Academic journal article Cityscape

Planning without Agency: Vibrant NEO 2040

Academic journal article Cityscape

Planning without Agency: Vibrant NEO 2040

Article excerpt

Introduction

Legacy cities are "older, industrial urban areas that have experienced significant population and job loss, resulting in high residential vacancy and diminished service capacity and resources" (Legacy Cities Partnership, n.d.). These cities and their surrounding regions pose structural challenges to efforts to address their social, economic, and environmental problems sustainably. One such challenge is the mismatch between their physical layout-dating from the time when core cities attained peaks of population and economic activity-and their current population, needs, and resources. For example, legacy cities' structures and infrastructure tend to take more space than if they had been built to meet the needs of the current population, with current technology. Aging infrastructure needs repair or replacement, while tax bases to fund these improvements are strained and declining. In the absence of new strategies to set them on a sustainable course, legacy regions are necessarily reactive in the short run, using their resources to respond to urgent needs. This reactive strategy is both unsustainable and unwise in the long term; it consumes the relatively small amounts of "seed corn" to repair and maintain what is an already inefficient organization of space that will continue to experience stress and deterioration.

Beyond this general characterization of the legacy status, each city and region tends to have specific circumstances that require tailored solutions. For example, scale is a key consideration: how should the boundaries of a region be selected for planning purposes? Other considerations include environmental assets and expected climate change impacts, housing, transportation and infrastructure needs, economic and political structure, and social problems. Not least are planning and implementation resources and capabilities, including numerous government agencies, private and nonprofit organizations, and local attitudes and willingness to participate in public decision processes. These considerations are not independent of each other; rather, they are interrelated in complex ways with high likelihood that addressing any of them may give rise to "wicked problems" (Rittel and Weber, 1973; Skaburskis, 2008) and unwanted consequences. Therefore, to understand and advance planning in the legacy context, it is necessary to explore both the general features and study specific cases of legacy region planning projects. We propose to engage in this task by focusing on the implementation of Vibrant NEO 2040, a planning framework for the northeast Ohio region devised between 2011 and 2014.

In general, we distinguish three classes of place characteristics that matter both for making and implementing plans. Although these classes are relevant to any region, their mix and interplay is region specific. The first class includes tangible factors: the physical layout, structures and their environment, population size and composition, and socioeconomic characteristics that drive local needs and resources. All factors in this class are affected by a region's legacy status. For example, population and economic decline undermine a region's resource base and attractiveness, as does an environment impaired by previous heavy industrial activities. The aging infrastructure poses both functional and health risks, and the tax revenue necessary for remediation is dwindling. High proportions of population in poverty impose additional demands on the already strained resource base. The current mix of skills does not match well the nature of jobs in the growing industries, and travel connections between where people live and where they might find work are weak or nonexistent for those depending on public transportation. Thus, the legacy status affects both the kinds of plans that can be considered for the region, as well as the prioritization of the scarce resources for implementation.

The second class includes formal functional and organizational systems of governance and their linkages. …

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