Baltimore’s problem is sprawl, not a bad economy

Baltimore City has thousands of vacant row houses that have come under increased outside scrutiny after April’s unrest and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s ramped up demolition program.  These lost structures fit a common, but misinformed narrative about Baltimore as a place in economic decline.

West Baltimore

Many beautiful row house shells remain in Baltimore. Photo by Jeff La Noue

 

When evaluating the city’s 20,000 plus vacant row houses, its crime, and its population loss exceeding 300,000 from its peak; pundits often paint a picture of a broken rust belt region that has never recovered from the loss of thousands of manufacturing and steel-making jobs. Washington Post Reporter, E.J. Dionne Jr.  follows this line of thought in his editorial in May of this year. He says

“The violence that has engulfed Baltimore is visible and heartbreaking evidence of a city that has been under siege for decades.

The obvious flashpoints involve race and policing. But since at least the 1970s, the economy’s invisible hand has also been diligently stripping tens of thousands of blue-collar jobs from what was once a bustling workshop where steel, cars and planes were made. Baltimore has tried to do its best in a post-industrial economy, but when work disappears, the results can be catastrophic.”

This assessment is mostly wrong. Vacant houses and neighborhoods in the city are a symptom of robust suburbanization.

Economy

Baltimore has transitioned from its former rust belt economy.  Its 2014 metropolitan GDP is higher than Portland (OR), Columbus (OH), Orlando, Austin, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Nashville, and San Antonio among many others.  The Baltimore Metro area ranks 4th in percent with a graduate or professional degree and 4th in median household income among the 25 largest metro areas. (Washington DC is number 1 in both categories)

Here’s the rub.  While Baltimore City’s population has dropped by 300,000 people since its peak census count in 1950, Baltimore County has added 550,000. Anne Arundel County over 400,000. Howard County almost 300,000.  Harford County 200,000. Carrol County has added over 100,000 people.

Owings Mills new town

Most new infrastructure has been in green fields to support outward growth not inward revitalization. Photo by Doug Kerr on Flickr.

(Shown here is Owings Mills, a suburb that has sprouted adjacent to Interstate 795, the Northwest Expressway, and a subway line constructed  in 1983-1985. I-795 extends 9 miles out from the beltway. Baltimore City lost 50,000 people, 13 percent of its population in the 1980’s.)

State spending in the suburbs sapped the city

Baltimore City’s surplus of vacant houses are not there because of a poor regional economy or because the Baltimore area population is shrinking.  It is clearly not.  They exist because the region has built lots of new roads and highways, new schools, new utilities, and new homes outside the city, without equivalent investments inside the core city.  People and businesses have flowed to the geographic shift of new investments in surrounding counties.  As this was happening, physical and social decay escalated in many of Baltimore’s older row house communities, especially African-American neighborhoods. Some of this early exodus was the result of directly racist practices such as redlining. However, shifting public investments outward, often based on theoretically race-neutral growth formulas, certainly was anti-urban and had the greatest impact on urban communities of African-Americans. Regardless, people of all races with choices, have made rational decisions to leave behind thousands of houses in poor school districts with old school buildings, with high crime, pot holed streets, inadequate transit, and leaky pipes.

A renaissance is coming for more city neighborhoods

There are new positive trends that may impact the future of some of Baltimore’s challenged row house neighborhoods. First, Baltimore City has stopped hemorrhaging net population. New city-based industries are thriving in health Sciences and technology. The Under Armour corporation is a major growth magnet with over 3 billion in annual revenues and it is growing every year. Lots of people are still moving out of the city, but there is a new crop of newcomers, often well-educated millennials and some immigrants.  However, they are not spreading across the city evenly.  They are bypassing the most challenging row house neighborhoods.

Prosperous Canton

Baltimore’s booming Canton neighborhood is mixed with new apartments, offices, and fixed-up row houses. Flickr image by Elliott Plack

 

Thousands of new upscale apartments and professional offices are being added downtown and in a ring of neighborhoods around the harbor, often on former industrial brownfield sites.   The harbor adjacent row house neighborhoods have been fixed up and growing for two decades. It shows, that when there are amenities in the neighborhood, there is demand for row house living.

