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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Baltimore Better with Red Line

Baltimore Red Line Route Map

Baltimore Red Line route map

By Grant Corley, Chair of Red Line Now PAC

As this year’s General Assembly heads into the home stretch, it’s become clear that one of the most important economic development opportunities Baltimore has seen a generation could soon slip from our grasp.

Baltimore is in dire need of a well-connected, effective public transit system. This is no small matter. Cities around the nation — most notably, our friends down the road in Washington, D.C.  — are capitalizing on good public transportation networks to help attract residents, jobs, and investment.

Certainly, Baltimore does have its share of transit now. But we lack a fast, effective east-west transit route; this fact severely impedes the usefulness and ridership of the overall network.

There is a solid plan to fill this gap. The proposed Red Line would connect downtown with the city’s east and west sides, meeting up with the Metro, the light rail, the MARC, and hundreds of employment centers along the way.

The Red Line is a major investment in Baltimore and its people. It would be a boost for neighborhoods West and East, and it would connect the city in ways we haven’t seen in nearly a century.

But because no funding source has yet been secured, we are in danger of losing the Red Line — this month. This would be a big mistake for our city.

Baltimore’s legislators already have a heavy lift with school construction funding, the death penalty, and dozens of other issues. But I believe they can find the energy to address our transportation revenue issue.

Why should we be standing up and demanding the Red Line?

1. Economic activity and jobs creation. According to a study by the Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore, the construction phase of the Red Line is projected to generate more than $2 billion in economic activity, and nearly 10,000 jobs. 83% of those jobs would require less than an associate’s degree. This is relevant, because the Red Line’s community compact makes it a priority to create employment opportunities for city residents.

2. Jobs access for residents. Once completed, the Red Line will open up useful transit access to hundreds of job sites, both along its east-west corridor and via connections to other transit routes. This will provide expanded employment opportunities for the 35% of city residents who lack an automobile. It will also make more areas of the city accessible and desirable for employers to locate.

3. Ability to compete. 10,000 families? Here’s a news flash: young people today are choosing to live in cities with transit. They’re bringing talent and energy, and they’re starting new businesses and families. If Baltimore doesn’t make itself competitive for these up-and-coming urban dwellers, we’ll lose them to a dozen other cities. It’s worth noting that in 2012, the District of Columbia, with its remarkable Metro system and soon-to-be streetcar network, leapfrogged Baltimore in population for the first time in decades.

4. Neighborhood revitalization. Dozens of Baltimore communities need a major shot of investment. The Red Line, and the remarkably useful regional transit network it creates, can become a ribbon of strength weaving them together. Neighborhoods along Edmondson Avenue can build on that strength, attracting homeowners and businesses. The West Baltimore MARC station can become a hub of residential, business, and transit activity. The same goes for Highlandtown and Greektown, where the Red Line has become a cornerstone in those communities’ revitalization plans.

5. Ability to get around. Last but not least, a good transit system makes the city more useful for everyone. Parking-starved neighborhoods such as Fells Point and Canton are never realistically going to have a guaranteed space for every car — but the Red Line would give residents an attractive, convenient alternative to driving, as good transit has done in urban neighborhoods around the nation. Many of us who previously didn’t ride transit have begun to get a taste of its usefulness thanks to the Charm City Circulator. However, the Red Line would be a far more useful and permanent system, with regional economic importance.

March 2013 is make-or-break time for the Red Line and other state transportation projects. Gov. O’Malley and the General Assembly’s Democratic leaders have proposed a revenue package to pay for much-needed transportation and transit improvements in our congested state. But if our legislators from Baltimore don’t step up to secure funding for the Red Line — now — we lose a multi-billion-dollar investment in our communities and our city. If you want this investment, you need to contact your state legislators and tell them.

If Baltimore does somehow fail to build the Red Line, the enormity of the opportunity lost will become apparent over time. D.C. is already eating our lunch, all the while continuing to expand its transit options. Virginia has passed major transportation funding legislation. And Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties do have the political willpower to fund and build the similar Purple Line, which will improve those communities’ economy and quality of life.

If Baltimore fails where our neighbors succeed, the next generation of city residents will have a stark example of what might have been. Let’s hope they won’t look back and wonder why our city squandered the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we have in front of us now.

Red Line Station

Red Line Station

How a Few LED Lights Can Change Your Whole City

The Ravens’ journey to the 2013 Super Bowl has cast a purple glow on Baltimore.  Building owners and facilities personnel have found creative ways to illuminate facades, windows, and trees in shades of purple. Regular playoff trips and this year’s Super Bowl compete with Christmas for festive supremacy.

Baltimore harbor

Baltimore harbor glowing in purple preceding the 2013 Superbowl

Photograph source: Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore

In 1828, Paris lit the Champs-Elysees with gas lamps becoming the first European city to widely adopt street lamps. In addition to being the center of education and ideas, the lighting of Parisian streets helped give Paris the nickname “La Ville-Lumiere.”  In describing the lighting of Paris, Nicholas Green in the Spectacle of Nature writes “what a magnificent spectacle this boulevard presents when at dusk the café waiters light the gas lamps and torrents of light instantly flood forth, pure and white as the moon.” Gas lights allowed socialization and the economy out into the open and into the night.

Victorian paris-at-night

Photo source: Victorian Paris

Hundreds of years later, cities are again using lighting in new strategic ways.    Light displays are credited for a big reason in downtown Philadelphia’s resurgence, particularly their “Avenue of the Arts.”  Even in non-playoff times, Baltimore uplights City Hall, The Bromo Seltzer Tower, Penn Station, the 37 story art deco Bank of America Tower and others. Should Baltimore and other cities do more?  When attending an art gallery or museum, lighting will be carefully directed to highlight each piece. Shouldn’t lighting do the same for our best buildings or their architectural details?  Modern buildings can highlight their geometries whereas historic buildings can focus on domes, spires, columns, or façade details. Street trees also add festivity when illuminated.

lighting historic buildings

Historic building features illuminated
Church in Bath, England Photograph source: Enlightened Lighting Ltd

Why let our best buildings be enshrouded in darkness when the sun goes down?  Lighting is more than design. It is about vibrancy. Light is energy and provides energy.  It can help to resuscitate places that may be tired and disinvested.  It can highlight craftsmanship and prideful work. More people might invest, spend money, and appreciate buildings that are newly energized with light. High tech illumination can help invigorate older beautiful churches, traditional downtowns, and main streets.

Kelley Bell, a graphic designer and professor at UMBC, uses a projector to showcase her art by beaming projections onto buildings in Baltimore. Recently, she has created an exhibit that illuminates blue bubbles onto the clock faces of the iconic Bromo Seltzer Tower.

Can lighting be overdone? Yes.  In an age when the world should be reducing our carbon footprints, lighting takes energy. However, LED lighting is significantly more efficient than earlier types of lighting. If lighting helps to “reuse and recycle” the embedded energy of our existing cities, its trade-off is worthwhile.

Do you have an urban feature or building that is a good candidate for illumination?  or have a picture of a strategically lighted building? If yes, send a jpeg less than 1MB to comebackcityus@gmail.com  Please include an address for the building.

JL

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