The 5 Pillars of a Citywide Revitalization Strategy

Helloooo Detroiters, PPP'ers and those of you who will absolutely, positively, be watching the Scandal season premiere this Thursday!

Will Olivia Pope wear white after Labor Day?

Will Olivia Pope wear white after Labor Day?


Here's the Executive Summary of this entire Blog Post for all of you busy PPPer's:

*BOOM* (I just dropped the microphone and walked off of the stage.)

*BOOM* (I just dropped the microphone and walked off of the stage.)


The 5 Pillars of a Citywide Revitalization Strategy

There’s plenty of buzz these days about the comeback and preeminence of cities.  Bruce Katz has written about it in The Metropolitan Revolution. Edward Glaeser has trumpeted cities in The Triumph of the City:  How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier.

In contrast, two of Mr. Katz’s colleagues, Elizabeth Kneebone and Allan Berube, recently wrote extensively aboutthe epic struggles with poverty occurring in the suburbs. Not only are the suburbs struggling with poverty, they're also struggling with, well, urbanity. As an example, Ellen Dunham-Jones has led the call to have suburbia "retrofitted."  To me, much of that retrofitting seems designed to bring the urban amenities of the city out to the suburban people who fled those same cities! Cities are the new golden child of our country, and the country's population is getting increasingly urbanized.  This is not just a U.S. but a worldwide phenomenon-- the UN announced in June that more than half of the world's population live in urban areas.  It’s almost become axiomatic that the city is the [revitalized] place to be.

"If I can maaaake it there, I can make it...anywhere!"

"If I can maaaake it there, I can make it...anywhere!"

What’s discussed less is the “how.”  How are urban cities revitalizing themselves?  What is the one strategy that has brought cities like Pittsburgh, Washington, DC and yes, New York back from the dead?  What’s the silver bullet which will save the day? 

The answer:  There isn’t just one strategy.  There isn’t just one plan.   As we discussed in a previous post, there isn’t one silver bullet that works for all cities.  


A successful citywide revitalization strategy is really the synchronization of 5 sub-strategies and plans

I call these 5 sub-strategies and plans "The 5 Pillars."  The 5 Pillars are the core components of any sustainable and equitable revitalization of an urban city.

The 5 Pillars of a Citywide Revitalization Strategy.jpg


The point of this blog post isn't to go into a detailed dissertation on each of the 5 Pillars, but I do want to point out the key activities, topics and issues that tend to fall within each of the Pillars.  Cities will differ on how important is each Pillar -- however, every city will ultimately need a solid foundation for each Pillar.  Each Pillar, is not, however, an end goal itself-- they are only tools to be used to achieve the larger vision for the City.  Accordingly, the creation and implementation of each Pillar-- i.e. each plan and strategy-- must be synchronized, prioritized and designed to achieve the same goal:  the actualization of the residents', Mayor's and City Council's vision for the city.  

Let's briefly discuss each of the 5 Pillars below:

Pillar:  Land Use Policy & Zoning.   Cities signal their long-term vision for the city through their land use policies and plans.   However, those land use policies and plans are only as good as the zoning laws and regulations that implement the policies.  Policies are necessary, and nice, but investors and developers want to know what the law says.  They follow the rules, not the suggestions.  Use the combination of land use policy, zoning laws and regulations to signal to residents, stakeholders and the private market where your city is going -- and where you want them to go.   This need for thoughtful follow-through is being recognized by smart policy makers through out the country.  As an example, in Detroit the Kresge Foundation and the DEGC have opened an implementation office to assist the city in moving forward Detroit's land use vision

To achieve a land use vision you have to plan AND implement. 

To achieve a land use vision you have to plan AND implement. 

Pillar:  Housing & Commercial Corridor Strategy.  What type of housing do you want built in your city?  Where do you want these new product types built?  How many units?  By when? By whom?  As your city improves, how will you deal with issues of affordability and equity?  How does your housing strategy deal with your homeless problem (almost every city has one)?  What will the city do, spend and support to achieve these goals? Commercial corridors in urban neighborhoods either connect or divide communities. What's your revitalization, stabilization or celebration (for thriving corridors) plan for each of your cities' key commercial corridors?  What tools do you have or could create to implement those plans?

Pillar:  Economic Development Strategy.  "It's the economy stupid," a pretty famous guy once said.  It's about jobs! Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.  

No, no, not that Jobs.

No, no, not that Jobs.

It's also about workforce development to help current residents access and compete for those jobs. The plan must include a focus on industries.  What industries can support the needs of your city?  Where can you realistically be competitive to recruit or bolster those industries?  Small business and local entrepreneur support, recruitment and retention are key.  A branding and marketing strategy for the cities' industries and small businesses- both current and desired - is necessary.  But economic development cannot be truly achieved without a baseline quality-of-life for your cities' residents.

Pillar:  Quality-of-Life Plan.  A citywide quality-of-life plan has to have both a citywide and a neighborhood level perspective.  Its key components include implementable strategies on:
 

  • Public Safety
  • Public Health
  • Open Space/Placemaking; and
  • Blight

A special word on blight.  Many cities are making real strides to eliminate blight in their cities.  I was a working member of the Dan Gilbert-led Detroit Blight Removal Task Force, and it is clear that the eradication of blight in cities requires an interdisciplinary and holistic strategy to achieve long-term success. There are tons of definitions of blight, but in many ways you know it when you see it. 

This is clearly blight on a city.

This is clearly blight on a city.

This is clearly blight on a city too.

This is clearly blight on a city too.

Pillar:  Transportation & Mobility Plan.   I often get the feeling that some cities believe that a defined citywide strategy for transportation and mobility is a luxury, something only big boy cities do, not something that every urban city needs.  That sentiment is dead wrong.  A city cannot achieve its' economic development and quality-of-life goals without a forward-looking, innovative and correctly resourced transportation & mobility plan.  I'm not just talking about the current sexy like streetcars and light rail, but basic stuff like are there functional sidewalks and crosswalks for pedestrians; are there buses that can take residents to jobs centers; and are there bike lanes and paths for bikers? (Yes, I said it-- bike lanes, bike paths and the ability to navigate a city by bike are BASIC transportation infrastructure, not luxuries.)   

So those are the Five Pillars of a Citywide Revitalization Strategy.  But...

The implementation of the 5 Pillars is not the end goal.  The 5 Pillars only serve as tools to execute on the long-term vision for the city.  So first the city – often led by the Mayor and City Council but now sometimes led by philanthropic and non-profit interests– must create and communicate a narrative vision for the city.   Only after that vision is in place, and there is general buy-in from the city’s residents and key stakeholders, can the sustainable implementation of the 5 Pillars begin.

You Must Have a Citywide Vision for a Revitalization Strategy to Be Successful.

You Must Have a Citywide Vision for a Revitalization Strategy to Be Successful.


So there you have it. 

Does your City have a Citywide Vision and the 5 Pillars in place to create and implement a sustainable, equitable and innovative Citywide Revitalization Strategy?

Let me know what you think!

-- Calvin 

Posted on September 21, 2014 and filed under Most Read.