hardest three days ever, actually turned out to be one of the most exciting and fun experiences that I could have ever imagined. It was my first time visiting Pittsburgh and I was very impressed with the warm and welcoming environment, as well as the progress that the city has with-gone.
In addition to exploring a new city, I was able to meet various speakers, mayors from many different cities, experts and CEOs from several corporations. It was such an empowering and inspirational moment when I realized I was surrounded by some of the most prominent and influential leaders in the country. It is a feeling that I will never forget. One of these influential leaders is Mayor Bill Peduto, who gave an insightful and captivating speech on the “old” and “new” Pittsburgh. His speech, along with a video of the “old” Pittsburgh, demonstrated the immense change that city leaders and community members can make. Other main takeaways from the speeches and discussions that resonated most are:
Intentionally inclusive vs. unintentionally exclusive, meaning that is crucial for leaders to fully engage everyone in a community rather than giving opportunities to some more than others. Inclusion must be incorporated into daily life; don’t just create a silo for engagement.
Small Bets, or measurable progress in incremental steps helps show meaningful successes in a community. As Peter Sims said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it. It all starts with a little bet.”
The “Just” City, which is a value-based approach for planning and development created by Toni Griffin. According to Griffin, a just city must include equity, connectivity, access, inclusion, choice, diversity, participation, creative innovation, beauty and ownership. “When equity isn’t enough, design of the just city”. –Toni L. Griffin.
John Wilburn’s three approaches to shaping the future that sets the stage for a talented community. The first step is “Burr under the Saddle: early childhood education matters. Next is “Catch and Release”, which is identifying the issue and creating a solution. The last step is “We can do It!” that includes building a coalition of talented leaders who help increase degree attainment and focusing on access and persistence.
The Cluster Workshop not only featured presentations and discussions led by keynote speakers and expert resources, but also provided the attendees with tours of different parts of Pittsburgh. I went on the Uptown Eco Innovation trip, which was a field trip of the various innovations in the Uptown neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The project focus areas include environmental benchmarking, transportation improvements, and community involvement.
The 2015 Pittsburgh Cluster Workshop also gave me the wonderful opportunity to bond with my co-workers… to the point that I felt empty without them when I returned to my apartment on the final day. What resonated most with me during the three days was that the most important factor of success is working together. Each staff member was assigned certain responsibilities, such as reporting on speeches, working at the registration and literature table, and preparing microphones for attendees with questions.
Although we each had different tasks, we all worked together as a team to accomplish them. CEOs for Cities is an ideal example of an organization that values each staff member’s unique qualities and abilities in a respectful and enjoyable environment, while efficiently accomplishing what needs to be done. I noticed that each person’s ideas and opinions are appreciated and each person is treated equally. Everyone helps one another, regardless the help that may be needed. I am sure that without these core values and attributes of this organization, the workshop would not have been the success that it was.
I wish I could discuss every single aspect of CEOs for Cities’ 2015 Cluster Workshop, however, there is too much for just one blog post! Check out more insight and information on the speakers, expert resources, discussions, and anything else from the 2015 Cluster Workshop in Pittsburgh.
ABOUT MADISON VANSCODER Madison is a City Fellow with CEOs for Cities. She is an environmental studies major at Denison University, and has studied piano since she was five. She plans to move to Cleveland after graduation.
Knoxville is in an enviable position as the home of the University of Tennessee, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Scripps Networks Interactive (which runs many cable channels) – all of which attract well-educated people and drive the local economy. Knoxville is a green haven, featuring many parks and greenways as well as a 1,000-acre Urban Wilderness with 40 miles of hiking and biking trails inside the city limits. The Great Smoky Mountains National Parks is only 30 miles away. Downtown is thriving, with nearly every historical building redeveloped and block after block of ground-level retail shops animating the city center.
Yet no place is perfect, concedes Laurens Tullock, president of The Cornerstone Foundation of Knoxville. He believes the biggest challenge for the community is “aligning all of our resources to reach our full potential when there is no sense of crisis.”
The local CEOs for Cities City Cluster aids that cause, says Tammy White, president of Leadership Knoxville. The group meets socially once a month to exchange thoughts across the many fields represented at the table, and came together for a debrief after the 2014 Cleveland Connected City Workshop. “We loved hearing what was happening in other places.”
