Legacy Cities—the launch of a new school of planning?

Last month (Jan 2012) the Brookings Institution, together with its partners, the Center for Community Progress and Columbia Universities’ American Assembly, unveiled a new book of policy and strategy essays on the plight of older industrial cities that have suffered decades of population loss and decline—what some scholars call shrinking cities.

Edited by a friend and colleague, Alan Mallach, Rebuilding America’s Legacy Cities—New Directions for the Industrial Heartland (2012) offers a comprehensive view of the history, demographics, and contemporary policy and planning challenges they confront, but it also offers snapshots about the resiliency of cities such as Cleveland, Detroit, Flint and Youngstown. In many ways the book is a compendium of socio-economic theories and concrete policy strategies. It contains snapshots of how legacy cities are experimenting with innovative initiatives, such as Reimagining a More Sustainable Cleveland. In a recent Citiwire column, Wanted: A New Planning Lexicon for America’s Legacy Cities, author and consultant Phyllis Myers reflects on the promise of the legacy city concept as it implies a new optimism for transforming these communities instead of our more traditional approaches to planning, such as redevelopment and urban renewal.

Joseph Schilling, of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, concurs with Phyllis’ thoughts, and hopes this term and the book will signal a turning point. Planners in the front lines still battle policymakers stuck in old paradigms and often have their own internal conflicts as little professional guidance exists on how to plan for decline. Former Planning Director for Cleveland, Hunter Morrison, now of the Northern Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium comments in Phyllis’ column, “Planners are ill equipped to deal with sustained disinvestment and depopulation. They are trained to shape growth, and take jobs in places with development (which also offer planning jobs).” Perhaps legacy cities will become not only part of the planning lexicon, but become part of a new school of planning .