Cities on the Rebound: A Vision for Urban America

Cities on the Rebound: A Vision for Urban America

by William H. Hudnut III

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Author Bill Hudnut draws on his past experience as mayor of Indianapolis to describe his vision for dealing with diversity, encouraging sustainable development, finding alternatives to sprawl, managing technological change, regional collaboration, improving government efficiency, and more.  See more details below


Author Bill Hudnut draws on his past experience as mayor of Indianapolis to describe his vision for dealing with diversity, encouraging sustainable development, finding alternatives to sprawl, managing technological change, regional collaboration, improving government efficiency, and more.

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Urban Land Institute
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Cities on the Rebound

A Vision for Urban America

By William H. Hudnut III

Urban Land Institute

Copyright © 1998 ULI-the Urban Land Institute
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-87420-863-4




If you ask a roomful of people about the state of urban America, chances are you'll get two responses: first, they will express concern over crime, education, and quality of life issues; second, they will deplore urban sprawl and say they don't want any more development where they live. Most Americans, if prompted, would throw up their hands in despair, shake their heads in resignation, and say that nothing can be done to save our cities from self-destructing. Commuting to work through depressed and decaying urban corridors, steering around potholes, setting out trash that doesn't get picked up, living in fear of crime, worrying about poor instruction in their children's schools, and groaning under ever-escalating tax burdens, Americans may well conclude that nothing in the city seems to be working anymore. Even one of the strongest urban leaders in the country — the dynamic Mayor Ed Rendell of Philadelphia — seems to have succumbed to pessimism after years of laboring mightily to lift his city by its bootstraps and turn it around. In a January 1998 interview, Rendell said, "Forget all the good things I've done. Philadelphia is dying."

However, look in other directions and a different picture might emerge. Many cities are experiencing population increases after decades of decline. Assessed valuations are going up. The line is being held on taxes. Progress is being made in the search for smart growth and sustainable development. Exciting new projects are underway. Citizens are being included in the community's decision-making process. Managers of city operations are striving for greater efficiency. And of course, the economy is booming, creating a rising tide that in recent years has lifted a lot of boats.

The success of our cities — or of any enterprise, for that matter — is possible only with leadership. As we turn the corner into a new millennium, there are encouraging signs that community leaders in the business, professional, academic, governmental, and civic sectors are working to find answers to two key questions: First, how can we get the job done better? And second, what do we need to do next? These are two questions I asked constantly during my tenure as mayor of Indianapolis from 1976 to 1991.

Of course, blight, crime, and grime have been realities in many of our cities for some time, and it is both tempting and easy to conclude that they will continue to be for a long time to come. Such a conclusion discounts the role that leadership can play in revitalizing cities. Building a city is not easy work. It requires visionary leadership, generous commitment, and steadfast use of all available resources. In this book, I will offer my personal vision for the city of the future and provide success stories from across the nation. Today's urban leadership demands extraordinary skills: understanding change, adapting to new technologies, building global and regional alliances, promoting policies that encourage smart growth, luring reinvestment back into the city, thinking positively — rather than fearfully — about the future, assembling collaborative coalitions, and innovating to deal effectively with urban problems of tremendous magnitude. There is no cookie-cutter approach, no magic bullet. What works in one place might not work in another. That is why leadership is an art, not a science; a calling, not a position. Leadership has to be earned — won in the heat of battle.

During the past two years, I have visited some 25 groups of real estate professionals from Atlanta to Los Angeles, Sacramento to Pittsburgh, San Antonio to Salt Lake City. I also have met with a number of mayors and other elected officials at conferences, meetings, and mayors' forums sponsored by the Urban Land Institute. In the course of all these sessions, I have seen signs that responsible leaders in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors are seriously pondering the future of the communities where they live and work and serve. They are beginning to explore new models for improving the way cities are structured and development occurs. There is an entrepreneurial spirit about them, a willingness to think outside the box, and a desire to disengage themselves from business as usual. French economist J. B. Say coined the word "entrepreneur" at the turn of the 19th century. "The entrepreneur," he wrote, "shifts economic resources out of an area of lower and into an area of higher productivity and greater yield." That is to say, the entrepreneurial spirit is interested in maximizing productivity and doing things more efficiently and effectively. We live in the time of the entrepreneurial American city, when the need for creative, courageous — and enterprising — leaders has never been greater.

