Building on a legacy
A rooftop garden in Duluth.
Do you live and work in a legacy city?
That's the term coined in Rebuilding America's Legacy Cities: New Directions for the Industrial Heartland to describe the urban areas that were once part of America's industrial heyday, but now are experiencing population decline and decreasing relevance.
You may know these cities as the Rust Belt.
Rebuilding America's Legacy Cities does more than just rebrand the Rust Belt, however. The thirteen authors in the volume, which is built from a three-day conference from 2011, discuss land use, social programs, fiscal policy, federal support and more, with a focus on the specific needs and opportunities in cities like Buffalo, Detroit and Duluth.
I think that the underlying idea of a legacy city can be a useful way to think, even if you live far from the industrial heartland.
A legacy city is a place where times were much better in the past. There are a lot of empty housing units, and jobs can be scarce, as major employers have moved elsewhere. Assets often include great cultural or historic institutions, a handsome architectural heritage and existing built infrastructure. The big questions are how to use those assets to attract new enterprises and how to rebuild at a scale and energy that fits the 21st century.
That sounds like a lot of the neighborhoods where people are trying a comprehensive community development approach, whether it be Southern California or the rural South or southern Boston.
So, if you live and work in a legacy neighborhood or a legacy city, what does that mean for your work?
It might call for land-use planning to take into account a smaller local population, with fewer housing units and more open space (which can be used for other purposes like urban farms).
It could mean redevelopment that explicitly builds on the assets that remain from the boom times--from cultural cachet to walkable streets and local transit stops.
It could mean that plans and programs need to be considered in terms of what is possible and what is likely considering the realities of shifting demographics and economics.
That consideration doesn't have to mean limitation: Wonderful transformations have been accomplished in legacy cities and neighborhoods around the country and around the world (the book talks about how Leipzig in Germany turned nearby abandoned coal mines into a string of lakes, for example).
But with a clear-eyed vision of what it means to be living in a legacy, we might be able to accomplish much more.
h/t to the Urban Portal
Posted in Planning, Thinking Out Loud