Friday, November 24, 2017

Report Looks at Revitalization, Reinvestment Strategies for Smaller Legacy Cities

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) recently released a report on revitalization strategies in 24 Midwest and Northeastern "smaller legacy cities," including Akron, Dayton, Hamilton, Lima and Youngstown.

The report defines "smaller legacy cities" as having populations between 30,000 and 200,000 and traditional economies built around manufacturing. They have not been able to employ all the strategies used by larger legacy cities, such as Cincinnati and Cleveland, a press release on the report said.

Challenging areas include entrenched poverty, neighborhood disinvestment, and a workforce with skills that may not match employers’ needs.

“Despite their current challenges, these small and mid-sized legacy cities remain important places,” said report co-author and GOPC Manager of Research and Policy, Torey Hollingsworth. “They are essential to the well-being and economic prosperity of the states in which they are located and the country as a whole.”

In addition to the Buckeye State, the report also looked at cities in Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. Progress assessments were based on 2015 data spanning "a range of indicators, from employment to population change" and the report describes successful revitalization strategies. The press release said that the challenges require public and private sector solutions, and that the Ohio cities examined have pursued "innovative and successful strategies."

Hollingsworth told Hannah News the 2015 data was the most recent information available and that its findings show "the path to revitalization has a lot to do with the leadership being creative and collaborative."

"The data found that even though the situation on the ground may be challenging, most places really are taking the steps that they need to to move in that direction, of getting people from public and private sector working together, coming up with a shared vision, executing it together, prioritizing resources, those types of things," she said. "So I think the data can look kind of bleak, but there are a lot of signs of hope in the work that's being done."

From 2000 to 2015, Hamilton has had a 13 percent increase in its young professional population, a 22 percent increase in residents with college degrees, and a 50 percent increase in foreign-born residents, which Hollingsworth called "a good example" for multiple strategies.

She pointed to a fellowship program that brings recent master's degree graduates into city government for year-long positions, "a lot of success" in retention efforts for those young professionals, and revitalization efforts for downtown Hamilton such as murals and other public art.

"Even some of the cities that have struggled traditionally, like Youngstown, they've really been leaders in thinking about how to deal with things like abandoned housing on a large scale," Hollingsworth said. As an example, she listed data analysis by the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation that drives remodeling homes and rebuilding housing markets block by block.

The GOPC data showed that over the 15 years, Youngstown lost 20 percent of the population and had a 371 percent increase in vacant and abandoned housing, which in 2015 made up 13 percent of all units in the city.

Lima has been "really thoughtful about workforce development" according to Hollingsworth, and that also provided a case study for the report. The Link Lima/Allen County program brings workforce development organizations together between the jurisdictions so job training efforts are on the same page as employers and their needs, she said. That's spread into the schools through an annual event called MakerFest, where high school students see local manufacturing jobs that don't necessarily need a four-year college degree, and can compete in skills such as welding.

Akron has also focused on downtown development, she said, as has Dayton, which has a share of young professionals exceeding the national average. Hollingsworth also pointed to a December 2016 Bloomberg report that said Dayton had the highest percentage of homebuyers under the age of 35 in the nation.

Among the five Ohio cities, Akron and Dayton had the highest percentages of residents with a bachelor's degree or higher, foreign-born residents and young professionals, which GOPC defined as residents between 25 and 34 with at least a bachelor's degree.

“The set of factors that created the problems in these cities took decades to develop, so even the most innovative solutions will take time to sink in,” GOPC Executive Director Alison Goebel said in the release. “However, we are encouraged to see these Ohio cities implementing new, creative strategies to ensure their communities have a bright future.”

This document follows a 2013 joint report by GOPC and the Lincoln Institute on larger cities, and GOPC also previously released a report, "From Akron to Zanesville: How Are Ohio’s Small and Mid-Sized Legacy Cities Faring?" on the 15-year economic health of older industrial cities, and recommendations for "proactive state policy solutions" to improve them.

The full report is available at http://www.lincolninst.edu/publications/policy-focus-reports/revitalizing-americas-smaller-legacy-cities.
Story originally published in The Hannah Report on September 5, 2017.  Copyright 2017 Hannah News Service, Inc.


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