The successful city will be led not just by political and business leaders but by a host of concerned citizens who believe in the value of civic involvement. The developer, the planner, the architect; the lawyer, the preacher, the doctor; the banker, the broker, the baker; the seniors, the boomers, and the X-ers will all practice the art of "cityship" that is, the art of city-building. Those who answer the call that went out as long ago as the story of the Tower of Babel — "Come, let us build ourselves a city" — will hold the city in their hearts and hands. They will see themselves as partners in building it up rather than tearing it down, responsible stewards of its resources, constructive citizens who believe in civic involvement, leaders who are willing to take risks in order to create positive change in the communities where they live. It may seem idealistic, in our hard-edged, competitive world, to discuss community building and participation in civic affairs. But there seems to be a growing consensus that this indeed is important. As one architect from Indianapolis put it: "There's so little involvement by architects in community organizations. You just don't see it in our profession. We need to get ... back to [being] community leaders." That applies to all professions, I think, and especially to the talented individuals in the land use/built-environment business, where men and women make decisions day in and day out that affect the health, safety, welfare, and happiness of communities in this country. The successful city of the future will nurture a cadre of citizen-leaders who recognize the peril to democracy of disengagement and who are prepared to walk a second mile for their community's well-being.

Leadership is an opportunity that comes to many people. Some seize it; others don't. In both the public and private sectors, leaders can emerge from the rank and file if they have a vision, can motivate others to commit to it, and possess the courage and tenacity to see it through. Look at what Mayor Joe Riley has done in Charleston, South Carolina, for example. One of the premier mayors in the nation, he has implemented a vision of urban design that preserves the historic character of his city, making it a very attractive city in which to live and visit. Mayor Richard Daley has taken on the Chicago public school system with substantive reforms in mind. Mayor Brent Coles has preserved the core central city of Boise, Idaho, in the face of northwestern growth and sprawl. Mayor Victor Ashe has made a profound commitment to linking open spaces, greenways, and parks along the riverfront in Knoxville, Tennessee. Mayor Nancy Graham has instilled new vitality and excitement in downtown West Palm Beach, Florida.

In the private sector, too, leaders are creating positive change. At a recent meeting of the Libraries for the Future organization, those who attended heard about the work of Peggy Dye in New York City's Harlem. Dye was staffing a voter registration booth one hot day when she decided to take a break. Stopping in at the George Bruce Library and hearing that it might be closed for lack of funding, she took up the cudgels of public advocacy to "stir up spirit," as she put it, and ultimately rallied enough support to convince the downtown "powers that be" to keep the library open. Dye understood how the library and the community are connected. In preserving the library, she and her cohorts saved not only a community information resource and a place of learning and self-education but also a free, accessible public space to which children could repair for safe haven and where new corners could acculturate themselves in a new country.

Then there is Joe Canizaro, a successful businessman and civic leader in New Orleans. Canizaro frequently talks about "making a visible difference." He once told an audience of real estate developers: "We can no longer measure the success of our cities by office occupancy rates. It will take leadership, vision, clearly articulated goals and strategies, and a determined commitment to make our cities work. Ultimately, it's up to you and me — working within an enlightened business community — to lead the way." But Joe doesn't just talk; he acts. Concerned about the deterioration of the Lower Garden District adjacent to New Orleans's downtown, and worried that this blight might destroy confidence in and the value of downtown properties, he assembled a board of directors, the Community Resource Partnership. Working with local government, residents of the District, and the business community, the Partnership brought common and vested interests together, enacting a master plan for the revitalization of 1,500 units of low-income housing. Now the old units are being demolished, to be replaced by new units occupied by residents with a mix of incomes. Says Canizaro: "We have to have a quality urban core, or business will leave and tourists won't come. This is one small part of it, but a part worth fighting for."

Embracing Change

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus posited, "There is nothing permanent except change." Some 2,500 years later, President John F. Kennedy observed, "Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future." How will we respond to the challenges of colossal change in all aspects of life? How should cities harness change so that they catch, not miss, the future?

We live in a time of rapid change. The challenge is to make change our friend, not our enemy. In his brilliant 1961 book, The City in History, Lewis Mumford refers to the city in terms drawn from biology and ecology. The city is an organism. It can decay or grow, disintegrate or progress, die or be re-born. He points out that in every organism, the anabolic and the catabolic processes — the constructive and the destructive — are constantly at work, suggesting that the life and growth of cities depend not on the absence of negative conditions but on a sufficient degree of equilibrium and a sufficient surplus of constructive energy to permit continued repair.

