Revitalizing Ohio’s legacy cities

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COLUMBUS — From Gary, Indiana to Lowell, Massachusetts, smaller post-industrial cities are taking strategic steps to regenerate — with the chance to follow their larger rebounding counterparts like Pittsburgh and Cleveland — by building on downtowns, capitalizing on a unique sense of place, and focusing on workforce development, according to a new report published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in partnership with the Greater Ohio Policy Center.

The report, Revitalizing America’s Smaller Legacy Cities: Strategies for Postindustrial Success from Gary to Lowell, emphasizes how America’s smaller legacy cities — cities located primarily in the Midwest and Northeast with 30,000 to 200,000 residents and traditional economies built around manufacturing — have long been central to building American middle class prosperity.

Small cities

Yet as the economy continues to transition away from manufacturing, these cities are facing challenges familiar to all post-industrial communities: entrenched poverty, neighborhood disinvestment, and a workforce with skills that may not match employers’ needs.

The strategies that have helped larger legacy cities like Cincinnati and Cleveland combat some of these challenges are not always directly transferrable to smaller communities.

“Despite their current challenges, these small and mid-sized legacy cities remain important places,” said report co-author and GOPC Manager of Research and Policy, Torey Hollingsworth.

“They are essential to the well-being and economic prosperity of the states in which they are located and the country as a whole.”

The report makes the case for reinvesting in smaller legacy cities and explores strategies that have shown promise in some places.

It examines 24 cities across seven Midwestern and Northeastern states: Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

Challenges

It measures each city’s progress from 2000-2015 using a range of indicators, from employment to population change and describes revitalization strategies that have succeeded thus far.

The unique challenges facing these cities require creative solutions that bridge the public and private sector.

The Ohio cities included in the report — Akron, Dayton, Hamilton, Lima, and Youngstown — are pursuing innovative and successful strategies to address their issues.

“The set of factors that created the problems in these cities took decades to develop, so even the most innovative solutions will take time to sink in,” said GOPC Executive Director Alison Goebel.

“However, we are encouraged to see these Ohio cities implementing new, creative strategies to ensure their communities have a bright future.”

Beyond Ohio

In addition to the work being done in Ohio cities, the report also lays out strategies that are contributing to progress in other small and mid-sized legacy city revitalization efforts around the country, including leveraging state policy.

Revitalizing America’s Smaller Legacy Cities is a follow-up to the Lincoln Institute’s 2013 report co-authored by former GOPC Executive Director Lavea Brachman, Regenerating America’s Legacy Cities, which focuses on larger cities such as Detroit, Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh.

GOPC previously released a report titled From Akron to Zanesville: How Are Ohio’s Small and Mid-Sized Legacy Cities Faring?, which examined the economic health of more of Ohio’s older industrial cities over the last 15 years and recommended proactive state policy solutions to strengthen these places.

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