Tullock notes the downtown’s revival is now spreading out to adjacent inner ring districts, with a $160 million mixed-use project on the site of the old Baptist Hospital across the river to the south, and $1 billion in capital improvements to the University of Tennessee campus to the west. There are also discussing of a major new theater center.
Public, private, and community attention is also being directed at Downtown North, a neighborhood commercial corridor that extends from Downtown beyond the I-40 freeway that was once associated with dive bars and abandoned buildings. The city built bike lanes and implemented a road diet (an innovation where wide roads are narrowed to create more public space and a welcoming street environment). The city arranged tax-increment financing, facade improvement grants and the incentives for developers who began to buy and redevelop blighted properties. The long-established Time Warp Tea Room (a music club and vintage motorcycle gallery) soon saw new neighbors, igniting a sense that things were changing. The Three Rivers Market food co-op and the beloved Magpies Bakery relocated to the area, joined by Holly’s Corner restaurant and other local shops and music venues. The area’s rich tradition as an entertainment district, known as Happy Holler, is now celebrated by the annual Hollerpalooza music festival.
“It takes both public and private dollars to turn around an area,” explains Mayor Madeline Rogero. “Everywhere I go, people are asking for more and better. They are excited about the private and public investments in a revitalized downtown and the rebuilding of the urban commercial corridors. They flock downtown and new local shops are being opened in the urban core. The city’s Cumberland Ave Project is a perfect example of where our $17 million in planned public improvements has already generated over $200 million in private investment, and where – as a result of an extensive public process – merchants, property owners, neighbors, the University, and two major hospitals are aligned in their vision for the future of this area.”
By Steve Wright, Communications Manager, PlusUrbia //
Universal Design: “The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. — Ronald L. Mace, the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University.
Universal Design – What It’s Not
Universal design means many things to many people. But anyone who has used a wheelchair for mobility can tell you what it is NOT:
An outdoor lift as the only means of wheelchair access. Keys required to operate the lifts get lost, parts rust in the elements and the enclosures around the lifts become filled with garbage and worse.
A park designed only with non-disabled visitors in mind, with winding staircases, inaccessible water features and restrooms with barriers. Disabled visitors are served only by ugly retrofits that segregate them from the main pedestrian routes and experiences.
So what is Universal Design?
It’s an essential element of modern placemaking. And why do we need it? Because more than 50 million people in America have some level of disability that impacts their daily routine. It’s about serving America’s largest minority group.
Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York
A growing number of architects, landscape architects, engineers, town planners and designers are creating warm, welcoming public spaces while embracing Universal Design as an essential element from Day One. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates placed so much emphasis on Universal Design in its creation of Brooklyn Bridge Park that the park’s website has a prominent link which details all of the accessible features, including on its piers. The park’s barrier-free greenway stretches for more than a mile along the East River waterfront.
The most dramatic piece of Universal Design is the 396-foot-long Squibb Bridge, a pedestrian bridge connecting Squibb Park at the north end of the historic Brooklyn Heights Promenade with Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The eight-foot-wide bridge has gentle slopes, handrails and dramatic vistas of the Manhattan skyline, Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge. It zigzags through tall oaks, between buildings and over a street, descending 30 feet in elevation from its start to endpoint.
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, designer of the acclaimed Brooklyn Bridge Park, prefers landscape-based solutions to accessibility, with gentle slopes versus lifts or elevators.
While some prominent master planners have balked at Universal Design and fought to build brand new facilities with grand staircases as the principal entry, with accessible routes hidden off to the side, the Van Valkenburgh firm embraces creative approaches to designing for all.
Liquid Planning, Detroit
In Detroit, MAde Studio has made Universal Design central to its transformation of a long-abandoned railway cut into a greenway. The proposed project provides barrier-free access to historic neighborhoods, some largely vacant and in need of great civic space to spark rebirth.
Architects Jen Maigret and Maria Arquero have designed an urban greenway out of Dequindre Cut, a railway created in the 1920s to move freight to industrial hubs in the growing city. Near the Detroit River, the cut is at grade, but as it moves north, it is more than 25 feet below grade.
