What’s New(s) in Legacy Cities

2015 is off with a bang!

Announcing three upcoming events plus our media round-up covering legacy cities news this month. It’s already been a busy year!


Urban Sustainability Meetups in Detroit, NYC (and SF and LA)
Meetups under the banner of “urban sustainability” have formed as informal groups of dedicated urbanists of all ages in cities around the country.  Staff from the American Assembly helped to organize the Meetup in New York which has an event this Sunday, January 25th at the Queens Museum on Urban Renewal, and its every-other month happy hour on Thursday, February 5. Also scheduled is an Urban Sustainability Meetup in Detroit on Thursday, February 5th.

Next City Vanguard Leadership Conference
Next City’s 6th annual Vanguard Leadership Conference will be in Reno, NV from May 6th to 8th. Applications are due on Feb. 8th, but you can save $10 on the application if you apply before Feb. 1st.  The Vanguard will bring together 40 of the brightest young urban leaders for three days of learning, exchanging ideas and building relationships with fellow innovators from cities across the world. Participants will be selected through a competitive application process.  The conference will include workshops, tours and conversations about the newest ideas in urban development, transportation, tech and politics.

Learn more and apply here:

Restoring Neighborhoods, Strengthening Economies: A Summit on Innovation and Sustainable Growth in Ohio’s Cities & Regions
The Greater Ohio Policy Center announced open registration for its 2015 Summit, Restoring Neighborhoods, Strengthening Economies: Innovation and Sustainable Growth in Ohio’s Cities & Regions. This summit will bring together national experts, state policymakers, and local leaders from all sectors to discuss new strategies for transforming Ohio’s cities and regions and making Ohio economically competitive in the 21st century, featuring cutting-edge tools and practices, effective partnerships, and policy solutions that build prosperous communities in Ohio and beyond.

June 9-10, 2015
The Westin Columbus
310 S. High Street
Columbus, Ohio, 43215



Take it to the Bank: How Land Banks Are Strengthening America’s Neighborhoods
Hard copies of Take it to the Bank are still available from our colleagues at the Center for Community Progress.  Take it to the Bank: How Land Banks Are Strengthening America’s Neighborhoods offers insights into what makes a land bank successful, a national scan of land banks in the United States, exploring seven of their most striking commonalities, based on research of 67 land banks, and in-depth portraits of seven diverse land banks from Georgia, Michigan, New York, and Ohio.

The Myth of Gentrification
by John Buntin at Slate
Is it time to retire the term “gentrification?”  Tell us what you think via comments or an email.

Cuomo slices a $1.5B pie
By Matthew Hamilton at the Times Unon
The governor’s economic development plan offers $500M to each of three winners, supercharging the innovative Regional Economic Development Council system that invites the ten regions of NYS to think regional and prioritize regional investments. 

For The Assembly’s earlier work in NYS regional economic development, see also our report: Revitalizing the Legacy Cities of Upstate New York

Knight Cities Finalists Announced
126 great projects on the list of finalists for the Knight Cities Challenge

Immigration and Legacy Cities
President Obama praises the immigrant attraction, retention and investment model pioneered by Welcoming America.

Finally, from late November last year — courtesy of the Smart Growth Newsletter — a 60 Minutes report worth repeating, especially in light of President Obama’s recent State of the Union address. After decades of neglect, our roads and bridges are crumbling, our airports are out of date and the vast majority of our seaports are in danger of becoming obsolete:
Falling apart: America’s neglected infrastructure


Media Round-Up!

It’s time for another media round-up!  And here we go…!

Take it to the Bank: How Land Banks Are Strengthening America’s Neighborhoods
by Center for Community Progress

An estimated 120 land banks exist in the United States, and their ability to adapt to local conditions and needs is helping communities, large and small, address the negative impacts of vacant, abandoned, and tax-delinquent properties.

