Topic: Infraestructura

A row of homes, green lawns and a neighborhood sidewalk.

Manufactured Homes Get a ‘Game Changing’ Boost in Federal Housing Push

By Jon Gorey, Abril 8, 2024


Housing—and the urgent need for more of it, at more affordable prices—scored prime real estate in President Biden’s State of the Union address in March, as the president proposed tax credits for first-time home buyers, sellers of starter homes, and affordable housing developers.

But there’s more to the Biden-Harris Administration’s latest housing plan than was mentioned in the president’s speech—including three big actions to bolster manufactured housing, which is already the most abundant source of unsubsidized affordable housing in the United States. Factory-built homes offer a cost-efficient and speedy option to ramp up production of the smaller, entry-level homes America sorely needs to meet its housing demand.

The White House’s positioning of manufactured housing among its solutions to the nation’s affordable housing woes is extraordinary, says Arica Young, associate director of the Innovations in Manufactured Homes (I’m HOME) Network, a group convened by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy that promotes manufactured housing as a safe and affordable path to homeownership.

The administration’s attention and the new federal moves—which include establishing a grant program for manufactured housing communities, increasing borrowing limits for individuals, and offering a new financing approach for resident cooperatives—could go a long way toward reversing lingering stereotypes and stigma associated with manufactured homes, Young says: “I think it’s game changing, to be perfectly honest. It’s taking a form of housing that was viewed as a last resort and discussing it as a viable option.”

Grants for Manufactured Housing Communities

The first new initiative will award $225 million in competitive grants to manufactured housing communities (MHCs) to make infrastructure improvements or to repair or replace dilapidated homes. Manufactured housing communities, colloquially known as mobile home parks, generally must fund and maintain their own infrastructure, from roads and sidewalks to water and sewer services. And in many MHCs, these vital systems are long overdue for upgrades.

“It’s really expensive, and owners don’t always have the incentive or the money to keep up with the infrastructure or repairs,” says Young. “A lot of older facilities are mom-and-pop–owned, and they’ve been run on shoestring budgets. And in some cases, they’ve forced in more units than the infrastructure can accommodate.”

Street view photo of manufactured houses in Florida.
Mobile homes in a row located in a mobile home park in the tropics. Street view with palm trees and sidewalk. Caravan park.


Grants awarded through the new Preservation and Reinvestment Initiative for Community Enhancement (PRICE) program can be used to fund the installation or improvement of such critical infrastructure, as well as the repair or replacement of existing manufactured homes, energy efficiency or accessibility updates, resiliency measures, and environmental remediation, among other improvements. Notably, homes manufactured before the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standardized its building code in 1976 are not eligible for repairs, only replacement.

“PRICE is a completely new program. It’s exciting because it’s the first time that this money has been specifically appropriated for infrastructure improvements in manufactured housing communities and the replacement of pre-1976 manufactured homes,” says Maya Hamberg, policy analyst at the Lincoln Institute. Communities can also use the funds to help existing residents acquire the land they’re renting, or to prepare lots for new manufactured housing—running new utility and water lines, for example.

The bulk of the grant money, $200 million, “is for broad use by state and local governments, multi-jurisdictional entities, cooperatives, nonprofits, resident-owned communities, CDFIs [community development financial institutions], and tribal applicants,” Hamberg says. A portion of that funding, $10 million, is designated specifically for applicants from federally recognized tribes, who can also apply for the maximum grant of up to $75 million.

The final $25 million will fund a pilot program that uses manufactured homes as an affordable replacement housing strategy in MHCs, swapping old mobile homes in disrepair with up to four new units. In a state like Arizona, Hamberg says, where nearly a third of manufactured homes predate the mid-1970s standardized HUD code, “a community with a preponderance of these homes could apply for a matching grant through PRICE” to replace deteriorating structures with efficient but affordable new ones.

Raising Awareness, and Loan Limits

Replacing more pre-1976 mobile homes with today’s well-built, energy-efficient models won’t just improve living conditions and resiliency for those homeowners; it could also help change public perception, Young says. “This is not your grandfather’s mobile home. They’re high-quality homes, and they can be as resilient as site-built houses in disasters, if not more so, depending on what part of the HUD code they meet. But there’s still a lot of stigma, and education we need to do to overcome that stigma.”