Hampden

Vibrant rowhouses in Hampden, a hot neighborhood west of Johns Hopkins University. Flickr image by Lunita Lu

A sign of what may be to come, are the resurging row house neighborhoods west and south of the Johns Hopkins University several miles north of the harbor.  Where there is a neighborhood anchor institution, good retail, and reasonable transit, some old Baltimore row house neighborhoods may reverse their fortunes in the next decade. Inclusivity will be important. However, as in decades before, state and regional decisions on school, infrastructure, and transportation investments will play their part on whether some Baltimore city neighborhoods can come back. These decisions are particularly important for the most vulnerable.

A similar article is in Greater Greater Washington

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Baltimore’s Inner Harbor Poised to kick out Millennials

Baltimore Beach Volleyball poised to be asked to leave this location

Baltimore Beach Volleyball poised to be asked to leave this location

Thirteen million visitors a year come to the Inner Harbor.  The city has much to gain if it puts its physically active young professionals out front on display.  By playing at the Inner Harbor, Baltimore Beach Volleyball helps create a desirable healthy active image for the city. Instead of being celebrated, Baltimore Beach’s millennials are getting kicked off-stage.

The Inner Harbor has been home to Baltimore Beach Volleyball (BBV) for eleven years.  BBV has 2500 weekly participants, plays games seven days a week from May to September. It draws players who are 87% millennials, or adults between 20-34, 88% single (in case you’re looking), and 37% come from outside of Baltimore City, according to Todd Webster, who runs the league. BBV has been touted as the largest inner-city metropolitan league on the east coast, hosted games for the International Olympic committee, and become a permanent stop on the Toyota Pro Beach Volleyball tour. Baltimore ought to give BBV the proverbial keys to the harbor, instead there are plans to boot the volleyballers from the Inner Harbor to Swann Park. This is an unambiguous demotion to a low visibility location two miles to the south in the shadow of Interstate 95.

 

IH2 Phase I will trade Baltimore Beach Volleyball for a $40 million parking garage and what is depicted in the rendering

IH2 Phase I will trade Baltimore Beach Volleyball for a $40 million parking garage and what is depicted in the rendering

The city of Baltimore, Waterfront Partnership, and Greater Baltimore Committee recently released  The Inner Harbor II (IH2 ) plan , which looks at ways to improve open space around the harbor. It proposes replacing BBV’s courts and an existing park as well as the Pride of Baltimore memorial with a  subterranean parking garage topped by an oval grass lawn and a small sand “destination.” How this lawn will be programmed is unclear.  The plan will cost $40 million, though parking revenues will likely offset some of these costs.

Do the dollars allocated for IH2 efficiently address the issues highlighted in the Citizen Survey?

Do the dollars allocated for IH2 efficiently address the issues highlighted in the Citizen Survey?

Baltimore leaders have concluded that the Inner Harbor and Rash Field needs a refresher.  But the results of a citizen survey say about the area suggest that residents prefer more local retail in the area and want to address the lack of activity in some parts of the harbor. The plan does not ignore those concerns, but its bigger proposals do overshadow them.

There are good ideas in the plan, like the pool barge. But unfortunately, leaders are rushing to start with Rash Field,  a controversial and expensive part of the plan. How did the architects choose a grass oval lawn and sand lot for the top of the garage?  How is the proposed lawn not redundant with West Shore Park and grassy Federal Hill?

Baltimore and the Inner Harbor planners would benefit if they mixed-in some of the affordable ingenuity demonstrated by Janette Sadik-Khan’s New York City project portfolio.  Her matra: “Do bold experiments that are cheap to try out.”   She loves to talk about how Times Square was successfully transformed with lawn chairs and paint. All urbanists should view her Ted Talk.

Instead of replicating park-like amenities that already exist, there are ways to provide things citizens asked for and retain an existing draw, all at a much lower cost. Beach volleyball could be an anchor and destination for the area with the addition of local food and beverage vendors, water features, specialty kiosks, seasonal activities, and tables overlooking the courts. The space could also accommodate other activities like bocce, ping pong, yoga, zumba, stationary bikes, and kayaks.