In Take it to the Bank: How Land Banks Are Strengthening America’s Neighborhoods, authors Payton Heins and Tarik Abdelazim reveal trends in the growing land bank movement. Examining more than half of the nation’s land banks, the report includes (1) characteristics of successful land banks, (2) a national scan of land banking in the U.S., (3) in-depth portraits of seven diverse land banks, and (4) a rich array of appendices featuring land bank policies and other core documents.

Click here to download the free PDF
Center for Community Progress Land Bank Program


Immigrant Talent Study Helps Six Cities Leverage Local Talent to Contribute to Economic Development
by The Knight Foundation

A new study of college-educated immigrants will track the experiences of underutilized, skilled immigrants in six cities to discover ways to better integrate and leverage the talents of workers who were educated abroad. The study is being led by the nonprofit World Education Services with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The study will survey immigrants in four cities where Knight invests through its community and national initiatives program: Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia and San Jose.   Boston and Seattle will also be included in the survey because of their large population of college-educated immigrants, and their potential to uncover valuable lessons for other cities.


Minneapolis Has a Plan for the Most Resilient Neighborhood in the Country
by Rachel Dovey  at Next City

For a Legacy City like Minneapolis, climate change will most likely lead to wetter, hotter years by mid-century, with annual temperatures rising as much as 5 degrees. Unfortunately, like most cities, its pipes, sewers and even electricity were laid for very different weather. Adapting could require the ability to disconnect from that grid — which is exactly what the planners of one futuristic neighborhood propose to do.


The City of Philadelphia Wants You to Stop Ignoring Icky Overflowing Sewers
by Sarah Goodyear at Next City

The Venice Island facility is the latest and most visible manifestation of Philly’s Green City, Clean Waters program, a 25-year, $2.5 billion initiative spearheaded by the Philadelphia Water Department that is changing the way the city manages its stormwater.  Crucially, it is a program that involves both private and public stakeholders.


“We are and always will be a nation of immigrants”
by Welcoming America


Mural Final

A Call for Hope and Action

jeffjohnsonjpg-5c89c13a1efde7c7_mediumCouncilman Jeff Johnson attended the Historic Preservation in Legacy Cities conference in Cleveland. This post was first published on the Preservation Rightsizing Network blog and is re-posted with permission.

As a member of Cleveland City Council, I have been challenged to respond to some difficult issues within the urban neighborhoods of the city. One of those issues is how to preserve Cleveland’s cultural heritage, including the structures and sites that are historic and important to the city, while it goes through very difficult economic and social change. Of course I know what I am facing in Cleveland are the same challenges that other leaders in Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, Buffalo, and many other cities are also seeing each day. It was these significant challenges that led me earlier this year to work with the Cleveland Restoration Society and Cleveland State University to plan and organize the Historic Preservation in America’s Legacy Cities conference in June. I was delighted and inspired by what I learned during the three days at the conference.

The Doan Classroom Apartments in Cleveland offer affordable senior housing in a formerly foreclosed building (Photo: Ohio Preservation Compact)
The Doan Classroom Apartments in Cleveland offer affordable senior housing in a formerly foreclosed building
(Photo: Ohio Preservation Compact)

I was particularly energized by the workshop on the last day of the conference, as a room full of participants with diverse talents and experiences talked about the previous two days and the priority issues for historic preservation in our legacy cities. That discussion included:

  • A belief I shared that to preserve our legacy cities, we have to organize within the historic preservation community to develop effective advocacy and education strategies around the changes we need within our cities. Also, the ability of individuals and organizations to share, support, and sustain preservation efforts within legacy cities is critical to strengthening those cities.
  • Acknowledgment that the loss of population from the core of our legacy cities, along with increased poverty, has created socially and economically weaker neighborhoods with many abandoned structures, increased foreclosures, and decreased investment. We know that these social and economic shifts have raised doubt concerning the continued value and usefulness of historic preservation in the struggle to save our neighborhoods.
  • Overviews of successful projects within legacy cities that have strengthened neighborhood commercial districts and proved that economic development and historic preservation are not mutually exclusive.
  • The need to strike a more rational balance of the use of demolition, mothballing, and rehabilitation in the fight against abandonment and blight, so that they do not lose historically significant neighborhood and downtown structures.
  • The commitment to not surrender to the cynical beliefs of some key influential and powerful voices in our cities who say that historic preservation is a luxury we cannot afford during these difficult times.