It’s not necessarily homebuyers who hold a negative perception of manufactured homes. A 2022 survey by Freddie Mac found that over 60 percent of respondents across racial and income demographics—and more than two-thirds of millennials—would consider buying a manufactured home.

But lenders, lawmakers, and zoning officials still seem to turn up their noses at manufactured housing, which limits the availability and accessibility of the housing type. As Lincoln Institute President and CEO George W. McCarthy said in his 2022 testimony before a Congressional subcommittee, “Although manufactured homes have reached the same quality as site-built homes, they hold a second-class status in our financial and legal systems.”

Bar graph indicating likelihood to purchase a manufactured home by generation.
In a 2022 survey by Freddie Mac, 62 percent of respondents indicated they were likely to consider purchasing a manufactured home in the future, with that response rising to 68 percent among millennials. Credit: Freddie Mac.


More than 40 percent of manufactured homes are not titled as “real property” under state laws, for example, and therefore don’t qualify for a mortgage. That leaves manufactured homebuyers to rely on personal property (or “chattel”) loans with shorter terms and higher interest rates—and nearly two-thirds of those applications are denied, partly due to stricter credit standards and a dearth of participating lenders.

What’s more, until this month, the borrowing limit on the FHA’s personal property loan program, Title I, hadn’t been updated since 2008, rendering the loan program functionally useless. The average price of a new double-section manufactured home was roughly $150,000 in 2023, not including the cost of land or site preparation; the maximum loan the FHA would back was just $69,678.

The administration’s second major action on manufactured housing aims to remedy that. In a new rule change that took effect March 29—one that the I’m HOME Network has long been advocating for—the FHA increased its Title I borrowing limits to 115 percent of the average price of a new manufactured home. That will allow a manufactured home buyer to borrow upwards of $105,000 for a single-section unit, and nearly $200,000 for a double-section home. “In addition to raising the loan limits, the rule also provides for annual indexing, so they don’t have to do this again in 10 years when the loan limits are outdated,” Young says.

FHA Financing for Resident Ownership

A third win for manufactured housing in the newly announced plan is a proposed change at the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that will allow resident cooperatives to use an FHA 223(f) multifamily loan to acquire or refinance their manufactured home community.

Resident ownership is one way for manufactured housing communities to remain affordable—and out of the hands of profit-focused investors, who have been known to scoop up MHCs and abruptly jack up the rents on longtime residents who lease the land beneath their home. However, securing financing for such a purchase can prove difficult for a group of residents.

“There’s just a lack of financing available writ large for resident-owned communities, especially government-backed programs that insure lenders against losses on mortgage defaults,” Young says. “So this is another avenue for borrowers to apply for these loans that otherwise wouldn’t have been available to them.”

Local Barriers Remain

While the administration’s actions are heartening, there’s still much to do, at both the federal and local levels, before manufactured homes can play a bigger role in easing our housing crisis. Exclusive zoning rules and other land use restrictions remain a major barrier to the greater use of manufactured housing for entry-level homeownership, for example, according to a new report by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

But there are encouraging signs that city officials and zoning boards are starting to come around, too, Young says.

“If you go to planning sessions, city planners are dying to find out about manufactured housing,” she says. “Nobody ever talked about manufactured housing as infill, but they are now. Not a lot of people have talked about manufactured housing as multilevel, but they are now, and they’re discussing the technical feasibility around that.”

Photo of a kitchen inside of a manufactured home.
Interior of a manufactured home in Hagerstown, Maryland. Credit: Next Step Network.


In addition to educating the public and policymakers about manufactured housing, members of the I’m HOME Network have met with government officials and other institutions to discuss ways of leveraging the efficiency and affordability of the housing type.

McCarthy’s testimony before the subcommittee and the information he provided was “instrumental in helping them make a supportive decision on how much to allot toward the PRICE Act especially, but also to highlight some of the inherent structural issues with both resident-owned communities and manufactured housing writ large,” Young says.

In February, members of the I’m HOME Network and the Pew Charitable Trusts cohosted a meeting with housing officials in Washington, DC, Hamberg says. “The focus was specifically on Title I, to talk through with HUD officials and other leading experts in the manufactured housing field what is important about these changes—but also what more needs to be done.”

Jon Gorey is a staff writer at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

Lead image: Manufactured housing is gaining attention as a cost-effective, energy-efficient housing type. Credit: Next Step Network.


