The end of World War II heralded an era of urban disinvestment in the United States. Suburban flight, deindustrialization and automobile-oriented sprawl triggered massive population and job loss in the cities that had driven America’s economic growth for the preceding century. While some cities began to rebound in the 1990s, others, including great cities like Detroit and Cleveland, have continued to decline.
How these cities acknowledge the reality of being a smaller city, reconfigure their physical environment, reuse surplus land and buildings, and target their resources to capitalize on their assets will likely determine whether they will continue to decline, or will achieve vitality as smaller but stronger cities.
Reflecting that these cities will look very different in the future from what they were in the past, regeneration efforts need to focus on three complementary goals: strengthening core areas by building on key physical, economic and institutional assets; preserving viable residential neighborhoods and housing; and identifying long-term non-traditional and green uses for vacant lands and buildings. The federal government can play a major role in this process in five key areas: