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U.S. Urban Revitalization in the Twenty-First Century

Hopeful Signs

Eugénie L. Birch

Maio 2007, inglês

Eugénie L. Birch discusses past attempts by municipalities to revitalize U.S. inner cities. The U.S. urban renewal strategies described by Birch are similar in many ways to the British urban regeneration methods; both are community-based and oriented toward public-private partnerships. Birch divides the U.S. urban revitalization strategies into four categories. The first category, catalytic urban renewal programs, comprises large-scale projects that draw political and financial support from key leaders in the public and private sectors. In the second category are programs that adopt an approach to revitalizing downtowns that treats these areas as “super” neighborhoods with mixed land uses, including commercial, residential, educational, cultural, and entertainment development instead of merely central business districts. The third category consists of neighborhood revitalization programs that are based on bringing together public and private groups within a community to work on complicated regulatory, financing, and land acquisition issues. The entities central to this strategy are the community development corporations (CDCs) and anchor institutions such as universities, hospitals, churches, and housing authorities. Fourth, to attract consumer expenditures to their neighborhoods, some cities have employed a project-focused strategy that entails construction of an expensive, large-scale facility such as a convention center, a performing arts venue, or a sports stadium.

How did these diverse strategies come about? Under what conditions should policy makers follow one or a combination of these strategies? In answering these questions, Birch begins by pointing out that important attitudinal changes toward cities have emerged in the twenty-first century. Once again, the urban center is recognized as a place that possesses resources and talents. One strength is its ability to facilitate face-to-face interactions that are critical to the functioning and growth of a high-technology or knowledge-based economy. Meanwhile, inner cities are no longer perceived as centers of poverty and crime, but are more often portrayed as places with historic architecture or strong ethnic communities. It is also now expected that the public will participate directly in community affairs. Public hearings, consultations, and other community outreach programs have become essential parts of the decision-making processes in urban neighborhoods. Communities have also acknowledged that the involvement of the private sector in neighborhood revitalization efforts is essential. These attitudinal changes place CDCs in a strategic position to enhance public participation in and solicit private support for community development, thereby gaining wide public acceptance of such efforts. According to Birch, decisions about redevelopment strategy will largely depend on local economic, social, and political conditions. Her chapter provides the array of options from which communities can select in designing their own strategy to fit unique local circumstances.

This paper was presented at the Lincoln Institute’s annual Land Policy Conference in 2006 and is Chapter 12 of the book Land Policies and Their Outcomes.