Two people sit on a square of white paint in a paved parking lot

Getting Smart About Surfaces

Rob Walker, Febrero 27, 2024


A few years ago, the city of San Antonio conducted research into the anticipated impacts of climate change on local temperatures. The study projected that, by midcentury, the city might experience 61 days a year with temperatures over 100 degrees. In reality, the city notched 75 days over 100 degrees—in 2023.

Like many cities, San Antonio has been strategizing responses to climate change for years, but recent record-shattering temperatures have given such efforts a new sense of urgency, says Douglas Melnick, San Antonio’s chief sustainability officer. One major component that’s been getting a serious rethink: city surfaces, from roads to roofs. These human-made surfaces are often dark and impermeable, amplifying hot weather, worsening flood risks, and contributing to the heat island effect. But soaring global temperatures are sparking a wave of experiments with new materials and engineering innovations designed to reimagine surface problems as deep opportunities.

Pavement is a particular focus for San Antonio and many other cities, because it’s hot and there’s a lot of it: researchers estimate that it accounts for 30 to 40 percent of urban land cover. After an initial “very small” pilot in 2021 experimenting with a reflective pavement coating, San Antonio embarked on a $1 million project that will test five such materials in various parts of town, Melnick says. The streets were selected based on data related to equity and heat, and the work is being integrated into already-scheduled maintenance and repaving projects; the city will work with the University of Texas San Antonio to evaluate the results.

A similar effort is underway in Phoenix, a city “on the front lines of extreme heat,” as David Sailor, professor and director of the school of geographical sciences and urban planning at Arizona State University, puts it. The city was an early proponent of rethinking surfaces, launching a major Cool Pavement Pilot Program three years ago. But even in this notoriously hot place, efforts have accelerated lately: ASU has been involved as a research and advisory partner in a city-led project that has treated more than 100 miles of local roads with reflective coatings. “This is something that would not have happened five years ago,” Sailor says, “and it’s increasingly happening across different cities.”

The Phoenix Street Transportation Department has applied a water-based cool pavement treatment in neighborhoods across the city. Credit: City of Phoenix.

Los Angeles has introduced a number of pilot programs, including one in the Pacoima neighborhood testing a reflective coating on streets, a school playground, and a recreation center parking lot. Researchers at Purdue University, meanwhile, have developed and are preparing for market the “world’s whitest paint,” which reflects 98 percent of solar heat and could be used on buildings, trains and buses, and other surfaces. A number of US cities are offering tax incentives for reflective roofs. Others have installed green roofs, topping waterproofing material with plants and other greenery that can be both cooling and absorb rainfall. And smaller projects are popping up all over the world, like parking lot solar canopies that provide shade and generate energy; corrugated self-cooling walls that stay as much as 18 degrees cooler than flat walls and can help reduce the need for air conditioning; and innovative, affordable cool-roofing materials for informal and self-built structures in India, Africa, and elsewhere.

The idea that governmental will to address extreme heat is expanding—and municipal funding is growing along with it—is spurring more material innovation in the market, says Sailor of ASU. He notes the creation of new, acrylic-based asphalt treatments. Because lighter colors can show tire markings, demand has also led to the development of a coatings that are dark in the visible spectrum but engineered to have high reflectance outside that spectrum, and reflect 30 to 40 percent of the sun’s energy, compared to 4 percent on a standard road. Other materials getting their moment in the sun include new kinds of coating for extruded metal roofing; reflective, porous concrete; and passive radiative cooling film engineered to actively radiate heat away from surfaces (instead of simply reflecting it, as coatings do). ASU is testing such products from giants like 3M as well as smaller startups.

But the real breakthrough isn’t any single material or innovation, says Greg Kats, founder and CEO of the Smart Surfaces Coalition (SSC)—it’s the sheer variety of projects afoot, and a new willingness to “think broadly and citywide” about surfaces. Launched in 2019, SSC is now working with some 40 organizations and 10 cities and metropolitan areas across the country, providing data and tools to help implement smart surfaces effectively. “The city has gotten hotter and darker and more impermeable, with higher energy bills, more environmental injustice,” Kats says. “A lot of cities have really reached a point where they’re looking for systemic solutions.” Kats notes that there are fiscal motivations, too: major credit rating agencies have begun to factor climate change into their calculations, which could affect municipal credit ratings.