Growing up in the historic Cleveland neighborhoods of Collinwood and Glenville, I recognized and appreciated the importance of legacy and cultural heritage. I continue to believe that fighting for our historic community links, as reflected in our historically significant physical structures and sites, is essential in the effort to solve our most difficult social and economic problems.

Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood (Photo: Stu Spivack)
Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood
(Photo: Stu Spivack)

The Historic Preservation in America’s Legacy Cities conference provided for me confirmation that this is the right fight. I left with the understanding that the identification, insight, and analysis of the challenges of our legacy cities undoubtedly requires historic preservation to ensure that we actually solve our problems and not lose what is uniquely ours.

Jeff Johnson is Councilman of Ward 10 in the city of Cleveland, Ohio.


Media Round-Up!

This week in Legacy City news:

Federalism and Municipal Innovation: Lessons from the Fight Against Vacant Properties
by Benton Martin
Benton Martin writes on the importance of local government to build constituencies and head off objections from other levels of government. The full essay was published in August in The Urban Lawyer.

Will a Greenbelt Help to Shrink Detroit’s Wasteland?
by Mark Skidmore, professor of economics at Michigan State University
This Land Lines article considers the fiscal causes and repercussions of Detroit’s surplus of housing and vacant property, and some potential ways to reconcile the remaining number of people with the amount of vacant and publicly held property. These measures range from targeting densely populated neighborhoods for redevelopment to establishing a greenbelt and reclaiming vacant parcels for public use.

Rutgers Plans New Arts Center in Long Vacant Downtown Newark Department Store
by Ted Sherman, NJ Advance Media for
Rutgers University has approved a $25 million plan to lease three floors of the vacant Hahne & Co. department store in downtown Newark to provide studio, classroom and gallery space for campus arts programs, in partnership with Newark artists, schools and other institutions.

The Remarkable Philanthropic Result of the Most Expensive Team Purchase in NFL History
by Mark Byrnes, The Atlantic Citylab
Charities and nonprofits in Buffalo and Detroit are poised to get a big boost thanks to late Bills owner Ralph Wilson.

Why Chicago Is Still the No. 2 U.S. City for Mexican Immigrants
by Tanvi Misra, The Atlantic Citylab
A closer look at the history of Mexican migration patterns reveals that it’s actually a natural choice.

At Forlorn Urban Churches, Mass Gets Crowded in a Flash
by Michael Paulson, The New York Times
The latest trend in Rust Belt Catholicism!


Federalism and Municipal Innovation: Lessons from the Fight Against Vacant Properties

bentonBenton Martin writes on the importance of local government to build constituencies and head off objections from other levels of government. The full essay was published in August in The Urban Lawyer.

Cities maintain a vital role in serving as laboratories for novel government initiatives. The prevailing view of city authority, however, is that they have only those powers granted by the state. Additionally, in seeking to be innovative, cities risk running afoul of legal doctrines that reserve certain policy areas for regulation only by the federal government.

Two examples of property regulation in legacy cities serve as important reminders to city officials about federalism in the United States.

First, consider land banking. Facing rampant blight, Genesee County in Michigan developed a creative solution involving a local government entity (the land bank) acquiring, and seeking to repurpose, vacant properties. The County faced opposition, however, from limitations imposed by state law. Taking the challenges head on, local leaders persuaded the state legislature to adopt groundbreaking legislation enabling land banking. The ensuing success prompted many other municipalities to adopt this approach.