Turning a former railway into greenway and building frequent, accessible connections to the city fabric was a challenge for MAde’s Liquid Planning Detroit. A grade change of 12 feet at historic Eastern Market is addressed with a series of generous ramps and landings that integrate spaces for sitting, eating and mingling.
Independence National History Park, Philadelphia + Bryant Park, New York
Many architects and planners have claimed that historic properties in urban locations are impossible to retrofit with Universal Design. The innovative team at Olin disagrees.
The ramps the firm designed for Bryant Park in New York, connect the upper dining terrace to the mid-level walkways under the trees and at the lowest level lawn area. The ramps were blended into the original ornamental stonework with granite balustrades copied from those elsewhere in the park, but modified for the sloping ground plane of the ramps.
Millennium Park, Chicago
Chicago’s 25-acre Millennium Park earned a Barrier-Free America Award from the Paralyzed Veterans of America. The park’s original grandiose design featured lots of grand staircases and other elements that were not conducive to Universal Design, and thus inaccessible to wheelchair users.
The Crown Fountain, designed by Catalan artist Jaume Plensa and executed by Krueck and Sexton Architects of Chicago, is composed of a black granite reflecting pool placed between a pair of 50-foot glass brick towers that display digital videos on their inward faces. The fountain’s reflecting pool has no more than a quarter inch lip at any place, making it a completely accessible mini water park.
Always a Dream Play Park, Fremont, CA
Berkeley-based MIG was founded in 1982 to focus on planning, designing and sustaining environments that support human development, so it is natural that inclusivity is ingrained in the firm’s DNA.
One of its more recent projects was the one-acre Always a Dream Play Park in Fremont, California, funded by Kristi Yamaguchi’s Always Dream Foundation. The park has rubber mounds that a wheelchair user can navigate, as well as a small hill that can be traversed via gentle slopes.
ABOUT STEVE WRIGHT
Wright is Communications Manager for PlusUrbia, an urban and architectural design firm in Miami. A public affairs journalist and marketer of town planning, he has published more than 1,000 articles about Universal Design and the built environment. A caregiver to an ADA professional who uses a wheelchair, he was the Senior Urban Policy Advisor for the Chairman of the Miami City Commission.
By David Dixon FAIA, Leader, Stantec‘s Urban Places Group //
In the wake of 9/11, author Stephen Johnson wrote in Wired that “density kills” and advocated turning to the decentralized vision of Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1939 Broadacre City as a way of protecting Americans in the future. As it turns out, he got it backwards: Density saves lives. The contemporary affinity for higher-density, mixed-use, walkable places in cities and suburbs alike arguably represents the single most significant contribution to public health — for those who can afford them — since World War II.
Five years before the Wired article, the Centers for Disease Control had already reported that inactivity and poor diet caused “300,000 deaths in the United States…second only to tobacco.” That landmark study placed much of the blame on low-density, typically suburban environments whose physical layout encouraged auto trips at the expense of walking, leading to increased rates of obesity, diabetes, and auto fatalities. Today, the health benefits of urban densities are compelling. The incidence of chronic health problems in walkable urban neighborhoods is generally lower than in typical suburban and exurban neighborhoods. A 2008 report by University of Utah researchers found that men who lived in walkable neighborhoods weighed 10 pounds less than men in low-density neighborhoods, a recent Journal of Transport and Health article links cities with more compact street networks to lower levels of obesity, diabetes, high bloop pressure and heart disease.
Walkability is not an automatic product of density, nor is it restricted to cities. “Walkable densities” outside of downtowns begin at roughly 40-60 units per acre, which translates into one to two thousand households within a five- to ten-minute walk of a neighborhood Main Street. Achieving these densities requires elected leaders willing to make the case for change and developers who understand mixed-use development. Zoning and other regulations, written to enable auto-focused development, often need updating to make denser and more walkable development possible. In many communities introducing walkable density also requires innovative public/private partnerships to work through financial gaps in still-recovering markets or to raise funds to transform brownfields. But even with these ingredients in place, a lingering fear of change — particularly in the form of density — often presents an additional hurdle. In these cases the process starts by engaging the community in planning for a healthier future by providing information and tools to understand the benefits and costs of well-designed density.
