Category Archives: Cities & Towns

MetroPolicy for a MetroNation

Source: Brookings Institution, Blueprint for American Prosperity, June 2008

The current economic downturn forces us to confront America’s ability to compete in a global economy. We expect that the next president and Congress will turn their attention immediately to bolstering our nation’s economic health, and they should focus not just on easing short term pain, but also on setting our nation on a sustainable track for prosperity. The purpose of the Blueprint for American Prosperity is to ensure that our leaders are focused on those assets that drive national prosperity and those places where the assets are overwhelmingly concentrated–America’s 363 metropolitan areas. The Blueprint’s MetroNation report has already made the case for the economic and demographic primacy of metropolitan America in the face of withering global competition. Its companion piece, MetroPolicy, provides an integrated policy agenda to meet that challenge. Simply put, national prosperity hinges on metropolitan prosperity.
See also:
MetroPolicy: Shaping a New Federal Partnership for a Metropolitan Nation

Recycling America’s Land

Source: Unites States Conference of Mayors, A National Report on Brownfields Redevelopment, Volume VII, January 2008

The United States Conference of Mayors defines the term “brownfield” as an abandoned or underutilized property where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by either real or perceived environmental contamination. This description applies to a wide variety of sites including, but not limited to, industrial properties, old gas stations, vacant warehouses, former dry cleaning establishments, abandoned residential buildings which potentially could contain lead paint or asbestos. Under the new law, sites that contain petroleum products as well as mine-scarred land are also considered brownfields. Brownfields are located in almost every community in the United States.

The seventh Brownfield’s report documents the problems of brownfields redevelopment faced by local communities throughout the United States and identifies the fleeting opportunities lost when properties remain idle and abandoned. For the first time, this report quantifies some of the benefits from brownfields redevelopment efforts across the country with cities responding their positive results from land recycling and the return of brownfields to productive uses.

$60 Million and Counting: The cost of vacant and abandoned properties to eight Ohio cities

Source: Community Research Partners and Rebuild Ohio, February 2008

The debilitating effects of vacant and abandoned properties are evident in neighborhoods and communities throughout Ohio and the nation, and the recent foreclosure epidemic has made the issue of vacant properties a top news story and catapulted it to the top of public policy agendas. However, this is a long-standing problem in older and central city housing markets, where the issues of predatory and subprime lending and vacant and abandoned housing have existed for many years.

This research documents the magnitude and cost of the vacant and abandoned properties problem in eight Ohio cities: Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Ironton, Lima, Springfield, Toledo, Zanesville. The research found:

– 25,000 vacant and abandoned properties

– Widespread vacancies in both large and small cities

– $15 million in annual city service costs

– $49 million in cumulative lost property tax revenues to local governments and school districts

– Weakened neighborhood housing markets with evidence of property flipping

– Limited capacity of cities, on their own, to track and address vacant and abandoned properties

The Maturing of America — Getting Communities on Track for an Aging Population

Source: National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, in partnership with the International City/County Management Association, National Association of Counties, National League of Cities and Partners for Livable Communities (via Smart Growth Resource Library)

The vast majority of older Americans want to age in their homes and communities for as long as possible. However, the aging of the population will pose new challenges for the delivery of local services such as health care, recreation, housing, transportation, public safety, employment and education. While these services assist a broad segment of the population, they also have a major impact on the quality of life of older Americans. The aging of America will also present opportunities as the nation’s communities realize the largest population of educated and skilled older adults in its history. To help cities and counties better meet the needs of their aging population, and to harness the experience and talent of their older citizens, five national organizations joined forces to identify ways to prepare for the aging of this population. Known as The Maturing of America — Getting Communities on Track for an Aging Population, the project is being led by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, in partnership with the International City/County Management Association, National Association of Counties, National League of Cities and Partners for Livable Communities. The initiative is funded by a grant from MetLife Foundation. In the project’s first phase, Maturing of America partners surveyed 10,000 local governments to:
• determine their “aging readiness” to provide programs, policies and services that address the needs of older adults and their caregivers;
• to ensure that their communities are “livable” for persons of all ages; and
• to harness the talent, wisdom and experience of older adults to contribute to the community at large.

The survey found that only 46 percent of American communities have begun to address the needs of the rapidly increasing aging population. The survey results show that although many communities have some programs to address the needs of older adults, few have undertaken a comprehensive assessment to make their communities “elder friendly” or livable communities for all ages.

Survey findings indicate that local governments generally offer basic health and nutrition programs, but as yet do not have the policies, programs or services in place to promote the quality of life and the ability of older adults to live independently and contribute to their communities for as long as possible. These services might include job retraining, flextime and other job accommodations; home chore services, home modification and senior-friendly housing options, tax relief, roadway redesign or public transportation assistance as well as volunteer opportunities targeted to older adults.

