Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Economic restructuring success and failure: Detroit compared to Bilbao, Liverpool, and Pittsburgh

Note that I have been meaning to write a piece comparing revitalization planning in Detroit, Pittsburgh, Bilbao, and Liverpool.

All of these cities have experienced a great deal of economic dislocation in response to deindustrialization, globalization, consolidation of power in other cities within the nation, and/or changes in the organization of the shipping industry.

Liverpool is most like Detroit in the level of poverty that persists, even after the city's 30 years of regeneration programming (on many blocks in Liverpool, every household is on social welfare).  And it's not like there isn't still significant poverty and unemployment in Bilbao and Pittsburgh.

But Bilbao, Liverpool, and Pittsburgh have come a long way forward from the depths of the 1980s, while Detroit continues to deteriorate significantly.

While I would be the first to argue that one element that separates Detroit from the other cities is the race question and racism, the other element that separates Detroit from Bilbao, Liverpool, and Pittsburgh is visionary planning--and Pittsburgh is not quite as comprehensive planning oriented as Bilbao and Liverpool, but has done some amazing things nonetheless, even if not at the scale of those cities, what they have accomplished is quite remarkable, helped by some great local nonprofits that are pretty gutsy (such as the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, Heinz Charities and their support of local organizations) and real leadership.

In the sum up piece on the European cities, I wrote this:

The six components of a successful broad ranging revitalization program.  In writing about the various efforts, I drew the conclusion that successful revitalization programs, especially in those cities that were working to overturn serious disadvantages, were comprised of these elements:
  • A commitment to the development and production of a broad, comprehensive, visionary, and detailed revitalization plan/s (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool);
  • the creation of innovative and successful implementation organizations, with representatives from the public sector and private firms, to carry out the program.  Typically, the organizations have some distance from the local government so that the plan and program aren't subject to the vicissitudes of changing political administrations, parties and representatives (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool, Helsinki);
  • strong accountability mechanisms that ensure that the critical distance provided by semi-independent implementation organizations isn't taken advantage of in terms of deleterious actions (for example Dublin's Temple Bar Cultural Trust was amazingly successful but over time became somewhat disconnected from local government and spent money somewhat injudiciously, even though they generated their own revenues--this came to a head during the economic downturn and the organization was widely criticized; in response the City Council decided to fold the TBCT and incorporate it into the city government structure, which may have negative ramifications for continued program effectiveness as its revenues get siphoned off and political priorities of elected officials shift elsewhere);
  • funding to realize the plan, usually a combination of local, regional, state, and national sources, and in Europe, "structural adjustment" and other programmatic funding from the European Regional Development Fund and related programs is also available (Hamburg, as a city-state, has extra-normal access to funds beyond what may normally be available to the average city);
  • integrated branding and marketing programs to support the realization of the plan (Hamburg, Vienna, Liverpool, Bilbao, Dublin);
  • flexibility and a willingness to take advantage of serendipitous events and opportunities and integrate new projects into the overall planning and implementation framework (examples include Bilbao's "acquisition" of a branch of the Guggenheim Museum and the creation of a light rail system to complement its new subway system, Liverpool City Council's agreement with a developer to create the Liverpool One mixed use retail, office, and residential development in parallel to the regeneration plan and the hosting of the Capital of Culture program in 2008, and how multifaceted arts centers were developed in otherwise vacated properties rented out cheaply by their owners in Dublin, Helsinki, and Marseille).
Another big difference in most European cities is that there isn't the same anti-government fervor there that there is here.  In other words, people expect that their local government will take on and address such problems and they don't look to the private sector to lead the change.

Europe's "nonprofit" organizations don't work the same way either.  In the US, once an organization is created, it is run by a board of directors and staff, but isn't "owned" by anybody.  There, there are designated "shareholders" that "own" the organization.  Revitalization nonprofits are usually owned by "the government."  For example, the revitalization organizations in Bilbao are owned by the local, regional, Basque, and national governments. The group in Liverpool is owned by the City of Liverpool.  Dublin's Temple Bar Cultural Trust or the group that runs the Cable Factory in Helsinki are both owned by the local government.  Etc.

Provided there is a commitment to success, that means that there are strong accountability systems in place to focus the effort on outcomes and militate against problems and corruption.

Ultimately, this is what separates Detroit from those other cities.  It's not like there weren't indicators that things weren't working--Detroit has looked like hell for decades as residents and business left the city with blocks and blocks and blocks of the city ultimately combining into the equivalent of many square miles of abandoned land.

Sure, the events that precipitated the outmigration were mostly exogenous and out of the control of elected officials, stakeholders, and the citizens.  Regardless they still had to deal with the consequences, and not planning, not addressing the consequences left the city more at risk and ill-prepared for the time when structural conditions changed significantly, as they always do during a serious economic recession or depression, and the problems could no longer be ignored.

It is tragic that just as GM had to pushed into bankruptcy to transform its business model and practices for the 21st century, rather than continue to work off the model that Alfred Sloan developed in the 1920s and 1930s, Detroit has to be pushed into bankruptcy to change.

Not that Detroit isn't screwed by all kinds of other actors (e.g., "The rise of Oakland County is built upon Detroit's fall").

If you don't plan, your fate is fully out of your control.

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At 2:00 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

The Cleveland Plain Dealer did a series in the late 80s comparing Toronto and Cleveland.

Probably classic Tom Vail, but it was making the same points.

here is a more recent one:

Of course he was neglecting that Toronto status as Canada's most important city kept banking, law, etc there. When I was growing up Cleveland had the 3rd most F500 companies and there are perhaps 2-3 left.

In any case, as you noted that degree of positive ledaership was lacking in Detroit until recently. Although this new idea is tearing down 3/4 of the city is nuts.

At 2:17 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Well it's true that in their heydays, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette ran a lot of good stories on this issue.

I do think of Steven Litt as one of the best writers on urban design of US newspapers...

Thanks for the cite.

At 2:20 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

... relatedly, I was gonna mention the book _On a Clear Day you can see General Motors_ which is by J. Patrick Wright but co-authored by John DeLorean. He sort of disconnected affiliation once he was seeking $ for his DeLorean Motor Company.

It came out in 1979 and was probably remaindered so I bought it and read it in 1980 or 1981.

It lists all the problems with GM, and that too was a few years after the gasoline "crisis" of 1973, which was devastating for the US auto industry.

It wasn't like GM hadn't been getting warning signs all along.

At 2:23 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

and related to Pittsburgh, I wrote this a few years ago in response to a piece by Richard Florida. He tweeted my response and said it was a great sum up.

At 2:53 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

I'm a big fan of "Clear day" but let's be honest -- the problems he was describing were completly different than the problems GM faced prior to BK. 40 years will do that.

and contra Vail, I'd love to write a story on how a city like Cleveland pretty much got everything wrong since 1970.

At 4:35 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

"everything" is pretty strong. I like West Side Market and the creation of the Gateway and Warehouse districts. It's too bad though that they did BRT instead of compatible with the Rapid, otoh, they are only getting ridership of maybe 15,000 passengers/day which isn't there for justifying that mode.

2. Then there are the sports stadiums and the ROck and Roll Hall of Fame isn't situated in a manner that supports adjacent development.

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