Alan Mallach is a nonresident senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program of the Brookings Institution and a senior fellow at the Center for Community Progress, both in Washington, DC; and a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. He has been engaged as a practitioner, advocate, and scholar in the fields of housing, planning, and community development for nearly 40 years, during which time he has made contributions in many areas including affordable and mixed-income housing development, neighborhood revitalization, and urban regeneration. In 2003 he was named a member of the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Certified Planners in recognition of his lifetime achievements as a leader in the city planning profession.
Mallach is also a visiting professor in the graduate city planning program at Pratt Institute, in New York, and has taught at Rutgers University and the New Jersey School of Architecture. He has published numerous books and articles on housing, community development, and land use; his book Bringing Buildings Back: From Abandoned Properties to Community Assets is recognized as the standard work on the subject. His most recent book, Rebuilding America’s Legacy Cities: New Directions for the Industrial Heartland, was published in 2012 by the American Assembly at Columbia University. He is a resident of Roosevelt, New Jersey, and holds a B.A. degree from Yale College.
Land Lines: How did you become involved with the Lincoln Institute?
Alan Mallach: I have known about the Lincoln Institute for many years, and initially became involved in the 1990s through my work on brownfields redevelopment. Since then, I have served as faculty in a number of training sessions sponsored by the Institute and participated in meetings and conferences at Lincoln House. About seven years ago, Nico Calavita, professor emeritus in the Graduate Program in City Planning at San Diego State University, and I undertook research on inclusionary housing. This project led to the Institute’s 2010 publication of our co-edited book, Inclusionary Housing in International Perspective: Affordable Housing, Social Inclusion, and Land Value Recapture. Most recently, I have been working with Lavea Brachman, executive director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center, on a policy focus report that looks at the issues associated with regenerating America’s legacy cities.
Land Lines: What do you mean by legacy cities?
Alan Mallach: “Legacy cities” is a term that has come into use increasingly to replace “shrinking cities” as a way to describe the nation’s older industrial cities that have lost a significant share of their population and jobs over the past 50 or more years. Iconic American cities such as Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Cleveland are typically mentioned in this context, but the category also includes many smaller cities like Flint, Michigan; Utica, New York; and Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Land Lines: How do the issues of legacy cities engage the Lincoln Institute’s central policy concerns?
Alan Mallach: They do so in many different respects, but I think the strongest connection is around the question of how land is to be used in these cities. All of these cities have had a significant oversupply of both residential and nonresidential buildings relative to demand, at least since the 1960s. As a result of extensive demolition over decades, they have accumulated large inventories of vacant or underutilized land. Detroit alone contains over 100,000 separate vacant land parcels and another 40,000 to 50,000 vacant buildings. While this inventory is a burden, it could also become an enormous asset for the city’s future. How to develop effective strategies to use this land in ways that both benefit the public and stimulate economic growth and market demand is one of the central issues facing these legacy cities.
Land Lines: How would you compare this challenge to your work on inclusionary housing?
Alan Mallach: From an economic standpoint, it’s the other side of the coin. Inclusionary housing is a way of using the planning approval process to channel strong market demand in ways that create public benefit in the form of affordable housing—either directly, by incorporating some number of affordable housing units into the development gaining the approval, or indirectly, through off-site development or cash contributions by the developer. As such, it involves explicitly or implicitly recapturing the incremental land value being created by the planning approval process. Inclusionary housing presupposes the presence of strong market demand and cannot happen without it.
Land reuse strategies in legacy cities seek to create demand where it doesn’t currently exist or alternatively find ways to use the land that benefit the public and can be implemented even under conditions where market demand cannot be induced, at least for the foreseeable future. These approaches are often called “green” land uses, such as urban agriculture, open space, wetlands restoration, or stormwater management. It can be difficult to get local officials and citizens to recognize that the traditional forms of redevelopment, including building new houses, shopping centers, and so forth, require the existence of a market for those products. However, the demand simply does not exist in many of these devastated areas. Moreover, the demand cannot be induced artificially by massive public subsidies, even though public funds can, under certain conditions, act as a stimulus to build demand.
Land Lines: Is lack of demand evident everywhere in legacy cities?