The second example is ordinances requiring registration of vacant property. As with land banking, successful registration initiatives in a handful of cities inspired imitation by hundreds more. But some state governments acted to weaken these efforts by limiting local discretion. The federal government pushed back, too. When the City of Chicago enacted an aggressive ordinance requiring mortgage lenders to comply with strict maintenance standards for foreclosed properties, the Federal Housing Finance Agency challenged the law in a federal court and won an exemption for properties with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

City leaders must not stop crafting bold solutions to local problems. Instead, they must remember the possibility of powerful, but often surmountable, opposition from other levels of government. Our system is one of “polyphony”—many voices contributing to a single chorus. If municipal leaders consider up front the singers in this choir—the state legislators, federal agencies, and private business or community groups with a stake in the issue—they will be in the best position to produce harmony rather than cacophony.

Benton C. Martin is a law clerk to the Honorable Geraldine Soat Brown, Presiding Magistrate Judge for the Northern District of Illinois.


Let Them In. Bring Them Here.

fleischerFor our second post in honor of National Welcoming Week, Peter Fleischer joins us from Empire State Future to highlight the various imperatives of immigrant integration in legacy cities. This post was first published on the ESF blog and is re-posted with permission by the author.

If it were only a case of 50,000 destitute children interned for trying to enter the United States, we would not still be reading about this ongoing sadness. Many right-minded, good people fear that where there are 50,000 today, there will be 500,000 or perhaps five million refugees before long. So what should one do? I say bring them here. They are kids. They are not a threat, economically or otherwise.

We have room here in the Lake Belt (formerly dubbed the Rust Belt), and soon we will need these brave and oh so familiar strangers, fleeing poverty, hatred and violence, wanting a better life. From Duluth, Minnesota through Milwaukee, Kankakee, Gary, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Erie, Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, all the way to Springfield, Massachusetts and Hartford, Connecticut, our legacy cities have room. In recent decades, these places have shed at least the number of people we might soon see as new immigrants.

Syracuse, NY (Photo: Empire State Future)
Syracuse, NY (Photo: Empire State Future)

In many places, what once were attractive core cities now regrettably contain hundreds of thousands of empty lots, abandoned homes, under-utilized shopping centers, old schools and historic places of worship. Way too many of them are slated for demolition.

Many once-thriving downtowns are paved over for parking lots, and lined with shuttered stores. These are the hollowed out places where new immigrants from the Ukraine, Italy, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Ireland, Germany — everywhere, actually — once made things and made many people wealthy in the process.

These are places with water, sewer, road and bus systems built bigger than their shrunken populations can now afford. These are old established communities with rich histories that also contain fine medical centers, universities, museums, theatres and architecture. Urban planners say they have “fine bones.”

Population experts say they have inverted demographic pyramids — too many old people, too few young ones.

And it’s not just the cities: rural areas in upstate New York, for example, are inverted in this way as well. It’s projected that Upstate counties by 2025 will experience ratios of working people to retired people approaching 1 to 1. Real estate brokers, bankers, and municipal officials know why that won’t work — its Economics 101 — supply and demand!

When too many Baby Boomers (people age 55 and over) downsize and try to sell their homes, as they soon will, there are regularly too few buyers. This is largely due to the perfect storm of baby bust, youth flight, and changing housing preferences, which cause home prices to fall.

Nest eggs will shrink. Towns, villages, and cities will need to raise tax rates just to maintain services. This already vicious cycle will grow ever more vicious. And the market will have spoken, often with devastating consequences.

Averting this human and marketplace debacle that is coming to a community near you by 2025 or so is still possible. Simply put, new buyers are needed. Not quite yet, but soon, demographically speaking. Just about the time when the children now at the border will need homes of their own.

Continue reading


The Future of Legacy Cities in an Era of Welcoming

rachelheadIn honor of National Welcoming Week, Rachel Peric, Deputy Director of Welcoming America, joins us to discuss opportunities to embrace and engage immigrant communities in Legacy Cities like St. Louis and Dayton.

Immigration has dominated news headlines for much of this summer, with little progress made in the debate on Capitol Hill. Yet, regardless of what is happening in Washington, immigrants are being welcomed across the country into communities that recognize that their greatest strength comes from their diverse residents. In Legacy Cities, there is a growing recognition that a wellspring of resilience resides not only in the untapped assets of infrastructure and longstanding institutions, but in the people who have and will continue to shape the future. As in centuries past, New Americans should be welcomed as vital partners in expanding prosperity for our nation’s cities.

