Strategies for Change

While change won’t happen overnight in America’s older industrial cities, the past several decades have revealed the opportunity for dramatic, positive change to occur within several years. Seventeen cities that met the ‘struggling’ criteria in 1990 for economic and residential well-being—as outlined in the Brooking Institution’s Restoring Prosperity report—no longer do, proving that transformation is not only possible, but is already underway in several places. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for every city’s revitalization, there are common themes that can either spur cities toward, or conversely hold them back from, prosperity.

Chattanooga’s Turnaround     

Check out how the award-winning city of Chattanooga, Tennessee pursued a revitalization model to turn itself around, launching the city off the weak performance list between 1990 and 2000.


Transitioning in Baltimore

Baltimore, Maryland has risen to the top for its smart growth strategies, community greening efforts, and other positive urban landscape changes.

A Framework for Change

Over the last half century, many state policies and practices have unfairly disadvantaged cities, in some cases facilitating the migration of people and jobs from the urban core and paving the way for these cities’ denigration. The framework put forth by The Brooking Institution’s ‘Restoring Prosperity’ report identifies the need for state and city governments to collaborate together to transform struggling older industrial cities.

States play a unique role in shaping their cities. States help design the physical skeleton of metropolitan areas by helping determine how and where major capital and infrastructure projects get built. They establish the rules under which local governments operate and additionally make a wide array of investment and social program decisions that significantly impact cities.

Revitalization of America’s cities will require a true commitment, from the cities themselves and from state governments, to make change happen. Without it, these cities—and their states—risk sinking even deeper into the economic, residential and environmental problems they’re currently encountering from these urban cores’ declines.

Here are the five keys that states and cities should undertake together to revitalize America’s older industrial cities:

1. Fix the Basics           

  • Transform neighborhood schools.
  • Make the streets safe.
  • Create a competitive climate for businesses and residents.
4. Grow the Middle Class           

  • Give residents competitive skills.
  • Make work pay for low-income workers.
  • Reduce the costs of being poor in urban areas.
2. Build on Economic Strengths           

  • Invest in downtown revitalization.
  • Focus on cities’ and metros’ competitive niches.
  • Enhance connectivity between regions.
5. Create Neighborhoods of Choice           

  • Support mixed-use and mixed-income housing.
  • Grow inner-city markets, and in turn spending power of residents.
  • Invest in historic preservation and rehabilitation of vacant properties.
3. Transform the Physical Landscape           

  • Upgrade aging infrastructure.
  • Invest in catalytic development projects.
  • Create marketable sites.