Voices from Forgotten Cities
Cities are talking, but who is listening? Living Cities and Governing want to help enhance your city’s voice.
Every single day in my eight years serving as mayor I heard from residents, employees and businesses in my city. Getting gas or groceries was never quick, and social media was a blessing and a curse. If I wasn’t knocking on their doors, they were knocking on mine. There was always something going on -- good and bad. We took the time to listen to and help each other, as well as air grievances and work out conflicts. For the most part, our voices were heard by each other.
Can the same be said for the voices of our city as a whole? About a decade ago, I was asked to speak at the Forgotten Cities summit hosted by MIT, PolicyLink and the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association. The summit was the product of a report compiled by the three organizations called, “Voices from Forgotten Cities: Innovative Revitalization Coalitions in America’s Older Small Cities.” The report highlighted “a new set of conditions, which often included the realization that high-wage manufacturing jobs would no longer return and there would be no white knight to come in and save the city.”
My city was included in a list of “forgotten cities,” older and smaller cities across the country that were affected by scarce resources and a shifting economy. I was a new mayor at the time, but not new to the challenges of my city. Before becoming mayor, I was in charge of the city’s 20-year urban renewal plan and implementing a framework for redeveloping the downtown. Empty bank buildings became restaurants, new housing and shops, while industrial buildings became flexible spaces for a variety of businesses. But that wasn’t enough to move our city forward. A framework for the entire city was needed.
As mayor, building that framework involved reaching out and partnering with organizations that had fresh ideas, experience with successful case studies that could be duplicated and resources that could enhance our own. We became part of summits like Forgotten Cities and started working with Living Cities, who supported a long-term project in my city to help address poverty, and Governing, who enhanced our city’s voice through articles and connected us with resources. We felt the story of our city and the collective voices become heard. We saw results, such as increased investments, improvements in our schools and more impactful civic engagement.
Unfortunately, this is still not happening everywhere. Living Cities and Governing realize this and launched the Equipt to Innovate framework in 2016 to help cities create a platform for growth and reflection on needed changes or improvements. In 2017, the initiative promises to bring even more tools to cities as the results of surveys will reveal what is working well – and not so well -- in cities across the country. We know cities are working hard to ensure all voices are heard. We look forward to working together to help you make that happen, as well as to raise up our collective voices as cities and shake off the label of “forgotten cities” once and for all.