Meanwhile, the Rash Field garage is not only expensive, but unnecessary with the existing 45,000 parking spaces in downtown Baltimore.  Has the city studied the possibility of valet parking service operating from the visitors’ center as an alternative? A valet service might make better use of existing parking capacity, be more convenient for visitors, and provide jobs. To increase access, extend  Charm City Circulator coverage to more neighborhoods. Creating a safe network of cycle-tracks to serve bicycles and bikeshare, which will launch this July, on the bike-unfriendly roads ringing the Inner Harbor would help.

In addition, building the parking garage will disrupt a public space for up to two years of construction. The view from Federal Hill is a very photogenic spot, and a popular site for locals and tourists.  A parking facility isn’t enough of a compelling reason to take this space away when smaller changes would have a much shorter and disruptive effect on the area.

The view from Federal will soon look a lot like this

The view from Federal Hill will soon look a lot like this

This plan also would have an impact on the city’s millennial community.   Many young professionals seek healthy and active social amenities. The data shows clearly that millennials are driving Baltimore’s growth more than any other generation.  For young professionals, Baltimore Beach Volleyball is arguably the Inner Harbor’s top draw.  Unceremoniously kicking them out will not be viewed charmingly by this opinionated generation.

Millennials heavily populate nearby neighborhoods and have brought new life to the city. Why not ask them to help program the harbor?

JL

crossposted at Greater Greater Washington, Rustwire, and Sustainable Cities Collective

If Investing: Move Baltimore’s Downtown Prison

Land just south of the Baltimore jail facility-What is the highest and best use of the jail and nearby land?

Land just south of the Baltimore jail facility-What is the highest and best use of the jail and nearby land?

Baltimore’s downtown prison complex is a physical barrier between the City Center and impoverished neighborhoods desperate for investment. Could moving the prison help heal the city?

Sprawling over 27 acres, the forbidding penal facility consumes a vast amount of acreage on potentially lucrative real estate. Surface parking, blight, bail bonds, and strip are the complex’s pitiful neighbors. It does not have to be this way forever.

Many cities have sensibly relocated their prisons away from their economic centers. Baltimore has yet to do so, but may have that opportunity.  Taking steps to move the penal complex from downtown was a pie in the sky idea until the state began publicly planning to sink over a half a billion dollars into demolishing and rebuilding the facility in place. Alternative locations exist nearby.

The penal campus is in the red box.  The shaded area is the impact area of the prison.  Mt. Vernon is directly west.  Johns Hopkins Medical campus is to the east. Downtown and the Inner Harbor are to the south

The penal campus is in the red box. The shaded area is the impact area of the prison. Mt. Vernon is directly west. Johns Hopkins Medical campus is to the east. Downtown and the Inner Harbor are to the south

City Marketing 101 says don’t put your prison complex as the welcome mat to your downtown or your top research hospital. By doing so, Baltimore sends the thousands coming to visit, to work, or to invest a grim reminder that Baltimore houses lots of dangerous people.

There are many questions. What could the land yield over time if the prison facility was not there to repel more promising development?  What new synergies could exist between downtown and the number 1 hospital in the nation?(2013)  How much new development could take place?  What is the potential for new tax revenues?  How many jobs could be created in addition to retaining existing prison jobs in a different location? Could a different future jump start Jones Town and the long stalled Old Town Mall redevelopment? Could the Mt. Vernon neighborhood expand east? Could a badly needed park to serve downtown residents be created? Could a portion of new tax receipts from future development support jobs for youth?

We should be cautious about building costly new prisons.   America must find a way to reduce its world leading incarceration rates, while preventing violent crime.  Locally, Baltimore’s recent prison issues are certainly as much about management as with the aging physical facility. Improved training and wages for prison guards and personnel would be astronomically cheaper than constructing new facilities. However, at some point, new facilities are going to be built. As these dollars are allocated, good money should not be spent on a misplaced location.