Today marks the start of National Welcoming Week, an event that celebrates the growing movement of communities and leaders across the United States that fully embrace immigrants and their contributions to the local and national fabric of our country. Hosted by the national organization, Welcoming America, the event taps into the creativity of communities both small and large, rural and urban. In 27 states, from Virginia to Washington, local organizations are hosting events that celebrate the extraordinary untapped potential of their diverse residents. These events build personal connections among neighbors, business owners, parents, and newly naturalized citizens, and they are supported by community leaders ranging from mayors to the heads of economic development agencies, arts institutions, and community colleges.

(Photo: Welcoming America)
(Photo: Welcoming America)

And rightly so – forward-looking institutions and community leaders recognize the economic imperatives to open their doors to the increasingly diverse US population. In fact, communities across the country and around the world are in a race to the top to attract and retain the human capital that will allow them to thrive in a global economy. Becoming a more welcoming place for both immigrants and long-term residents gives cities and institutions a leg up in that competition and helps retain talented people of all backgrounds.

As a result, a growing movement of cities and municipalities in the United States – many of them Legacy Cities – are recognizing the economic and social benefits of attracting and integrating immigrants, and are creating a welcoming environment that allows all residents to reach their fullest potential.

(Photo: St. Louis Mosaic Project)
(Photo: St. Louis Mosaic Project)

Take for example, St Louis, Missouri, which seeks to become the fastest growing U.S. metropolitan area for immigration by 2020, bolstered by a business case developed by a local economist with Saint Louis University that showed how immigrants were key to the city’s future prosperity and economic growth. The report led to the formation of a regional task-force, and ultimately the creation of the St. Louis Mosaic Project, which works toward a goal of regional prosperity through immigration & innovation, based on a comprehensive, community driven strategy that engages all sectors of the community. Efforts such as the Mosaic Ambassadors program build bridges between newer immigrant communities and long-time residents, while other initiatives promote economic growth and workforce participation, such as through a mentorship program that connects immigrants to skilled professionals in their field.

In Dayton, Ohio, the Welcome Dayton Plan, is a blueprint for positioning Dayton to become the most immigrant-friendly city in Ohio, if not the entire country. The plan, adopted unanimously by the city council in 2011, includes programs that provide marketing support for specific neighborhoods that have become hubs of immigrant entrepreneurship, community gatherings that create dialogue and empathy between U.S-born and immigrant residents and increase access to English language learning. Taken together, these efforts have attracted new residents from across the globe and led immigrants to participate more fully in the community, opening new businesses and buying homes that refresh the community and economy. The effort has also turned back Dayton’s population decline, for the first time in half a century.

The great American city has long been shaped by migration, and will be again this century. But how cities respond to demographic change will influence their destiny, and whether they and all their residents can truly thrive.

Rachel Peric is the Deputy Director of Welcoming America, a national organization that helps communities across the country reach their full economic and social potential by becoming more welcoming toward immigrants. She has worked in community and international development for 15 years. To find out more, visit


Opening Up Vacant Lots Data

paulasegelheadPaula Segel joins us as a guest contributor from 596 Acres, a land access advocacy group that helps people see opportunities in their neighborhood vacant lots. This article originally appeared on the Sunlight Foundation site and is re-posted with permission from the author and blog editors.

In New York City alone, hundreds of city-owned sites languish, located primarily in low-income communities of color, collecting garbage and blighting the very neighborhoods they could enliven. Taken together, these forgotten spaces — fenced-off, inaccessible and lost to bureaucratic neglect — are larger than most city parks. Uneven growth in cities, even in seemingly strong market cities like New York, is a problem that is compounded by an uneven access to information about how people can influence the development of the places where they live. In cities across America, a lack of developed and maintained green spaces is just one symptom of municipal neglect; a lack of information about how people can shape the city comes with it.