The needs of older adults are often interrelated. For example, providing housing will not be sufficient if residents lack transportation to get to basic services such as medical offices, the pharmacy or grocery store. These interdependent needs of older adults may require a completely new comprehensive, holistic approach to service delivery organization and management. American’s communities need to take a fresh look at their existing policies, programs and services to see if they address the needs of an aging population. Those communities who have already begun to test their “aging readiness” are now reaching out to their older citizens to engage them in discussions about what changes to local government services may be needed to enhance their quality of life and ensure that they can grow old successfully in the community.

Full Report (PDF; 2.8 MB)

MetroNation: How U.S. Metropolitan Areas Fuel American Prosperity

Source: Alan Berube, Brookings Institution, November 06, 2007

From the summary:
Despite facing new and unprecedented challenges–economic, environmental, and demographic–America stands in a position of great strength. To achieve economic prosperity that is broadly shared and environmentally sustainable, our nation must leverage the key assets–innovation, human capital, infrastructure, and quality places–that principally concentrate in our major metropolitan areas.

City Fiscal Conditions in 2007

Source: Michael A. Pagano and Christopher W. Hoene, National League of Cities, Research Brief 2007-2, October 2007

City finance officers report that the fiscal condition of the nation’s cities improved in the past year. However, as they prepare to close the books on 2007, finance officers are less optimistic, predicting a slowdown in revenues and increased spending pressures.

Related article:

Housing Downturn Takes Toll on Cities’ Revenue

Source: Monica Davey, New York Times, October 18, 2007

The New Orleans Index: Tracking Recovery in the Region

The New Orleans Index: Tracking Recovery in the Region
Source: Amy Liu and Allison Plyer, The Brookings Institution and the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, August 2007

Two years after Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent levee failures, the New Orleans region has recovered most of its population and economic base. Yet, in the past year, progress has slowed, especially in the city, as critical public infrastructure—schools, law enforcement, and health care—remains weak. As recovery continues, a strong federal, state, and local partnership is necessary to ensure a safe and economically robust region for all.
See also:
Greater New Orleans Community Data Center

Why Aren’t U.S. Cities Burning?

Source: Michael B. Katz, Dissent, Vol. 54 no. 3, Summer 2007

The summer of 2007 marks the fortieth anniversary of America’s worst season of urban disorder. The most famous riots happened in Newark and Detroit. But “nearly 150 cities reported disorders in Negro—and in some instances Puerto Rican—neighborhoods,” reported the 1968 National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. Today, the most intriguing question is not why the riots occurred but why they have not recurred. With the exception of Liberty City, Miami, in 1980, and South-central Los Angeles in 1992, American cities have not burned since the early 1980s. Even the botched response to Hurricane Katrina did not provoke civil violence.

The Retail Chase

Source: Christopher Swope, Governing, Vol. 20 no. 7, April 2007

Cities will do almost anything to land the store of their dreams.

Next month, legions of retailers, developers, bankers and brokers will descend on Las Vegas for one of the biggest schmooze fests in the world. It’s the International Council of Shopping Centers’ spring convention, and to anyone who hasn’t been there, the scene — literally a city under a roof — can be a bit overwhelming. Exhibitors set up booths as wide as office buildings, and the aisles are platted into a sprawling street grid. At the corner of “38th Avenue & Q Street,” mobs swarm the Cold Stone Creamery booth for free ice cream; a “block” away, they get free pretzels from Auntie Anne’s. But the real business happens behind closed doors, where the bigwigs of chain retail shake hands on hundreds of deals that decide where America will shop and eat for years to come. Because the commercial stakes are so high, the ICSC conference isn’t just an affair for the industry anymore. It’s a big event for local government as well. Mayors, city council members, city managers and economic development officials have become regulars at this annual carnival of deal-making. Some 4,000 public-sector people are now members of ICSC, and they are one of the fastest-growing segments of the association.

Restoring Prosperity: The State Role in Revitalizing America’s Older Industrial Cities

Source: Jennifer S. Vey, The Brookings Institution, Metropolitan Policy Project, 2007

With over 16 million people and nearly 8.6 million jobs, America’s older industrial cities remain a vital-if undervalued-part of the economy, particularly in states where they are heavily concentrated, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. They also have a range of other physical, economic, and cultural assets that, if fully leveraged, can serve as a platform for their renewal.

Across the country, cities today are becoming more attractive to certain segments of society. Meanwhile, economic trends-globalization, the demand for educated workers, the increasing role of universities-are providing cities with an unprecedented chance to capitalize upon their economic advantages and regain their competitive edge.

Many cities have exploited these assets to their advantage; the moment is ripe for older industrial cities to follow suit. But to do so, these cities need thoughtful and broad-based approaches to foster prosperity.

“Restoring Prosperity” aims to mobilize governors and legislative leaders, as well as local constituencies, behind an asset-oriented agenda for reinvigorating the market in the nation’s older industrial cities. The report begins with identifications and descriptions of these cities-and the economic, demographic, and policy “drivers” behind their current condition-then makes a case for why the moment is ripe for advancing urban reform, and offers a five-part agenda and organizing plan to achieve it.