St. Louis: Regenerating America's Legacy Cities; Urban Policy; Rebuild the City Step by Step Instead of Chasing the Big Win

Article excerpt

Detroit may be on the minds of many leaders of similar legacy cities medium-sized metropolitan areas struggling with manufacturing decline and population loss are a never-ending project in many parts of the country. The city's filing for bankruptcy might have the effect of super-charging the atmosphere around revitalization efforts and may even prompt some lunging for megaprojects and silver bullets. St. Louis should resist this temptation, and stay a course that is slow and steady.

The population loss in St. Louis a 50 percent decline since the 1970s has put a great deal of pressure on downtown. Major solutions have been elusive, while incremental steps have been productive. The former St. Louis Center mall, which closed in 2006 and was converted to a parking garage whose skybridge connects to another garage, is unfortunately on the roster of big development projects gone awry. At the same time, the gradual transformation of Washington Avenue into a hub of urban vitality is on the roster of American downtown success stories.

The CityArchRiver2015 project connecting downtown St. Louis with the Gateway Arch, itself an earlier attempt at urban renewal, need not suffer the same fate. But it will be essential that this big gesture is integrated with other initiatives for surrounding areas if it is to make a meaningful contribution to the city's future.

An integrated approach is part of our conclusions in the report "Regenerating America's Legacy Cities," an analysis of 18 of these struggling cities published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Legacy cities that take stock of their assets, and put together collaborations and partnerships, engage in what we call "strategic incrementalism." It's a different kind of mindset that doesn't chase the big win that rebuilds the city step by step, the equivalent of playing small ball, getting your players on and bringing them home, rather than always aiming for the fences.

In our research, we've identified these key parameters:

* Set a friendly regulatory environment for infill redevelopment, reinvent public spaces, and encourage private market reuse of older buildings, including targeted strategies to fill the market gap currently keeping private developers from coming into key areas.

* Sustain viable neighborhoods where community partnerships can implement multifaceted neighborhood strategies that draw demand, rebuild housing markets and address destabilizing elements such as crime, foreclosure and property abandonment.

* Don't be afraid to demolish. Repurposing large inventories of vacant land strategically is a major springboard for change in heavily disinvested areas. That land can be used for public open space, urban agriculture or stormwater management.

* Reinvent the economic base. Not every city can become the next bio-tech capital. …