Kats and other smart surface advocates emphasize that tech-based materials must be complemented by trees and other natural solutions. Brendan Shane, climate director for the Trust for Public Land, which focuses on creating and enhancing parks and green spaces in cities and communities (and works with SSC), argues that smart surfaces and green infrastructure go naturally together. “Our tree canopies are at historic low levels,” he points out. But they are part of a city’s surface area, and “the surface of the city is one of those things that really does change. You’re going to repave roads. And you’re going to replant trees.”

Daytime surface temperatures (represented by the solid orange line above) tend to be far hotter than air temperatures (orange dotted line), especially in downtowns and industrial areas. Credit: US EPA.

The coalition hopes to help cities devise multi-pronged but locally tailored approaches, Kats says, through improved data synthesis and analysis. SSC is already working with a dozen US cities, and two in India, to compile data from hundreds of sources, producing detailed heat maps from satellite data and other information, and running cost/benefit scenarios on different implementations and timelines. The goal is to be both comprehensive and flexible, given that a dry city like Stockton, California, will have different needs and solutions than a wetter city like Baltimore. Whatever a given city’s objective, Kats asserts that with a full suite of responses—smart reflective surfaces, trees, and green infrastructure projects like rain gardens—the vast majority of cities can cool average temperatures by five degrees, or even more in previously neglected heat island neighborhoods.

Back in San Antonio, plans are taking shape to use heat-mapping technology to identify the neighborhoods that would most benefit from municipal investments in cool pavement, street trees, and shade structures. The wake-up call of recent extreme weather, Melnick says, has created a real opportunity for coordinated, citywide plans. “Cities tend to be very siloed. The parks department’s doing trees over here, and then the public works department is doing roads over there,” he says. “Everyone’s got a role in mitigating heat, but how do we get everybody talking together?”

As technologies evolve and the world’s cities continue to grow, investing in solutions to create cooler, more livable cities—and working together to implement them—is essential, Kats says: “Waiting is now a higher-risk strategy than taking action.”

Rob Walker is a journalist covering design, technology, and other subjects. He is the author of The Art of Noticing. His newsletter is at

Lead image: Researchers measure the reflectivity of cool pavement coatings at Berkeley Lab. Credit: Roy Kaltschmidt/Berkeley Lab, ©The Regents of the University of California, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Leading By Example: How Costa Rica Became a Model for Climate Action

April 17, 2023

By Anthony Flint, April 17, 2023


By many accounts, Costa Rica has been a unique Central American success story—“a beacon of Enlightenment” and “a world leader in democratic, sustainable, and inclusive economic growth,” according to the prominent economist Joseph Stiglitz.

A nation of about 5 million people roughly the size of West Virginia, Costa Rica has been punching above its weight particularly in the realm of sustainability and climate action: a pioneer in eco-tourism; successful in getting nearly all of its power from renewable sources, including an enterprising use of hydro; and a leader in fighting deforestation and conserving land with its carbon-soaking rainforests.

The Land Matters podcast welcomed two special guests recently who know a thing or two about this country: Carlos Alvarado Quesada and Claudia Dobles Camargo, the former President and First Lady of Costa Rica. They are both in the Cambridge, Massachusetts, area this year—she is a Loeb Fellow, part of a mid-career fellowship program based at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, and he is a visiting professor of practice at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.


Former President Carlos Alvarado Quesada and former First Lady Claudia Dobles Camargo of Costa Rica
Former Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada and former First Lady Claudia Dobles Camargo at the Lincoln Institute offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in April 2023. Credit: Will Jason.


Also in the studio was Enrique Silva, vice president of programs at the Lincoln Institute, who oversees the organization’s research and activities globally, and has years of experience in and familiarity with Latin America.

The conversation, recorded at the Podcast Garage in Allston after a visit by the couple to the Lincoln Institute, included reflections on leadership and climate action, and what it’s been like to take a year to decompress after an eventful time in office, from 2018 to 2022.

Costa Rica has much to show the world when it comes to the implementation of targeted sustainability practices, Quesada said. “We’re not saying people have to do exactly the same [as we did], but we can say it’s possible, and it’s been done in a model that actually creates well-being and economic growth,” he said. “Back in the day, people would say it’s impossible—‘if you’re going to create protected areas, you’re going to destroy the economy.’ It turned out to be the other way around, it actually propelled the economy.”

After seeing big successes in the countryside, the interventions have turned to urban areas. “Costa Rica has done such an amazing job in nature-based solutions, not so much on urban sustainability,” said Dobles, noting the ambitious National Decarbonization Plan she launched with Quesada, which aims to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. “In order to decarbonize, we really needed to focus also on our urban agenda.”

A big task was reinvigorating public transit, starting with a new electric train that would have spanned the city of San Jose. Quesada’s successor shelved the $1.5 billion project, demonstrating the common mismatch between long-term projects and limited time in office. A pilot project to electrify buses was implemented, however, to rave reviews. The couple says they are hopeful the train will be revived.

“I know that this is eventually going to happen. Sometimes you have political setbacks,” said Quesada. “Your administration cannot own throughout time what’s going to happen, but you can plant positive seeds.”

Costa Rica has been nothing if not creative in addressing the many dilemmas inherent in climate action. Open-ore mining is banned, for example, but entrepreneurs figured out a way to extract lithium from recycled batteries.

“That’s very linked to the discussion of the just energy transition, where the jobs are going to come from, where the exports are going to come from. While there’s a huge opportunity for many developing countries which are rich and are endowed with minerals and metals . . . we need to address those complexities,” said Quesada.

Dobles added, “When we talk about decarbonization, we cannot exclude from that conversation, the inequality conversation. This is supposed to provide our possibilities of survival as humankind, but also it’s a possibility for a new type of social and economic development and growth.”


Former First Lady of Costa Rica Claudia Dobles Camargo makes a point as former President Carlos Alvarado Quesada looks on
Former First Lady Claudia Dobles Camargo makes a point as former President Carlos Alvarado Quesada looks on. The pair visited the Lincoln Institute office to discuss their climate and sustainability initiatives in April 2023 while spending a year at Harvard and Tufts universities, respectively. Credit: Anthony Flint.


Reflecting on being in the land of Harvard, MIT, and Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage, Dobles said she has been immersed in “the whole academic ecosystem that is happening here . . . just to be, again, in academia, sometimes just to receive information, not having the pressure of having the answers . . . . It’s been wonderful.”

“Being a head of state for four years of a country, it’s an experience that I’m currently unpacking still,” said Quesada. “I’m doing a little bit of writing on that, but you get to reflect a lot, because it’s a period of time you live very intensely. In our case, we were not only working with decarbonization, with the projects we mentioned, we [were also working] with the fiscal sustainability of the country. We had COVID. We had [the legalization of same-sex marriage].

“We tend to train ourselves for things that are outside of us, like methods, tools, knowledge,” he said. “There’s a part of it that has to do with training ourselves, our feelings, our habits, our framing, our thinking . . . to address those hard challenges.”

Carlos Alvarado Quesada served as the 48th President of the Republic of Costa Rica from 2018 to 2022, when his constitutionally limited term ended. He won the 2022 Planetary Leadership Award from the National Geographic Society for his actions to protect the ocean, and was named to the TIME100 Next list of emerging leaders from around the world. Before entering politics, he worked for Procter and Gamble, Latin America.

Claudia Dobles Camargo is an architect with extensive experience in urban mobility, affordable and social housing, community engagement, climate change, and fair transition. As First Lady, she was co-leader of the Costa Rica National Decarbonization Plan. Her architecture degree is from the University of Costa Rica, and she also studied in Japan, concentrating on a sustainable approach to architecture.

You can listen to the show and subscribe to Land Matters on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotifyStitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts.



Anthony Flint is a senior fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, host of the Land Matters podcast, and a contributing editor of Land Lines.

Lead image: San José, Costa Rica. Credit: Gianfranco Vivi via iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Further Reading

Showing the Way in San José – How Costa Rica Gets It Right (The Guardian)

Former President of Costa Rica Talks Climate Change, Public Policy During Northeastern Campus Visit (Northeastern Global News)

Costa Rica’s ‘Urban Mine’ for Planet-Friendlier Lithium (Agence France- Presse)

How Costa Rica Reversed Deforestation and Raised Millions for Conservation (Diálogo Chino)

Water in the West: Jim Holway Reflects on Decades of Problem-Solving

October 31, 2023

By Anthony Flint, October 31, 2023


Water in the West—one of the most enduring and confounding stories of human settlement anywhere around the world.