Lot labels provide information about city agency owners directly on the fences of city-owned vacant lots (Photo: 596 Acres)
Lot labels provide information about city agency owners directly on the fences of city-owned vacant lots (Photo: Murray Cox)

596 Acres, a land access advocacy group, has been running a pilot project that helps neighbors see opportunities in the fenced vacant lots of New York City’s most historically disadvantaged neighborhoods since August 2011. We created a map of city-owned vacant land by sourcing and manipulating developed from available Open Data to create a useful resource and hands-on manipulation of that data to transform it into useful information. This map is the foundation of the NYC Community Land Access Project, which has evolved over the last three years to include social networking features that have already supported 143 neighbor-led campaigns to transform vacant lots throughout New York City into gardens, farms and play spaces. We have also built a specialized rolodex that leads New Yorkers directly to the individuals in city government who can answer their questions about the specific lots in their lives, cutting through the confusion of sixteen land-holding city agencies with different inventory stewards for different boroughs, and confusion about who the decision makers really are. The mapping tool also allows us, as the NYC Community Land Access Project, to put signs directly on the fences of city-owned vacant lots with specific information about city agency owners directly on the fences of city-owned vacant lots.

(Photo: Greg Mihalko)
(Photo: Greg Mihalko)

Twenty-five groups have gotten official permission to access the lots in their lives so far, transforming of 6.7 acres of fenced vacant parcels of land into open community spaces. Through the tool and direct hands-on advocacy, we are opening up the commons and creating spaces where people have the opportunity to build the city, together.

Our experience with the pilot project has led to three key partnerships with advocates in other cities: we built Grounded In Philly with the Garden Justice Legal Initiative in 2012, Living Lots NOLA with the New Orleans Food and Farm Network in 2013 and will soon be launching LA Open Acres with Community Health Councils in Los Angeles. Understanding that each city has a particular policy and real estate environment, particularly constrained in legacy cities, each of these tools transforms available data into information differently, so that it is useful for understanding opportunities for community land access in the specific community it serves in each city’s particular policy and real estate environment. In each instance, we have re-used portions of the code and re-applied the most effective pieces of the design, iteratively developing a platform for community land access called Living Lots. And in each city, advocates are using the tools to help protect existing community-managed open spaces, connect new farmers with land owners who want to see their urban land put to use, encourage land-holding agencies to make their lots available to the people who live near the lots and, of course, help neighbors connect directly with the decision makers who hold the keys to the lots in their lives.

(Photo: 596 Acres)
(Photo: 596 Acres)

This fall, with the help of a Sunlight Foundation OpenGov grant, we’ll be bringing Living Lots home and making a huge leap in the evolution of our NYC pilot project by creating Living Lots NYC. Living Lots NYC will be faster, include key filters (e.g. you’ll be able to see the lots in a particular community or city council district), show parcel outlines (which we can do now that MapPLUTO is free), have improved design, updated data about community gardens (thanks to an updated survey by our friends at GrowNYC), information about lots that were planned as “open space” under urban renewal (we have done an extensive analysis of all the plans the city has ever created), contact information for community boards directly associated with each lot, and more intuitive social networking and case-tracking features. To get a sense of where it’s going, check out Living Lots NOLA.

It’s not about technology, that’s too easy. It’s not about community gardens, that’s too messy. It’s about the right to remake ourselves by remaking the city.

If you’re in New York City, join 596 Acres on September 6 in Long Island City for a Ribbon Cutting at Smiling Hogshead Ranch and on October 2 to celebrate all our acres at the Mapping Matters gala in DUMBO.

Paula Z. Segal is the founding director of 596 Acres. She is a graduate of City University of New York Law School at Queens College, where she was a Haywood Burns Fellow in Human and Civil Rights and worked in the Economic Justice Project at Main Street Legal Services. Before joining the legal profession, Paula taught English to Speakers of Other Languages, developed curricula and ran an all-volunteer adult English school on the Lower East Side. She was also a member of the Empty Vessel Project. Paula is an attorney admitted to practice in New York State who is a partner in her own firm, Mohen & Segal, which focuses on legal services for entities working on our shared sustainable economy. She has practiced in the Disaster Recovery Unit at Staten Island Legal Services and at Rankin & Taylor.


