Urban Revitalization Case Study

In the September issue of Scientific American, Harvard University economist Edward Glaeser describes how education and entrepreneurship can make or break cities. In a series of case studies around the Web, Glaeser has explored how those factors and others have allowed some U.S. cities to thrive as others continue to struggle. Below are links to his writings, plus related articles, on five American metropolises.


Detroit's mayor David Bing has adopted a promising strategy to save his city: shrink it to a sustainable size. By focusing public services on healthy neighborhoods and pulling back from the others, the plan acknowledges that Detroit and other cities of the Great Lakes region will never return to their former greatness (pdf). Those glory years depended on specific historical factors conductive to heavy industry, such as proximity to mines and waterways. But Detroit can become a vibrant, livable smaller city.

Three times in its history, Boston has gone into decline, and three times, Boston has managed to reinvent itself. Each time, the key has been its human capital. High education levels and local investment in R&D mean that Bostonians can shift their talents to new industries when old industries die and new opportunities present themselves.

Buffalo is half the city it used to be and one of the most impoverished urban areas in the country. The federal and state governments have poured money into the city, trying to revitalize it, but the sad fact is that it simply no longer serves as the transportation hub it once was. Its forbidding climate and low average education levels are disincentives for private investment. Like Detroit, Buffalo needs to manage a contraction to a sustainable size.

New York City used to be a byword for urban decay, but the Big Apple has managed to reinvent itself. Commentators have debated the reasons for its current success, such as innovative policing, but the underlying reasons are its vibrant entrepreneurial culture and skilled workforce.

It wasn't long ago that Chicago, like the other large cities of the East and Midwest, seemed to be caught in a spiral of decay. Human capital played a large role in its recovery, as it has elsewhere, but innovative, minimum-drama city government has greatly helped.



HOPE VI neighborhood revitalization grants focus limited government resources in distressed communities to facilitate neighborhood change and transform urban neighborhoods into vibrant communities. HUD collaborated with the Congress for New Urbanism to develop principles for urban design to guide neighborhood revitalization. Inherent to this partnership is the assumption that urban design facilitates social economic development. Multiple cross-site analyses and case study research evaluate the ability of new urbanism principles to initiate meaningful neighborhood revitalization. Critics of new urbanism inevitably find fault in outcomes while new urbanists invariably document evidence of success. This research attempts to reconcile divergent ideologies to evaluate HOPE VI neighborhood revitalization projects by the design standards prescribed by new urbanism: if new urbanism principles are successfully implemented in HOPE VI neighborhood revitalization projects, new urbanism is responsible for the outcomes. This research expands on existing theory to measure the relationship between new urbanism design and neighborhood revitalization. To minimize claims against validity, the study begins with successful HOPE VI neighborhood revitalization projects in Seattle, Washington--New Holly and Rainier Vista. The redevelopment projects, both recipients of HOPE VI grants, are nationally recognized as exemplars of new urbanism. Urban design analysis considers each component of new urbanism design guidelines and verifies the presence, or absence, and effectiveness these principles. After analysis confirms HOPE VI redevelopment faithfully implements new urbanist principles, the research shifts to social and economic metrics that approximate neighborhood change and neighborhood revitalization. Neighborhood change is measured by qualitative indicators that influence neighborhood perception and stimulate private investment. Neighborhood revitalization is defined by the ability of a neighborhood to attract capital investment and ensure sustained development. The analysis ends with a discussion of social justice related to HOPE VI redevelopment projects. The research concludes the New Holly and Rainier Vista redevelopment projects ascribe to new urbanism design principles. Social and economic variables identify trends that indicate neighborhood change at New Holly and Rainier Vista, but neighborhood change has yet to attract requisite capital to catalyze neighborhood revitalization. The findings are constrained by time and external factors, discussed in the conclusion, and suggest directions for future research.



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