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Case Studies on Urban Revitalization

Economist Edward Glaeser explains why some U.S. metropolises have bounced back from adversity--and why others will not



Illustration by Oliver Munday

In the September issue of Scientific American, Harvard University economist Edward Glaeser describes how education and entrepreneurship can make or break cities. In a series of case studies around the Web, Glaeser has explored how those factors and others have allowed some U.S. cities to thrive as others continue to struggle. Below are links to his writings, plus related articles, on five American metropolises.

 

DETROIT
Detroit's mayor David Bing has adopted a promising strategy to save his city: shrink it to a sustainable size. By focusing public services on healthy neighborhoods and pulling back from the others, the plan acknowledges that Detroit and other cities of the Great Lakes region will never return to their former greatness (pdf). Those glory years depended on specific historical factors conductive to heavy industry, such as proximity to mines and waterways. But Detroit can become a vibrant, livable smaller city.

BOSTON
Three times in its history, Boston has gone into decline, and three times, Boston has managed to reinvent itself. Each time, the key has been its human capital. High education levels and local investment in R&D mean that Bostonians can shift their talents to new industries when old industries die and new opportunities present themselves.

BUFFALO, N.Y.
Buffalo is half the city it used to be and one of the most impoverished urban areas in the country. The federal and state governments have poured money into the city, trying to revitalize it, but the sad fact is that it simply no longer serves as the transportation hub it once was. Its forbidding climate and low average education levels are disincentives for private investment. Like Detroit, Buffalo needs to manage a contraction to a sustainable size.

NEW YORK CITY
New York City used to be a byword for urban decay, but the Big Apple has managed to reinvent itself. Commentators have debated the reasons for its current success, such as innovative policing, but the underlying reasons are its vibrant entrepreneurial culture and skilled workforce.

CHICAGO
It wasn't long ago that Chicago, like the other large cities of the East and Midwest, seemed to be caught in a spiral of decay. Human capital played a large role in its recovery, as it has elsewhere, but innovative, minimum-drama city government has greatly helped.

 

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