Growing Greener Cities

edited by Birch and Wachter Penn Press (2008)

An illustrated collection of essays, written by scholars as well as practitioners of urban policy, gives a panoramic view of sustainability and environmental issues for green-minded city planners, policy makers, researchers, and citizens.

Community Development Finance and the Green City

The relationship between community development finance, the revitalization of distressed, former industrial American cities, and the importance of environmental investments can be seen in the work of The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), a community development financial institution that supports residential and commercial projects in mid-Atlantic cities.1 TRF’s investments in an environmentally degraded section of Philadelphia illustrate that environmental investments are critical to rebuilding certain cities and a dual interest in social and financial returns facilitates the connection. This examination of TRF’s work in one part of Philadelphia provides an opportunity to discuss the historical context of environmental degradation and the investment rationales of real estate developers and social entrepreneurs such as TRF. It also introduces the concept of smart subsidy allocation as part of the process of market building and civic organization (the term smart subsidy refers to non-market investment inputs that lead to short- and long-term market outcomes).

This discussion of TRF’s work and its implications aims to contribute a policy perspective that recognizes environmentalism as foundational to the revitalization of many older industrial cities and towns. While contemporary urban and regional policy supports this view, environmental activity still remains a conceptual adjunct in urban economic development practice . We must change this perspective if we are to rebuild obsolete industrial infrastructure and rethink postindustrial design and social function. Postindustrial Cities and the Environment: Connections and Disconnections The second half of the twentieth century brought dramatic change to many American cities, particularly those in the Northeast and Midwest Community Development Finance and the Green City 245 industrial belt. Social and economic decentralization escalated, resulting in a decline in urban jobs and population (and a concomitant increase in both in the suburbs), a widening disparity between urban and suburban per capita income, and profoundly higher rates of poverty within cities (see Rusk 1993). These changes occurred as the structure of American manufacturing significantly shifted; firms decentralized to U.S. suburban and sunbelt locales (a trend that actually predates World War II) and later moved offshore. Advances in communications and information technology, growing transnational production and exchange, and increases in manufacturing productivity stimulated this phenomenon. This changed the function and image of many American cities. They were no longer the center of economic growth and innovation—the industrial design and manufacturing workshop identified with late-nineteenth – and early-twentieth-century industry—but became the homes of marginalized communities, characterized by population and job loss, fiscal crisis, and the decline of public institutions. In some places urban decline had stronger effects than in others. For example, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Detroit lost 30 percent or more of their population within 50 years, leaving acres of deteriorated factories and abandoned housing stock. Smaller cities like Gary, Indiana, Youngstown, Ohio, Chester, Pennsylvania, and Camden, New Jersey suffered even more dramatic declines because they lacked economic diversification and had limited capacity for resource, firm, and demographic agglomeration. While older industrial cities declined, others (particularly in the South and Southwest) grew. Cities that could annex suburban growth, serve as immigrant gateways, and avoid the costs of retrofitting deteriorated infrastructure had substantial growth advantages (see Rusk 1993). Nonetheless, by the end of the twentieth century, these places also experienced social and economic slowdowns in the face of suburban expansion . In combating these challenges, American cities implemented strategies to stimulate growth and respond to the political problems and economic anxiety caused by poverty and global competition. They encouraged investment in central city offices and in housing and tourism ; enterprise development or attraction efforts; place-based neighborhood initiatives; job training and social welfare programs; and public policy and service delivery reforms. Well-documented and controversial histories relate federal, state, and local innovations in support of these efforts.

By the last decade of the twentieth century, urban fortunes began to show signs of change, especially in older industrial cities. Recently, three 246 Jeremy Nowak market trends fueled this burgeoning movement: renewed demand for urban space by immigrants and elderly or childless adult households; the rise of suburban land scarcity due to zoning and environmental pressure ; and the growth of urban research institutions—universities and health related facilities—providing postindustrial employment and innovation.4 Today, many older cities are a remarkable amalgam of decline and revival, exhibiting dynamic and problematic trends, often in close proximity . By 2000, many had strengthened or redefined their economic bases, stabilized population losses, demonstrated increased ethnic and income diversity…