The current prison location may be convenient for visitors and employees. Furthermore, criminal courts are nearby.   By this narrow prism, the prison is well located. By considering the land’s far greater potential, relocating prison facilities to Jessup and or abandoned industrial zones are better options.

Many other cities have moved their prison out of their downtowns.  Baltimore has this chance.

Many other cities have moved their prison out of their downtowns. Baltimore has this chance.

Relocating large prison facilities from downtown is not only unprecedented, it is common.  Atlantic seaboard neighbors; New York, Washington, Philadelphia, and Boston have all done so.  New York City’s main prison is an island in the East River.  In the Midwest, Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard is now leading a plan to relocate its jail out of downtown.  Noted urbanist Aaron Wrenn explains the benefit of moving the Indianapolis jail in his article “My Plan to win the war for Indianapolis Government Buildings.” The argument for Baltimore is similar.  

Maryland is projected to add a million people by 2040. Baltimore needs to position itself to capture a portion of this growth.  Adding dozens of acres available for development adjacent to the city’s most prominent employers, as well as I-83 and the subway, is a promising opportunity.

Top City and State decision makers don’t need to follow the narrow agenda of bureaucrats at the State Department of Corrections. There are innovative ways to reduce incarceration, provide opportunity, and remove barriers to Baltimore’s economic potential.  Rebuilding a prison campus in place should not be a rubber stamp.  If other cities understand this, Baltimore should too!

JL

crossposted at Greater Greater Washington and Sustainable Cities Collective

One of Baltimore’s most beautiful neighborhoods is dying

No, not San Francisco. This block is in Reservoir Hill, a dying neighborhood in Baltimore

No, not San Francisco. This block is in Reservoir Hill, a dying neighborhood in Baltimore

Baltimore has an increasing collection of lively neighborhoods sprouting new residents, businesses, and construction.  Their vibrancy vividly contrasts with nearby neighborhoods besieged by abandonment and decades of depression-level disinvestment.  Many are aware of this pronounced dichotomy. However, there are neighborhoods between these extremes. One indicator of Baltimore’s progress should be the trajectory of these tweener neighborhoods. Improving neighborhoods offer valuable lessons for those regressing.

This article will briefly analyze three historic neighborhoods; Hampden (improving), Remington (improving), and Reservoir Hill (regressing). These neighborhoods are clustered close together about four miles from Baltimore’s glitzy harbor on different sides of the 750 acre Druid Hill Park and Interstate 83.

The Avenue in Hampden is the spine of this revitalizing mixed-use neighborhood

The Avenue in Hampden is the spine of this revitalizing mixed-use neighborhood

Hampden is an unlikely  success story.  It has created a destination restaurant and retail scene, driven largely by independent local entrepreneurs that punches way above its weight class. Its primary retail street, “The Avenue” is integrated into an affordable neighborhood with a mixture of bare bones row houses and single family homes. Hampden, with about 7000 residents, has well over a 100 small businesses.

The neighborhood’s charm and success comes from the energy of its kitschy residents mixed with a homespun entrepreneurial spirit. Forbes magazine honored Hampden as America’s 15th best hipster neighborhood. The criteria? Walkability, coffee shops per capita, the assortment of local food trucks, the number of locally owned bars and restaurants and the percentage of residents working in the arts.

Remington is on the cusp. Corner stores and restaurants give the neighborhood flavor. A private sector developer, Seawall, has buoyed Remington by developing creative mixed-use projects. Seawall has recruited clusters of educational non-profits as well as renovated the Miller’s Court into apartments for Teach for America.  Most interesting, Seawall is partnering with the Single Carrot Theatre to renovate Mr. James Tire Shop into performance space, restaurants, and nonprofit office space. The Company is doubling down. It has plans to build a “massive” main street of independent stores with residences above.

Remington’s resurgence is poised to accelerate with the creation of the Homewood Community Partners Initiative launched in 2012 and funded by Johns Hopkins.  This fund has $10 million dedicated to the “physical, social, and economic well-being of its surrounding neighborhoods.”

Vacancy in Reservoir Hill

Vacancy-an all to common sight in Reservoir Hill

Reservoir Hill, historically the strongest of the three neighborhoods, is a sick patient.  Its population is dropping to near 6000. The neighborhood’s bounty of beautiful historic buildings and homes is shrinking. Grand rows of houses are pockmarked by emergency demolitions. It is plagued by vacancy and troubled by crime. Market values often are less than renovation costs, which makes investment a risky proposition. Demolition is as common as renovation. Unlike Hampden’s abundance, obviously helpful enterprising businesses don’t exist in Reservoir Hill.

Reservoir Hill is only sick, not dead. It attracts architecturally inspired home-buyers. Eutaw and Madison Streets are still relatively healthy.  There are many residents who care about it. However, these strong blocks are slowly losing inch by inch a long running tug-of-war with nearby blocks in desperate shape.

My analysis is simple.  Reservoir Hill cannot remain a residential island with no businesses, offices, retail, and restaurants. A housing only strategy is not going to work. For decades, its promotion, energy, and resources have been spent on (affordable) housing.  Reservoir Hill’s current housing programs; Vacants to Value and Healthy Neighborhoods will lead to home renovations, but not reverse the tide of the neighborhood. HUD and Baltimore HCD programs should also not be relied on to turn around neighborhoods. They are much better at housing and social services than they are urban and community development.  Their core competencies are not restoring market confidence in declining neighborhoods.

The Reservoir Hill Improvement Council (RHIC), with roots that date to the late 1970’s have also not been able to turn the neighborhood around.  Its approach is notable for its lack of interest and expertise in fostering neighborhood business enterprises. RHIC could be far more useful if it had the focus, talent and resources to recruit and nurture small businesses. A new organization, the Mount Royal CDC was launched in December 2013.

The data on population and vacancy show Reservoir Hill is unequivocally failing.  For the neighborhood to reverse course, Reservoir Hill must become more like Hampden and Remington. It must energetically seek small entrepreneurs, artists, businesses, and restaurateurs. Of Baltimore’s urban neighborhoods, those with desirable commerce have the brightest futures. Attracting a neighborhood-minded creative developer like Seawall would be an immense coup.  City, institutional, and philanthropic partners could help. Historic preservation advocates are natural allies. Without a profoundly new strategy, Reservoir Hill’s trajectory is unambiguous.

Reservoir Hill's trajectory is clear. The neighborhood can ascend, but new strategies are needed

Reservoir Hill’s trajectory is clear. The neighborhood can ascend, but new strategies are needed

By attracting entrepreneurial investment and a new mix of people, there might be blow back from a myopic few concerned about theoretical gentrification. In Baltimore, far more affordable housing is lost to disinvestment and uninhabitable buildings, than rent increases. More people leave, not because they are priced out, but because other neighborhoods offer more.

Vacant mansion in Reservoir Hill

Vacant mansion in Reservoir Hill

Reservoir Hill is important.  Its substantial architectural assets, diverse housing stock adjacent to a beautiful park, and access to major transportation arteries, give it an advantage over other declining neighborhoods.    A robust Reservoir Hill turnaround could stimulate the resurgence of other neighborhoods west of Druid Hill Park that are in worse shape.

Teetering neighborhoods in Baltimore and other rust belt cities should recognize a relatively simple reality. Urban neighborhoods with retail, restaurants, and businesses are doing better. Millennials and empty nesters are coming to urban neighborhoods, but they are not likely to pick yours if there is nothing to do.

JL

Millennials Lead Baltimore Forward

Baltimore Beach Volleyball

Recreation is a social magnet for Millennials-Baltimore Beach Volleyball shown here Image source: SouthBMore.com

Mayor Rawlings Blake has an oft-stated goal to add 10,000 net households in Baltimore by 2020. The city’s newly adopted slogan is, “Baltimore, A Great Place to Grow.”  This growth is badly needed to reverse the toll of losing 1/3 of the city’s population since 1950. In 2011, Baltimore had its first uptick in population in over 60 years.

How did this happen? Who is coming and who is going? Is it sustainable?  Let’s dig in.

