Sunday, September 14, 2014

Urban Revival in the Rust Belt

SolarCity, a clean energy provider.
By Susan Milligan  | U.S. News

The old Republic Steel site in Buffalo, New York, long stood abandoned, a painful reminder to the region's residents of how enduringly damaging the decline of the steel industry had been. Now, the site is being developed by the solar panel company SolarCity, bringing potentially thousands of jobs to this snowbelt city. At Canalside, a still-developing project to take the city's historic old canal and make it a hot spot for live musical performances, dining and skating in the winter, locals blend with construction workers who are taking a lunch break while working to build HarborCenter, a mixed-use hockey-themed complex that will include a Marriott hotel, restaurants, downtown parking and two ice rinks.

Long-suffering Buffalo, along with other Rust Belt cities hit with the double whammy of the New Economy and the Great Recession, is coming back. And local politicians and urban experts say these cities are in a historic renaissance that belies the late-20th-century presumption that industrial America was finished. Urban expert Alan Mallach calls them "Legacy Cities" – cities whose workers helped build this country that are now struggling their way back decades after the New Economy took hold.

"This is the American heartland. This is where 'what made our country great' all began," says Mallach, senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. "You look at these cities today, and they are struggling, but at the same time they have incredible assets and have incredible resources for this country."

Experts say affordable housing, a slew of new investments in growing fields and stable workforces have put places like Buffalo, Cleveland and Pittsburgh back on the map for both new college grads and Rust Belt natives who left to find work but feel a tug back to the homefront.

"What has happened in the last seven years in Buffalo is that it has regained the confidence it lost after many decades of economic decline," says Rep. Brian Higgins, a South Buffalo Democrat who for many years has fought to develop the city's waterfront from an industrial dumping site into a festive and bustling gathering place.

When things are looking gloomy, "people retreat unto themselves, they become very territorial and don't embrace the larger vision," making it harder to accept fundamental changes in the economy, adds Higgins, who also taught a course on the western New York economy at SUNY Buffalo State.

"What's changed is that people are seeing tangible proof" that things are on the upswing, he says.

Read More about how Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Cleveland are moving back on track at U.S. News.

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