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Scenario Planning in Small and Mid-Size Legacy Cities

Framework and Tool Adaptations in Youngstown, Ohio

Thomas Hilde and Hunter Morrison

August 2021, English

This paper examines how scenario planning frameworks and tools—largely designed for contexts of regional growth—can be adapted for land use and development planning in small and mid-size legacy cities such as Youngstown, Ohio. Scenario planning has traditionally been applied in growing cities and regions to evaluate the sustainability implications of alternative land use plans and policies, and supporting tools have been designed for these contexts. These processes often use a normative approach at the metropolitan scale to build consensus around a preferred long-term vision, aided by tools and metrics that estimate the outcomes of alternative development patterns. Recently, scholars and practitioners have noted scenario planning’s promise as a method for addressing uncertainty in urban planning. Applications of exploratory approaches and supporting scenario planning tools are less researched in U.S. legacy cities, where population decline or limited growth present urgent fiscal and social equity challenges.

A Cleveland State University graduate land use planning course partnered with the City of Youngstown to model parcel-level redevelopment scenarios in two embedded transit corridor study areas. To address demographic uncertainty and planning challenges related to limited growth and decline, we tested the utility of (1) a scenario planning framework that includes normative and exploratory elements; and (2) a blended use of two leading analytical tools, Urban Footprint and Envision Tomorrow.

We evaluate current integrated tool capabilities that are well-suited to inform planning efforts in Youngstown and other small and mid-size legacy cities. We also offer recommendations for enhancing the use of scenario planning and supporting analysis tools in contexts of decline, limited growth, and demographic/fiscal uncertainty. These recommendations include the use of frameworks that include normative and exploratory components, the ability to model alternatives for multiple planning scales ranging from corridor to detailed site-level projects, and opportunities for enhanced analytical metrics.

This research offers implications for planning research and practice in legacy cities throughout the Midwest and Northeast regions of the U.S., nearly half of which have less than 100,000 people. Our paper presents opportunities for further scholarship to enhance planning methods for addressing demographic uncertainty in contexts of decline and limited growth, an underdeveloped area of the planning literature. Our findings and recommendations also provide opportunities to broaden the adoption of scenario planning practice in legacy cities.


Local Government, Public Policy, Scenario Planning, Transport Oriented Development