Jim Holway, who retired as director of the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy this summer, has spent more than 40 years helping to solve the puzzle of ensuring sustainable water resources in this increasingly arid region. In the latest Land Matters podcast, he describes the challenges ahead, and the kind of leadership—and serious, good-faith negotiation—it will take to establish a more secure water future.

With some places having their water restricted, and big reservoirs like Lake Mead drawing down to historically low levels, it has become increasingly clear that water from the Colorado River—distributed to nine states in the US and Mexico through a series of agreements and amendments hammered out since the 1920s—is no longer enough to meet the demands of a fast-growing population.

How did the region get to this point? “I’d say it was a combination of optimism, beginning with allocating more water [than would be available], and then it was just ignoring science for political reasons,” said Holway. “If I want to get my water project approved, it’s going to be a lot easier if I can convince people there’s enough water left for their project too. Even once we should have known better, we acted like we didn’t know better.”

The water allocations now have a structural deficit, Holway said, that is clear throughout the year-to-year ups and downs of drought and sufficient snowpack. Climate change is intensifying everything.

“We designed a hydrologic system for a physical reality that is changing on us, and the change in the level of heat is driving the system. More evaporation and more demand for agriculture, more demand in urban use—that heat is actually a more significant factor than precipitation. Whereas there is a lot of uncertainty about what the future precipitation changes will be in the Southwest, it’s very clear that it’s going to be hotter.”

While politicians debate climate science, Holway says, water and land managers know they have no choice but to prepare for the uncertain future that climate change will bring: “Droughts that cause inadequate supplies for historic uses, floods that exceed the infrastructure we’ve built to handle flooding, wildfires of much greater intensity and size, urban areas that are getting increasingly hot and leading to crisis situations in the middle of the summer—this is the reality of our future, and we need to adapt to deal with it.”

Building the capacity of local communities to integrate land use planning and the management of water resources has been the calling card of the Babbitt Center under Holway’s tenure, including using scenario planning techniques to map out future supply and demand conditions. Importantly, agriculture—which uses approximately three-quarters of Colorado River water—has increasingly been at the table, Holway said.

When asked to look to the future, Holway said, “It’s important for anyone doing this kind of work to find some way to sustain themselves. I suspect the thing that makes me most optimistic is when I look at the 20- and 30-year-olds getting involved . . . it seems that they really have an understanding of the challenges they’re inheriting.”

One of those challenges is developing the capacity to work together as a civilization to address water shortages in a more serious and straightforward manner, he said.

“When societies fail, it may look like it’s because of a flood, a drought, disease, or warfare. However, societies have survived those challenges before. Why do they not survive the next one? Typically, what we find is they have lost the ability to govern themselves.

“To me, that is where my main pessimism comes from. It isn’t our water challenge. It’s, will we come together? Will we make the necessary decisions we need to govern ourselves? That is our biggest challenge, and it’s what we’re doing particularly badly at the moment.”

Water, Holway said, “perhaps will help us rediscover our ability to come together and make collaborative decisions. There are very few things that humans see as critical to their survival [more than] a good water supply. That’s pretty clear and pretty compelling. Let’s hope it’s part of our path forward.”

Jim Holway served as director of the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy from its founding in 2017 until late 2023. He was elected to the board of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, directed the Western Lands and Communities program with the Sonoran Institute, and served as a professor of practice in sustainability at Arizona State University and assistant director at the Arizona Department of Water Resources. He has degrees from Cornell University and the University of North Carolina, and was inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Certified Planners.

You can listen to the show and subscribe to Land Matters on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotifyStitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts.



Anthony Flint is a senior fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, host of the Land Matters podcast, and a contributing editor of Land Lines.

Lead image: Jim Holway, founding director of the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy. Credit: Courtesy image.

Further Reading

Colorado River growers say they’re ready to save water, but need to build trust with states and feds (NPR)

John Farner Named Executive Director of the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy (Land Lines magazine)

Fellows in Focus: Neha Gupta (Land Lines magazine)

The Babbitt Center: Who We Are (Lincoln Institute of Land Policy)

The Hardest-working River in the West (Lincoln Institute of Land Policy)

Sowing Seeds (Lincoln Institute of Land Policy)

El escritorio del alcalde

Seeing New Opportunity in Scranton

By Anthony Flint, Febrero 13, 2024


Listen to this conversation as part of our Land Matters podcast series.

