APA Book: How to Plan for Cities in Transition

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Posted: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 9:45 pm

CHICAGO, Ill. -- Cities with decaying infrastructure, high vacancies, and general disinvestment require a different way of planning. The previous planning efforts focusing on growth-oriented planning do not work for cities in transition, according to authors Joseph Schilling and Alan Mallach, FAICP.

Schilling and Mallach co-wrote Cities in Transition: A Guide for Practicing Planners, published by the American Planning Association. This new report focuses on cities facing major challenges from short- or long-term economic, demographic, or physical changes.

The authors identify four types of cities in transition:

  • Legacy or “shrinking” cities – Older industrial cities such as Detroit, Flint, or Buffalo. These cities are steadily losing population and jobs with a large inventory of vacant land and buildings.
  • Gateway cities - Northeastern cities such as Springfield, Mass., or Paterson, N.J. Older industrial cities following a different trajectory because of new generation of immigrants.
  • Boom-Bust Cities – Typically Sun Belt cities such as Las Vegas, Phoenix, Ariz., or San Bernardino, Calif., that have experienced a hard blow because of recession or collapse of the housing bubble. These cities cannot count on future growth to resolve their challenges.
  • First Suburbs – These municipalities, such as Euclid, Ohio; St. Clair Shores, Mich.; and Orange, N.J., have inherited the problems of their declining central cities; yet they often lack assets such as vital downtowns or universities that offer hope for improvement.

The authors believe that traditional planning models provide little guidance for cities in transition, especially those that have little to no planning capacity. These cities must revise or realign existing polices and plans to be more responsive to contemporary conditions.

Cities need to acknowledge that population shrinkage is a reality and move away from growth-oriented planning strategies to a sustainable ones. These cities require extensive civic engagement and a variety of partnerships among government, nonprofits, and businesses. Other considerations include integrating economic factors into plans and strategies and well as using community-organizing strategies to encourage engagement. Finally, cities in transition need to be receptive to new ideas and new implementation strategies that address population loss, low housing values, and large quantities of vacant properties.

Overall, the authors stress that planning for cities in transition is a work in progress: identify temporary strategies for reuse of vacant buildings, balance short- and long-term goals, and rebuild civic infrastructure.

The report includes case studies of four cities in transition: Detroit’s collaborative, community-driven strategic plan for reconfiguring vacant land; the efforts in Allentown, Pa., to address problem properties; Orange’s engagement with nonprofit and public sectors to combat problem properties; and work in Rialto, Calif., to minimize risk in a boom-bust city.

SOURCE: American Planning Association

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