The payback from density extends beyond physical health. Walkable neighborhoods promote economic health by attracting knowledge workers and investment and promote environmental health by creating an inviting alternative to sprawl. From Dublin, Ohio, to Sandy Springs, Georgia, to Brampton, Ontario, suburban communities and their leaders increasingly recognize these benefits and have assembled the same ingredients to create a new generation of higher-density, mixed-use, walkable downtowns. However, even as we succeed in redirecting planning toward the creation of denser, healthier neighborhoods, one more task demands our attention.
The benefits of density generate an “amenity paradox” that threatens to translate America’s already egregious wealth gap into a widening health gap between rich and poor. Life-filled, walkable, transit-served neighborhoods have delivered the goods in ways that Jane Jacobs prophesized 50 years ago — with the glaring exception of diversity. Ten percent of U.S. households control 75 percent of all U.S. wealth. They, along with their slightly less affluent peers, are consuming walkable neighborhoods at a voracious rate. This demand is bidding up housing costs and forcing poorer residents into less healthy, car-dependent environments. For the first time in America’s history more poor people live in suburbs than cities. Clustered increasingly at the fringes of car-centric suburbs, yet often unable to afford a reliable car, they are isolated from access to health care — and jobs, education, and support networks.
Nor is this a passing trend. Demographer and economist Chris Nelson projects that over the next 30 years the U.S. will experience a growing shortage of transit-oriented housing. As we employ density to create healthy neighborhoods, we also need to employ it to create equity. The challenge is not market acceptance. Housing economist Laurie Volk points out that many people who choose urban lifestyles seek diversity. In a time of constrained public resources, the answer won’t lie in public dollars. Where possible, we need to tap the rising value of amenity-rich urban neighborhoods to fund the mixed-income housing that makes the concept of diversity real. Density bonuses in return for increased affordability, inclusionary zoning and public benefit agreements represent potential strategies. More are needed.
After decades of disinvestment, cities face an era of opportunity not seen since the Great Depression. To paraphrase that great urban planner, Spiderman, with opportunity comes responsibility. Heading the list of our responsibilities as a society is expanding access — for everyone — to environments that support healthier lifestyles.
The Executive Inn
For years, one of the very first sights to greet people entering Memphis from our airport was the Executive Inn. This time last year, the hotel – which was owned by an anonymous corporation in another state – was one of the most pernicious blighted properties in town. The exterior walls had literally fallen off, revealing a three-story derelict dollhouse covered in graffiti and garbage.
This was hardly the first impression we wanted to give visitors to our city. Moreover, residents and businesses in the area were fighting a hopeless battle against this abandoned nuisance.
Today, the Executive Inn site is a blank canvass, ready for development, and no longer a hazard its neighbors. It fell to a wrecking ball following a lawsuit by the City of Memphis. As a law student in the University of Memphis’ School of Law’s Neighborhood Preservation Clinic, I was there to watch it happen – and I look forward making sure more abandoned, blighted properties have the same fate.
The Neighborhood Preservation Act
The sharpest tool in our legal toolbox is the Neighborhood Preservation Act (NPA), a Tennessee statute that allows citizens to bring lawsuits against the owners of blighted properties. The NPA compels property owners to appear in court, where a judge can order them to demolish or repair their property – or risk losing it to receivership. Derelict property owners are not released from court supervision until the problem is completely solved.
In Memphis, the law has been used aggressively by Mayor A C Wharton, Jr., who personally filed 138 NPA lawsuits against vacant, abandoned, and nuisance property owners in October 2010. The Downtown Memphis Commission, several area hospitals, and a myriad of neighborhood associations have also filed suits under the NPA, to tremendous effect. Abandoned houses are being renovated and restored to productive use. Dangerous, unsalvageable properties are being razed to protect people and property values.
We believe there are at least 10,000 abandoned single-family houses, 3,000 abandoned multifamily units, and 1,000 abandoned commercial structures in the City of Memphis. The next front in the battle to reclaim our neighborhoods is giving tomorrow’s lawyers the training they need today. That’s why the School of Law launched the Neighborhood Preservation Clinic this January. We’re being given hands-on experience in all facets of NPA cases – ranging from investigating property ownership and conditions of blighted properties all over Memphis, to working with code-enforcement officers, preparing civil lawsuits, and ultimately prosecuting negligent property owners.