The charts show very clearly that one group is doing all the heavy lifting.  Baltimore is more popular for 19 to 33 year olds, with a sweet spot of 26, than at any point in the last half century. This age cohort is the one group that is coming to the city, while all other age groups are roughly leaving Baltimore just as they have for the last half century.  Baltimore is so popular with twenty somethings that it has tipped the net population scale positive.

Baltimore population

Millennials are the demographic group helping Baltimore gain population for the first time in a half century

This data must be encouraging and scary for those who care about cities with these trends. The Baltimore millennial spike is profound, but loses steam with age.  Baltimore’s urban scene might help you find your mate, but after being hitched, young families eventually look for the exits.  The millenials or echo-boomers (Birth years 1982 to 2004) are a big 70 million strong demographic bubble with a pipeline of rising young professionals that should last another decade.

Dense walkable neighborhoods that have an active restaurant/retail scene complemented by parks that provide young professionals with recreation have been the overwhelming winners.  Safe and efficient transit and bike infrastructure will raise the city’s appeal to this cohort. City leaders can help more neighborhoods be successful be adding these amenities. Millennials bring vitality, energy, and do not demand much in the way of public services.

Patterson Park

Patterson Park and its surrounding neighborhoods provide the community, recreation, and lifestyle that many millennials want

Baltimore can retain young families longer with school choice. A family in Baltimore may understandably not like the bulk of the schools in the system, but they only need one good fit. There are a few good schools and they should be able to distinguish themselves.  Families who can choose one matching school may stay in the city. It is important for centrally led systems to not meddle with successful schools and dynamic principals. Competition will lead to better options and benefit more families.

For young professionals that have come to the city, lived in an apartment or small rowhouse, found their mate, and are starting to achieve professional success, property tax issues loom.    They may want to move because they are cramped.  There are many city neighborhoods with big enough houses. However, the data shows young families cross the border.

Will they stay in Baltimore city?  Source: Kathleen Hertel Photography

Will they stay in Baltimore city? Source: Kathleen Hertel Photography

For a $300,000 house in Baltimore city, the family will inherit a $6600 annual property tax bill compared with roughly $3000 for an equivalently priced house in the adjacent suburban counties.  The city can, at a minimum, adopt a new tax credit for city householders that want to move, but stay within the city. If Baltimore is the city that is “A Great Place to Grow”, there should be some ability for growing city families to buy bigger places in neighborhoods with quality urban amenities without getting whopped with double the property tax.

City boosters are appropriately gleeful about Baltimore’s first population gain in a half century. However, senior policy makers should acknowledge that it is young professionals that are leading the population reversal. There are tactical steps that should be taken to attract more millennials and keep young families in Baltimore longer. These steps warrant a sweeping plan that we can all see. Furthermore, it might give investors, philanthropists, and citizens a blueprint to rally around.

JL

US Rust Belt Revitalization Strategies Off Course

Asiatown Cleveland

Asia Town in Cleveland

Chinatown Detroit

What’s left of China Town in Detroit

Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore, St. Louis, Dayton, Toledo and kindred cities continue to say goodbye to more people than come in. It is time to look at revitalization differently and it is not managed decline.

Heart felt city policies, resources, and attention are about getting natives to stay in depopulating cities.  Initiatives from local hiring, contracting, and procurement, to work force training, to casinos may be worthwhile, but they are not going make an outgoing tide come in.   I will get to what will shortly. Sandra Pianalto, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, in her Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial “Fixing Cleveland’s housing problem: Sandra Pianalto”, gets the analysis right, but the solution wrong. Sandra says Cleveland has too great a housing supply for the demand for houses.  (true) Sandra continues in the right direction…, she says “we need to focus on the demand side of the market” (absolutely) and then  unfortunately soon after goes off course. Sandra steers the “turn Cleveland around ship” right into a school reform detour.

I am not against better schools, but Cleveland is not going to reverse its population exodus by tweaking , overhauling,  you pick the verb ….its school system.  No underfunded or overfunded US school system has ever led to reversing a city’s population decline. In fact, if Cleveland’s school system performs better, more beneficiaries are likely to leave Cleveland.  Higher educated people are more mobile than less educated people.