Technological Change

We live in the postindustrial era; the smokestack has been replaced by the computer. The information age is fast upon us, and success will belong to those who enjoy information dominance. Computers and information technology are changing our lives to an extent we could not have foreseen just a few years ago, linking people and ideas across great distances. More than 57 million people in the United States now have access to the Web. It's been estimated that as of early 1997 there already were 650,000 Web sites on the Internet. The new engines of economic growth are being driven by semiconductors. Canadian economist Nuala Beck reports that at present 72 percent of America's gross domestic product is attributable to knowledge-based industries. The world is growing smaller as goods and knowledge travel faster. Old jobs, mostly unskilled and semiskilled, are being eliminated; new, more sophisticated ones are being created. Microchips are doubling in density and speed every 18 months. Computers and robotics are doing jobs in design and production that people once did. New forms of electronic infrastructure are emerging; work sites are becoming more dispersed. Deteriorating physical infrastructure is being rebuilt; buildings are becoming "smarter."

We are surrounded by technological change.

Economic Change

We operate in a global economy; the world is our neighbor. Huge corporate mergers are taking place. New ways of valuing information-age assets are coming into being. Financial markets have been globalized, and foreign trade competition has intensified as multinational corporations have proliferated. Not with-standing the recent setbacks there, Asia, with its burgeoning and increasingly literate population, will continue to be a major catalyst of global growth.

To stay competitive, business and government will have to become more entrepreneurial, and the workforce will have to be better educated and more appropriately trained. Downsizing and rightsizing are strategies common in most boardrooms. Demassification is occurring with the development of more custom-tailored services and products that offer consumers broader variety and higher quality. The range of choices available to average citizens is nearly dizzying, and more people have the disposable income to enjoy them.

We are surrounded by economic change.

Environmental Change

While world food production has increased dramatically since 1950, famine still ravages millions of people each year. The burning of fossil fuels has led to global warming. Deforestation is accelerating. Lakes and streams have been acidified. Habitats and ecosystems have been destroyed for the sake of sprawling development. Toxic waste dumped willy-nilly into the ground for generations is coming back to haunt us, and the cleanup of brownfields (parcels of abandoned or contaminated land) has become a monumental task. Indoor pollution is causing growing concern: People now worry about whether their homes are contaminated with radon, asbestos, lead, and bacteria from air-handling systems.

It's encouraging to see that increasing numbers of responsible individuals and groups now recognize environmental causes as central to the wellbeing of our country. They are determined to combat pollution; reduce and recycle solid waste; reclaim land stripped by mining and other forms of development; protect coastlines and endangered species; develop nonfossil fuels; and preserve green space, open space, wetlands, and wildlife refuges. Heightened eco-awareness is becoming evident in a patchwork of initiatives, some of them no doubt impelled by grass-roots political clout. For example, taking the sustainable approach, the local government in Mentor, Ohio, spent more than $9 million to preserve some 450 environmentally sensitive woodland acres from intensive residential development, favoring the long-term benefits of biodiversity over the short-term windfall of real estate profits.

We are surrounded by environmental change.

Social Change

As we move into the 21st century, we will witness a tremendous increase in the elderly population and a massive migration toward the sunshine. By 2020, women will account for about the same percentage of the workforce as men. The white share of the labor force will decline from 76 percent today to 68 percent by 2020. The African-American share will remain at about 11 percent, while the Asian and Hispanic shares will grow to 6 and 14 percent, respectively. The workforce will be divided among those who are proficient in math, science, and languages, and therefore command generous compensation; those who have low-skill jobs and commensurately low incomes; and those who have very little education, no technological or vocational experience and, often, no employment. Meanwhile, social problems like homelessness, AIDS, and drug abuse will require continued attention.

Every major city is divided between the haves and the have-nots. For the most part, those who can afford it are pursuing the American dream in the suburbs. The emerging urban form is characterized by so-called suburban urbanization and the rise of urban villages (concentrations of jobs and markets in the suburbs) or edge cities that offer low-cost land, access to highways, regional-scale shopping, extensive office space, easy parking, hotels and restaurants, urban entertainment centers, multifamily housing, and a short commute by car to high-income suburban housing — in short, new downtowns in suburbia. At the same time, a backlash against growth is occurring as traffic congestion increases; crime moves to the suburbs; and transportation, water, and sewer infrastructures are stretched beyond capacity.

We are surrounded by social change.

Political Change

The Reagan revolution began a process of devolution of power and authority to state and local government as a way of limiting the growth of big government at the federal level, but that initiative is now fading. While the movement was not particularly effective, it did lead to efforts to make government more efficient and entrepreneurial.


Excerpted from Cities on the Rebound by William H. Hudnut III. Copyright © 1998 ULI-the Urban Land Institute. Excerpted by permission of Urban Land Institute.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

William H. Hudnut, Jr. is a former mayor of Indianapolis and Congressman. He is currently a fellow at the Urban Land Institute.

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