The days of simplistic, “magic-bullet” urban revitalization approaches finally seem to be on the wane. Poorly thought-out, high-profile, big-budget projects like conventions centers, stadiums, retailer subsidies, redevelopment fads (like the “creative class”), and the wooing of transient employers by giving away all future tax revenues, are giving way to more “organic”, fundamental approaches.
Cities across the U.S., and around the world, are also realizing that it makes little sense to artificially force retail into an abandoned downtown that has few residents. Residents can survive without retail from longer than retail can survive without customers. Retail follows customers: seldom the reverse. Bring people downtown, and the restaurants and retail will appear. And what best attracts residents? Affordable housing and high quality of life.
Dan Horrigan, the mayor of long-struggling Akron, Ohio seems to “get it”. He’s betting his legacy on housing as a strategy to revitalize what many consider one the the most revitalization-resistant cities in America.
On February 6, 2017, Horrigan and city planners presented a comprehensive housing strategy to revive this once vibrant, All-American city.
“If I’m going to be known for something, it’s growing the city,” Horrigan said. “I’m not going to manage my eventual decline. I’m not here for that.”
Horrigan’s “catalyst, enabler and facilitator” is a tax abatement program for residential property owners and developers.
Akron is the fifth-largest city in the state of Ohio, and is the county seat of Summit County. It is located approximately 39 miles (63 km) south of Lake Erie. As of 2015, the city proper had a total population of 197,542, making it the 119th largest city in the United States.
Co-founded along the Little Cuyahoga River in 1825 by Simon Perkins and Paul Williams, it was designed as the strategic point at the summit of the then-developing Ohio and Erie Canal. Akron became a manufacturing center owing to its location on the canal, as well as being connected to numerous others and railroad lines.
During the 1950s–60s Akron surged as use of the automobile did. Like many other industries of the Rust Belt, both the tire and rubber industries experienced major decline. By the early 1990s, Goodyear was the last major tire manufacturer based in Akron.
The city continues to deal with the effects of air and soil pollution from its industrial past. In the southwestern part of the city, soil was contaminated and noxious PCB-laden fumes were put into the air by an electrical transformer deconstruction operation that existed from the 1930s to the 1960s. Cleanup of the property, designated as a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency, began in 1987 and concluded in 2000.
Here’s hoping for a successful outcome to Mayor Horrigan’s new housing-based revitalization strategy.
Photo credit: Sleepydre via Wikipedia.