Political and civic leaders are in place to serve the people that are there, or remain, as is the case.  Nativism, and native boosting projects, have a strong heartfelt pull and cast votes at the ballot box. However, nativist projects should not be confused with policies that are going to drastically change the trajectory of the city’s population. If a city wants to reverse its decline, it needs to turn its attention toward attraction.  Cleveland and Detroit are not going to self-breed or educate their population to growth and prosperity.  The only way they will come back is by attracting new people from other places.

New York is the great example.  It hemorrhages talented people and families to other parts of the country. In this way, it is just like the rust belt population losers, but alas, here is the big difference.  New York City is constantly refreshing its population.  Aaron Wrenn of the Urbanophile in his article Migration Matters says it beautifully.

“If you think again about New York, it takes in immigrants-raw recruits if you will-and spits out Americans. It takes in young singles-more raw recruits-and spits out up skilled people with families. There is huge value added in this. In a sense, New York City is a gigantic refinery for human capital. It’s a smelter for people. Perhaps we shouldn’t be any more sad about New York exporting people than we are about it exporting financial services. Taking in people, adding value, then exporting them is one of New York’s core competencies. Maybe we should be thanking it for providing a valuable service.”

All of our cities need some of this quality. Cities should be both exporters and importers of people.  Cities need churn. The good news is that attracting new people is actually probably easier than making Cleveland schools top notch or other lofty city initiatives that have a nativist bent. The answer can be found in a once little hamlet one lake away from Buffalo, Cleveland, and Detroit.  This not-so-little anymore frosty boomlet has gained more people since 1950 than Buffalo, Cleveland, and Detroit have lost in that same time period.  In fact, this frost belter has added a net 111,000 people in the last five years and just surpassed Chicago as North America’s 4th largest city.

Attracting people can come in three forms. In migration can come from your region (you can define region), your country, or from distant lands.  The Rust Belt’s cold struggling cities are going to have a hard time achieving a net domestic US migration population explosion for the time being, especially from places south and west.  Toronto- the great lake, frost belt, rust belt, boomlet town shows that foreign born immigration is a lay-up that they keep converting over and over, while nearby American cities keep shooting long jump shots. Natives can go along for the immigration ride and watch their schools, services, and opportunities improve along the way.

In Little India in Toronto commerce spills onto the street

In Little India in Toronto, commerce spills onto the street

Hogtown, yes, that is Toronto’s nickname from its frontier days, is comprised of (just a shade under) 50 % foreign born. This 49+percent immigrant population comprises half of Toronto’s 2.6 million people and a metro area now over 5.6 million. In 1950, Toronto was just slightly larger than Cleveland and about 700,000 warm bodies less than Detroit’s population. Today there are more foreign born Torontonians than the combined populations of Detroit and Cleveland.  Toronto attracts Asians. Cleveland’s Asia Town strategy is a streetscape project!  I am not exactly sure if it involves actually adding Asians.  Toronto does not have better weather, natural resources, or geographic advantages than probably any of America’s big city population losers.  It’s booming economy relies on “innovation and the development of ideas to create wealth”  according to Invest Toronto. Toronto understands immigrants are a central ingredient to their success.  It starts with a friendly immigrant portal for getting started in Toronto!

Cleveland, Detroit, etc.  would be forever changed if they made their primary revitalization strategy to be a top American “port of entry.”  (The Feds would have to approve and cooperate)  Cities need new people and immigrants to America have a centuries long tradition of creating or finding opportunity.

Toronto China Town

Toronto’s Vibrant China Town

Even better, many immigrants would be excited to come if it came with an expedited US green card (even if it required a start out in a Rust Belt City provision) .  Cleveland, Buffalo, and Detroit boomed with the help of immigrants from eastern Europe before WWI, and African-american migrants from the American South in WWII.  It is time to avoid native protectionism and tailor a policy to bring new waves of immigrants that would be eager to call themselves Clevelanders et al. Looking across the lake to Toronto is the first step.

JL

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