Scranton, Pennsylvania, is facing a challenge familiar to legacy cities across the US: building its postindustrial future, now that the industries of yesteryear—in this case, coal, iron, steel, and textiles—are long gone. Essentially, Scranton must reinvent itself as a metropolis that was built, more than a century ago, for purposes that no longer exist.

Into this moment comes Paige Cognetti, a transplant from Oregon with an MBA and a stint in the Treasury department during the Obama administration, to help forge a way forward. Cognetti was serving as an advisor to the Pennsylvania auditor general and director of the Scranton school board when she won a special election for mayor in 2019, replacing a chief executive who had resigned after pleading guilty to corruption charges. She won reelection to a full term in November 2021, and is the first woman to hold the office.

Earlier in her career, the 43-year-old Cognetti worked in several political campaigns and as an investment advisor in New York City. Senior Fellow Anthony Flint caught up with the mayor on a trip to Scranton for the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Planning Association.

Anthony Flint:  Scranton was President Biden’s hometown, the place where urbanist Jane Jacobs grew up, and the setting for the comedy series The Office. With these interesting connections to politics and culture in mind, what’s special about the city for you? What qualities are drawing new residents and facilitating regeneration?

Paige Cognetti: It’s funny, politics brought me to Scranton. I moved to Washington, DC, in 2005, and ended up coming to Scranton for a political campaign, and then met my husband. It’s a long story until we get here in 2023, but politics did bring me to Scranton, and it can be a real anchor for what Scranton is known for.

Mayor Paige Cognetti, with the iconic Scranton Electric Building visible in the background. Courtesy photo.

More important than that is its existence as a legacy city, as an industrial city that was part of the industrial revolution in the United States, and exported things abroad, exported energy all throughout North America. That’s a huge piece of our heritage. The anthracite coal that was mined from around and underneath us really set the tone for the type of entrepreneurship that we are still known for and that we’re looking to have more of in Scranton.

The textile industry was also big here. You would have men working in coal mines and women working in textiles. There was this really perfect marriage between those two industries, and that drove the economy for a very long time. Of course, we don’t have those industries here anymore. The Scranton story now is one, I think, of resilience and creativity. Also a little bit of luck.

The different generations before us saw that if you anchor everything in an extractive industry like coal, and that goes away, then you’re left with nothing. They did a good job of diversifying the economy. We have lots of educational institutions, we have hospitals, we have healthcare, we have services. We also still have 11 percent of our jobs that are based in manufacturing. You see a lot of families that have continued through generations to own different businesses and be a part of multiple types of industries. You still have people who live in the home that their grandparents or even great-grandparents built.

It’s a special place in that way. We’ve taken a lot of the great things about our past and are applying them to the future.

AF: Thinking about this idea of repurposing a city that was built for something else: the Scranton Lace factory used to employ thousands of people on a 34-building campus, which is being redeveloped into a mixed-use residential neighborhood. Is that a replica model, in your opinion? How can adaptive reuse go beyond a boutique scale?

PC: The Lace Village is going to be an entirely new neighborhood right in the core of our city. It used to have thousands of employees and there was childcare, there was bowling, there was hair salons, there was everything. By recreating that and making a new neighborhood right there, it’s just going to be really exciting for our whole city. It’s great for all the neighborhoods around it, it’s great for the school system, it’s going to reinvigorate this industrial heart that we have there.

An industrial loom on the grounds of the former Scranton Lace Company. The complex is being redeveloped into a mixed-use residential community. Credit: Anthony Flint.

We’ve got lots of different places that I think could be like Lace Village, though not on as big of a scale. We have a cigar factory that’s just about a mile from Lace Village that’s just been redone into, I think, 150 condos. Those opened up just a few months ago. That’s a huge population boost, an energy boost for this one little segment of our neighborhood. There’s pockets of that all over the city, and that’s something that I think we can replicate.

It does take a lot of funds. We have helped shepherd state money to that project. We believe very deeply that these have to be public-private partnerships. There’s so much remediation that needs to be done. There’s so much local work that needs to be done with the streets and the curbs and the sidewalks and the lighting.