Preservation as Change of Mind

margoGuest writer and preservationist Margo Warminski offers some closing thoughts following the Historic Preservation Conference in Cleveland. This article was first published by the Preservation Rightsizing Network and is re-posted with permission from the author and blog editors.

I grew up in 48205. (Google it.) I lived in a place where the American dream went into reverse, and kept going backward. Eventually I moved to a calmer zip code but kept the Rust Belt DNA. Which is why I couldn’t wait to spend three days at the Historic Preservation in America’s Legacy Cities conference in Cleveland.

And I wasn’t disappointed. Throw so many bright, engaged, outspoken urbanists in a (big) room and you can’t help but be inspired, and challenged by tough truths (Looking for happy talk? Keep looking.) like:

1. For years, much of preservation was oriented toward controlling growth: a manifest destiny of new restoration districts, better ordinances and more wood windows. But what happens when the wheels come off and, in some neighborhoods, you can’t even give houses away? Preservationists, not just in rusty cities, need a change of mind: learning to live within limits. As we heard over and over, the overriding goals should be to keep buildings standing, and keep people in them—even if we have to compromise on guidelines and expectations.

IMG_03222. You can’t demolish away the problem of vacated neighborhoods. For years, cities have been whacking away at buildings in a kind of slow-motion urban renewal, yet vacancy continues to spread. As Alan Mallach ably stated, low demand, not vacancy, is the issue. [editor’s note:While it’s true that demolition alone will not solve the problem, Alan’s point was that we should work both to rebuild demand (which is a slow, gradual process) while also implementing a strategic plan for demolition. Vacancy is a result of low demand, and all legacy cities have a large, and increasing housing surplus. When asked to comment on Margo’s point, Mallach reminded us that “demolition may not be the answer, but the reality of oversupply means that many buildings will be lost, either through demolition or neglect.”]

3. You can’t separate race, class, poverty, crime, unemployment, and extreme isolation.
4. You can’t save everything. We know this better than anyone.
5. And: time, resources, political will — never enough.

IMG_0352Most exciting was the four-hour closing workshop where we hammered together an action agenda, more or less in harmony. Our wish list included: more funding (saved, expanded tax credit; new products for low-value properties); more balance (money for stabilization, not just demolition); and more, better data. And we left with work orders:

1. Pitch the plans. Take meaningful, incremental steps.
2. Go top-down, bottom-up. Cities need both DIY-urbanism and activist government.
3. Reach across the room. Realize that first priorities of people in hard-hit neighborhoods probably aren’t restoring Italianate cornices. You can’t impose on people with different priorities.
4.Find common threads in tangled history. Newer residents of old neighborhoods may not cherish them for the original residents, but they may share values and aspirations with the founders.

Now, back to 48205. As a kid, I wanted to live on a street in a nearby neighborhood called Robinwood East. Just a bungalow block, but the name sounded glamorous. (Google-map it to see what’s left of it today.) For Robinwood East and Delhi Avenue and Flint and Youngstown and struggling historic places in lonely corners of America, that’s why this matters. Let’s go.

Margo Warminski is the Preservation Director at the Cincinnati Preservation Association, where she leads research, advocacy, and community outreach about preservation through monthly programs and assisting with agency events and publicity. She has worked in the historic preservation field in the Cincinnati area for over twenty years.


Military Park: A Catalyst for Newark’s Renaissance

kimberlyheadKimberly Dowdell writes on the transformative effect of open spaces and the hopeful future of one legacy city in New Jersey.

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Military Park in Newark, New Jersey last month, Senator Cory Booker made the insightful remark that “strong American cities require strong parks and urban spaces.” As several hundred people gathered to celebrate the official re-opening of the historic park, there was a renewed sense of hope for the future of Newark as a strong city. The energy in that celebratory space and moment in time seemed to reflect a new beginning for Newark’s downtown, as well as the 6-acre, triangular-shaped park that was being ceremoniously handed back to the public after more than a year of construction – and decades of disrepair.

