The story of people marginalized in metropolitan regions — whether living in slums worldwide, or in low-income communities in developed countries — begins with land.

As the world’s cities expand at an unprecedented rate, millions of people move into unplanned settlements that sprawl across precarious hillsides, vulnerable coastal areas, and the urban periphery. These settlements, home to a quarter of all urban residents worldwide, constitute the majority of urban growth in developing regions. And they often lack such basic services as clean water and sanitation.

The Lincoln Institute works at the forefront of the movement to improve the lives of those living in informal settlements and to address dysfunctions in land markets that exclude people from the benefits of urban life.  

The policy challenges are great. Land use regulations often restrict the supply of affordable serviced land, public housing at the urban fringe fails to provide access to jobs and amenities, and local governments don’t make effective use of land value for urban development. As global urbanization intensifies throughout the 21st century, the need is clear for better long-range planning and public financing to accommodate the hundreds of millions moving to cities in search of a better life.

Managing Neighborhood Change

Poor quality of life in urban areas is not a new challenge, nor is it limited to the developing world. In 1900, after a decade of explosive population growth, two-thirds of New York City residents lived in tenements without indoor plumbing or proper ventilation. Today, housing conditions have improved greatly, but booming U.S. cities now face an affordability crisis. Elsewhere in the United States, legacy cities from Detroit to Pittsburgh to Cleveland struggle with vacant land, budget deficits, crumbling infrastructure, and job and population loss after decades of decline in the manufacturing base.

The Lincoln Institute has long focused on the spatial dimension of inequality. The Institute’s research and technical assistance help communities minimize gentrification and displacement through inclusionary housing, shared-equity housing, community land trusts, and other permanently affordable housing tools. The Institute has also worked to advance sustainable economic development and equitable regeneration in struggling postindustrial cities.

Regenerating America’s Legacy Cities

Some of the challenges associated with rapid and informal urban growth are shared by legacy cities in developing nations — areas recovering from periods of urban decline. This report explores the challenges of regenerating America’s legacy cities — older industrial cities that have experienced sustained job and population loss over the past few decades. It identifies the powerful obstacles that stand in the way of fundamental change in the dynamics of these cities and suggests directions by which cities can overcome those obstacles and embark on the path of regeneration.

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