It’s important that we try to find creative ways to help fund it because we know it’s a very heavy lift to take something that used to be a factory or an industrial area and make it usable again.

AF: Because of these earlier industrial functions, Scranton has a difficult legacy of toxic pollution. How does that make redevelopment more challenging?

PC: Scranton is built on mines. Our home is actually built on top of a mine. There’s an empty lot a few parcels down from us where a house actually started to subside, and they had to take the house down. We definitely have legacy issues. We all deal with them personally. Everybody who lives in Scranton, the earth got gutted beneath us and so we deal with that all the time now.

The generations before us did a good job of cleaning those things up. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a lot of issues.

An example in our downtown is a new pocket park that finally just got sod in and the flowers are planted, the trees are planted. It used to be a dry cleaner, and just from having a dry cleaner—not even a gas plant, not even coal mining—it’s been hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars and many, many different iterations of how we’re going to fund this.

There’s these things that just take so much time and money. Interestingly in a place like Scranton, folks are used to [the idea that] it’s going to take a while. It’s going to take some more money.

We see a lot of issues in our stormwater. There’s a lot of things that we have to be very careful with and how we do things underground because of that legacy of mining. The riverfront that we have [along the] Lackawanna River is beautiful, but it was built up with factories. We have a long way to go to redevelop the river and celebrate it in a way that people are putting restaurants and cafes there. We don’t have those places, but the river is clean. The river is absolutely beautiful. The next piece is that land use. The next piece is that development and we’re eager to keep partnering with our developers to help realize that.

AF: You’ve had some serious flooding issues—what is needed to manage those kinds of vulnerabilities and to build resilience? How might that apply to other postindustrial cities confronting more intense climate impacts?

PC: I think every city is facing intense climate impacts. What’s interesting about a place like Scranton is, we have not taken care of the infrastructure, and so even before these last few years where the climate-related storms have started to increase, we already had a long way to go. We had a huge storm in September. We got six inches in 90 minutes, and it just blew through a few of our creeks, jumped the creeks, made new creeks through people’s yards. Even if we’d done all the projects we already have planned and teed up, I don’t even know if we’d gotten those done if that would’ve helped much given the volume of that water that came down. We’ve got millions and millions and millions of dollars of work to do.

The challenge, of course, is the funding and the fact that no matter what we do, there’s still going to be issues. The other piece is the politics of it: we don’t have a regional stormwater authority. We’re working on it, and we’ve got some of our neighboring boroughs and townships on board. The county’s not interested in doing a holistic one, but we’re looking at probably eight of our municipalities that are going to join in this authority that will work together to do stormwater mitigation. Hopefully, by pulling those resources, we’ll be able to have an authority that’s taking care of those maintenance pieces and those bigger projects and is able to raise funds on its own for those big pieces.

AF: Finally, how satisfied are you that the city has increased bike and pedestrian safety? I’ve been here and have been walking around. It’s a wonderful grid.

PC: We just came off of a walkability study, and we have a plan. We’re looking to drastically reimagine our downtown’s flow. It’s a beautiful grid, it’s gorgeous architecture, but the one-way streets and all the stoplights create hazards for bikes and pedestrians that are unnecessary. We’re looking to go to two-way streets in most of the streets, we’re looking to take down many of the stoplights and do four-way stop signs to really calm that traffic and make a safer environment. With those buildouts will be bike lanes and lots of trees and things that should make it an even more beautiful downtown to walk around.

Though Scranton’s love of one-way streets has been memorialized in the city’s street art, a recently completed connectivity study recommends converting many of them to two-way routes to reduce traffic speeds and improve pedestrian safety. Credit: City of Scranton.

We’ve got a lot of different grants teed up to be able to do this work. Our engineers are working on it now. We’re really looking forward to matching the architectural beauty of Scranton and the energy of all of our great shops and businesses, restaurants and bars with a streetscape that does them justice.

I think it will be a huge positive difference for our downtown, but like everything we do as mayors, it will take a little bit of money, a little bit of time, a little bit of conversation and a lot of enthusiasm.

Anthony Flint is a senior fellow at the Lincoln Institute, contributing editor of Land Lines, host of the Land Matters podcast, and author of Mayor’s Desk: 20 Conversations with Local Leaders Solving Global Problems.