The Fragility of Growth in a Post-Industrial City

The Fragility of Growth in a Post-Industrial City Jeremy Nowak After decades of decline, there are bright spots for several of America’s older industrial cities in the Northeast and Midwest. The 2010 Census and subsequent data from the American Community Survey demonstrate a tapering of population loss, and in a few instances, a slight population recovery for perennial population losers (W. Frey 2013). Recent urban population recovery should be tempered by the fact that cities continue to be major sites of concentrated poverty (Kneebone, Nadeau, and Berube 2011). Moreover, job location and demography continue to favor Southern and Western states, making recovery for many Northeastern and Midwestern cities more difficult. The past fifty years of urban history demonstrate that there are no quick fixes for our most challenged cities. Local government policy functions in a federalist hierarchy and global economic forces affect success. Many cities work against a backlog of liabilities and constraints: pension fund and healthcare costs, deferred maintenance for critical infrastructure, public management practices resistant to change, a noncompetitive work force, and outmoded cost structures. Moreover, the historical dynamics of regional segregation by race and economic status are strong impediments to change. In the face of this history and context, local actions and policies still matter.

To succeed, older distressed cities must make progress on two simultaneous fronts: one is economic and the other public and civic. In terms of the economy, cities must adopt a cost structure and regulatory environment that 174 Jeremy Nowak is competitive. They must confront historical liabilities that over the long term will make it more difficult to pay for public goods. And they must build on the advantages of place, from cultural institutions to research universities. From a public and civic perspective, cities must address management practices that have reinforced decline and concentrated poverty, including low-quality public services and a tendency to ignore the implications of declining middle- and modest-income communities. They must offer services in keeping with the expectations of increasingly sophisticated knowledge workers, while focusing attention on those amenities and services that maximize opportunity for lower- and modest-income families. Cities have to become both more competitive and more equitable. A competitive city attracts and retains residents who have options. An equitable city improves circumstances for those with more limited choices. The two are not mutually exclusive, although politics often prioritizes one over the other. There are two approaches to rebuilding cities to promote higher levels of social mobility. One is from the outside in where emphasis is given to linking low-income people and places to metropolitan opportunities: suburban housing near better schools, better transportation to employment centers, firm creation along regional growth clusters. A second is to build from the inside out, restoring the amenities of place in ways that promote higher levels of urban integration and enable public institutions and private housing markets to maximize opportunity. Both approaches ought to be pursued. In this chapter I focus on three public and civic practices that enable competitiveness and equity from the inside out: 1) the reorganization of urban education, 2) the re-norming of place, and 3) a data-driven approach to citywide community investment. I use Philadelphia as a case study because the city is at a midpoint between growth and decline, exhibiting dynamic features of the postindustrial American city alongside seemingly intractable communities of poverty. I view its recent demographic growth as demonstrating a demand for urban places while also signaling the dramatic changes that still must occur to succeed over the long term. Growth Without Middle-Income Families For the first time in more than half a century Philadelphia’s population grew between 2000 and 2010.