Braddock PA street corner, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from kthread’s photostream

In the last post, we looked at the wave of creativity coming out of the Rust Belt. Now, we look at some proposed solutions for revitalizing this area. The first is proposed by a new report, “Rebuilding America’s Legacy Cities,” created by the 110th session of the American Assembly, a nonpartisan political forum originally founded by Dwight D. Eisenhower. Notice the rebranding: “Rust Belt” becomes “Legacy.” According to a column for the National League of Cities, there was some heated debate on the name change, as some thought the word suggested something which was outdated. But Henry Cisneros, the Assembly co-chair and former secretary of housing and urban development, argued for the need to acknowledge both the historic significance of the cities in this area as well as their “prestigious universities, medical services and foundations” and “billions of dollars of “sunk” (established in-place) infrastructure.” What is still needed for a real comeback however, is an assist from their states:

[C]reating a level playing field in our metro regions, so that legacy cities can rise to new opportunities. The key obstacle here is often a state government. Legally, cities are creatures of the states. But as Lavea Brachman, executive director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center, notes in the new “Legacy Cities” report:

“State laws, regulations and policies establish the rules for what cities can and cannot do and set the stage for how and where development occurs.” And all too often, they’ve “stacked the deck against central cities” by “perpetuating fragmented local governance, encouraging cities to compete with cities for business and economic development” — in effect “incentivizing greenfield development over the reuse of urban sites.”

The “Legacy Cities” report suggests a turnaround: to give center cities, including those areas around their economic anchors of universities and medical complexes, strong preference in state funding for transportation, sewer and water facilities; to make local city-suburb government mergers much easier; and to encourage regional revolving loan funds for infrastructure and development projects.

rustbelt dreamland, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from nimrodcooper’s photostream

A different tack is taken in a blog post at GLUE (the Great Lakes Urban Exchange) which argues the benefits of Collective Impact: “a method through which a group of key players from different sectors commit to a common agenda in order to solve a specific social problem.” Collective Impact as a meme began spreading with the 2010 publication of an article by John Kania and Mark Kramer in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. They identify the markers of Collective Impact as follows:

• A common agenda
• A shared measurement system
• Mutually reinforcing activities
• Ongoing communication
• An independent backbone organization

United Front — a collaborative online community for nonprofits, health and human service community organizers and volunteers, and leaders in government and foundations — used Collective Impact as a theme for their 2011 conference. You can view their video, “The Power of Collective Impact,” here:

Of course, nothing says that a city could not attempt to take both paths to rebuilding simultaneously…

Sunflower @ Youth Garden, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from rian_bean’s photostream