The Neighborhood Preservation Clinic
I am one of eight law students prosecuting blight on behalf of the City of Memphis in the Neighborhood Preservation Clinic – the only one of its kind in the country. The long-term possibilities of this Clinic are truly inspiring. The scale of the problem in Memphis is immense, but every successful legal challenge only unlocks more and more enthusiasm for what we can do using the powerful legal tools at our disposal.
Blight is a cancer to our communities. Left untreated, it can infect the entire body. Recognized and addressed swiftly, a full recovery is usually possible.
As with any treatment, the patient needs support, patience, and positivity to surround them. When we use the law to hold nuisance property owners accountable, we not only remove a blighted structure from a neighborhood, we replace it with hope –the most powerful community development tool of all.
Photo credit: University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law
We asked Erin Flynn, Associate Vice President for Strategic Partnerships at Portland State University to speak with us about what Portland is doing to become more economically inclusive.
Historically, Portland has been a predominantly white city with limited racial and ethnic diversity. But the city’s demographics are changing dramatically and business and civic leaders are grappling with the challenges and opportunities presented by growing diversity. While 80 percent of the population between the ages of 50 and 64 are white only 56% of the population between the ages of 5 and 19 are white. The majority of the non-white, youth population is Latino. While Portland has been a magnet for young, educated millenials, it faces a considerable challenge to educate and skill up its own minority, youth population. Forty-two percent of PSU’s freshman class this year is minority and/or first generation students.
The Question: How does Portland “skill up” its next generation to ensure that they have the opportunity to move into the middle-class?
The Plan: City leaders are working to increase income, education and access to city services for low-income and people of color in Portland. In fact, nearly every strategic plan coming out of the region focuses on social and economic equity right now. There is growing awareness among civic and business leaders that tackling issues of social and economic disparity are of paramount importance to regional health and prosperity. Part of the challenge is connecting strategy across jurisdictions to insure a coordinated and systematic approach.
There are multiple initiatives underway including:
The collective impact effort All Hands Raised is working on improving graduation rates in high schools in the county.
The Cradle to Career initiative, a partnership between the City of Portland, Portland State University, Community Colleges, and public schools, are working together to invest at key intervention points in youth education.
The Portland Development Commission has several initiatives, including a mini-micro revolving loan and PDX Challenge that are working to support minority owned small businesses. The organization also recently created a Neighborhood Prosperity Plan, looking to bring technical services into lower income neighborhoods.
Through the Portland Metro STEM Partnership, employers such as Intel are working to engage minority students in STEM fields, encouraging careers through hands-on tech and science learning.
Putting it All Together: Because of her background designing and advancing complex, metropolitan agendas and building bridges between the public sector, private sector and higher education, Erin Flynn has been tapped to ensure economic inclusion initiatives are coordinated at a regional level through Greater Portland Inc., Portland’s regional economic development organization.
Working with colleagues across the region and in conjunction with CEOs for Cities, Portland business and civic leaders are building a “Business Case for Equity.” Erin has been working to bring together a diverse group of community and business leaders to define key metrics for moving the needle on economic inclusion through a unified framework
Much More to Come: The regional effort to build an economic inclusion framework and agreed upon set of metrics will be included in Portland Metro 20/20, the region’s comprehensive economic development plan. We will check back in with Erin as the work progresses.
In the meantime, we hope that you will join us in Pittsburgh June 10-12, to talk with Erin and other community leaders working across the country to address issues of economic inclusion.
About Erin Flynn: Erin Flynn is Associate Vice President for Strategic Partnerships at Portland State University, Oregon’s largest and only urban-serving university. She leads university-wide community engagement and economic development initiatives to deliver on shared regional priorities including economic growth and inclusion, innovation and entrepreneurship, urban sustainability and cradle-to-career education reform. She is currently working with Greater Portland Inc. and municipal agencies across the region to synchronize myriad efforts that address social and economic equity.