Established in 1667, Military Park initially served as a training ground for soldiers – as well as a camping site for George Washington’s troops during the Revolutionary War in 1776. Nearly a century later, Military Park became the official town commons of Newark and gained further distinction as the site of several important American monuments and statues. But by the late 70s, Newark experienced dramatic economic decline, much like other legacy cities, which resulted in the gradual neglect and ultimate desertion of Military Park, which was deemed unsafe by the public. This condition persisted for the next few decades, causing Military Park to further diminish and evolve into a ghost of its former self.


After many years of analysis, planning, design, approval and fundraising–efforts starting in 2003 were picked up again in earnest by 2010–the Military Park Partnership (MPP) broke ground on a $5 million revitalization effort in May 2013. Led by Biederman Redevelopment Ventures (BRV), the firm responsible for reviving Manhattan’s Bryant Park, MPP assembled a team of landscape design, lighting design, engineering, building design and construction professionals to chart a new path forward for Military Park. fountainGiven the park’s perception as a dangerous and uninviting place, it was important that the redesign signal a warm welcome to a safe, positive environment for all visitors. This was achieved in part by pushing the park’s southern-most trees outwards towards the street, creating a much more generous entry space for the park.

Once inside, visitors are greeted by the 1965 bust sculpture of John F. Kennedy, Jr. as well as several new shaded tables and chairs. Walking further north, visitors encounter a breathtaking floral arrangement inside and around the iconic sword fountain, which is the centerpiece of the entire park, culminating in the 1926 Wars of America monument – the sword’s symbolic handle. jfkbustMoving along the finely groomed, tree-lined space, visitors continue to see chairs and tables along with gorgeous pops of color achieved though planters placed along the walking sequence. Directly behind the sword, there is a redesigned stair tower that leads to the parking structure below. Previously, this small structure appeared to be dark, dreary and unsafe. Today, the new cladding materials and greater transparency into the stair tower alleviates the previous concerns about park safety. MPP has also addressed this issue by hiring a security staff to monitor activity in the park at all times. The occurrence of crime in Military Park is expected to be virtually eliminated, addressing much of the reason that the park was underutilized in the past.


In addition to heightened safety and openness, Military Park boasts an exciting new line-up of programs and activities for all citizens to enjoy, from yoga, ping pong, and chess, to outdoor reading rooms and public concerts. An important addition to the park for larger scale events is the new Comfort Station that offers safe and clean public restrooms. One of the most exciting new amenities of the park is Burg, a gourmet hamburger venue that will offer a variety of food and beverages for park visitors to enjoy during their stay, scheduled to open this fall.

prudentialThe rebirth of Military Park plays a vital role in the City of Newark’s revitalization plan. Directly across from the park on Broad St., Prudential is building a 20-story office tower, while several new retail spaces are being constructed along Military Park’s western side. Northwest of the park, Trinity & St. Philip’s Cathedral remains a long-standing fixture in the community. Northeast, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) is also an important anchor for the park. To the east, on Park Place, there are a variety of retail, office and institutional neighbors, including a hotel and conference center.

With so much new and positive activity brewing in Newark, the future of the city is bright, and Military Park is an indicator of this because it truly belongs to the public and will succeed or fail based on the public’s embrace. As Senator Booker suggests, Military Park directly reflects the strength of the city. In the coming months and years, this area of downtown Newark is expected to flourish. Military Park will be the centerpiece of this renaissance and I am proud to have been a part of the project team tasked with bringing the vision of this revitalized urban oasis to fruition.


Kimberly Dowdell is a licensed architect, project manager and urban strategist. Currently, she is a Sheila C. Johnson Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, where she is pursuing a Master of Public Administration. Kim previously served as a real estate project manager for Levien & Company where she managed the Military Park assignment in Newark and the Middle Collegiate Church project in Manhattan. She is a native of Detroit, Michigan and a co-founder of SEED (Social Economic Environmental Design). Kim’s mission is to make cities better places for people to live, learn, work and play.