Alan Mallach: No, and that’s one of the most interesting things about these cities. Some cities are seeing demand grow far more than others, but in most cases the revitalization is limited to certain parts of the city. One noticeable trend is that downtown and near-downtown areas, particularly those with strong walkable urban character, such as the Washington Avenue corridor in St. Louis or Cleveland’s Warehouse District, are showing great dynamism, even while many other parts of those two cities are continuing to see population loss and housing abandonment.
Part of this dynamism is driven by walkability and strong urban form (see the new Lincoln Institute book by Julie Campoli, Made for Walking: Density and Neighborhood Form (2012), which examines 12 such walkable neighborhoods and the forces behind their recent popularity). A second important factor is that these areas appeal to a particular demographic—young single individuals and couples. This group is not only increasingly urbanoriented, but is growing in terms of its share of the overall American population.
Land Lines: What other issues are you exploring in your work on legacy cities?
Alan Mallach:I am focusing on two research areas, one more quantitative and one more qualitative. In the first area, I am looking at how many of these cities are going through a pronounced spatial and demographic reconfiguration—a process that is exacerbating the economic disparities between different geographic areas and populations within these cities. While many older city downtowns, such as those of St. Louis, Cleveland, Baltimore, and even Detroit, are becoming increasingly attractive, particularly to young adults, and are gaining population and economic activity, many other neighborhoods in these cities are losing ground at an increasing rate. In many places these trends are accentuating already problematic racial divides.
My second area of research revolves around the question of what it takes to foster successful, sustained regeneration. Lavea Brachman and I touch on this challenge in our policy focus report, but I am hoping to delve into it much more deeply, including looking at some European cities that have found themselves in situations similar to those of American legacy cities. I think the experiences of cities in northern England, for example, or Germany’s Ruhr Valley, parallel changes in our own former industrial cities quite closely.
Land Lines: What do you mean by successful regeneration?
Alan Mallach: That’s a very important question. I think there’s often a tendency to see a particular event—the Olympics in Barcelona or a major building like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, for example—as evidence of regeneration, rather than, at best, a discrete spur to more substantial change. I believe that regeneration has to be a function of change in three fundamental areas: first, the well-being of the population, reflected in such measures as higher educational attainment and income or lower unemployment; second, a stronger housing market and greater neighborhood strength; and third, the creation of new export-oriented economic sectors to replace the lost industrial sector. Population growth alone (that is, reversal of historic population decline) may or may not be evidence of regeneration. It is more likely to follow these three changes rather than lead them.
Land Lines: What do you see as the future of America’s legacy cities?
Alan Mallach: I see a very mixed picture. As shown in the policy focus report, certain cities are doing far better than others. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are showing strong signs of revival, while Cleveland, Detroit, and Buffalo are still losing ground. I think legacy cities are facing two daunting challenges as they look to the future.
The first issue is what the new economic engines of these cities will be. The cities that have been more successful up to now tend to have the most significant clusters of major national research universities and medical centers. These institutions tend to dominate their cities’ economies. While they have helped cities like Pittsburgh and Baltimore rebuild in the post-industrial era, I think a lot of questions remain about their sustainability as long-term economic engines.
The second question is demographic. Downtowns may be drawing young, single people and couples, but many of these cities’ residential neighborhoods were built around 100 years ago as communities mainly for married couples to raise children. Now they are falling apart, including many neighborhoods that have remained stable until relatively recently. This demographic of married couples with children is shrinking across the country and even more so in our older cities. Today, only 8 percent of the households in Baltimore, for example, fit this description. I believe that the future of these neighborhoods is very important to the future of their cities, and I am very concerned about their prospects.
Land Lines: In spite of these challenges, how do you think your work is making a difference?
Alan Mallach: The fact is, many cities are making progress. Pittsburgh has done an excellent job building on its assets to develop new economic engines, while Baltimore and Philadelphia are making impressive strides in reorganizing many of their governmental functions to better deal with their vacant and problem property challenges. Baltimore, for example, has initiated a program called Vacants to Value, which integrates code enforcement and problem property work with larger market-building strategies. I have been fortunate to be directly involved in this work in some cities, including Philadelphia and Detroit; elsewhere, I’m always gratified when local officials or community leaders tell me that they use my work, or that they have been influenced by my thinking. It makes all the effort very much worthwhile.