Many older communities, especially the historic manufacturing, industrial, and transportation centers located in the Northeast and Midwest, have suffered from population declines and lack of traditional employment opportunities – trends that have adverse implications for the upkeep of existing infrastructure, the effectiveness of traditional revitalization strategies, and the flow of federal funds from programs that allocate dollars based on population. Sluggish markets and falling populations undermine the economic vitality and strain the municipal resources of older communities. Some cities and suburbs face difficulties with brownfields and vacant properties, aging infrastructure, housing, commercial and industrial activity, and declining tax bases.
The Northeast-Midwest Institute researches federal economic and community development programs and opportunities as part of its mission to encourage economic vitality for the region and the nation. The Institute explores strategies for federal economic development initiatives, analyzes legislation, tracks trends, and distributes information to educate and inform Congressional staff, federal policy makers, and state officials. The Institute’s urban revitalization work focuses on a variety of issues, which are detailed below. Read more about current urban revitalization projects here.
Transportation and Infrastructure
The Northeast-Midwest states have some of the oldest transportation, water, and sewer infrastructure in the nation and the region's weather exerts ongoing stress on those systems. Investments in existing infrastructure save money and help to maintain the economic viability of established communities. The Northeast-Midwest Institute works with regional and national partners to shift the federal focus from new infrastructure to maintaining, repairing, and improving existing infrastructure. For example, after the I-35 bridge collapse in Minnesota in 2007, the Northeast-Midwest Institute and congressional Coalition helped forge the resulting emergency bridge repair legislation.
Vacant and abandoned housing has been a blight impacting many older industrial cities for decades. Securing and maintaining abandoned structures hinders local resources and threatens regional economic prosperity. Through its work in the region, Northeast-Midwest Institute identified the troubling consequences of questionable lending practices and the pending surge in foreclosures years in advance of our nation’s current financial situation. As a result, when legislation was first introduced to create an emergency housing and foreclosure fund, the Institute played a vital role in drafting foreclosure bill language aimed at protecting the interest of economically-challenged neighborhoods throughout the weakened industrial corridors. The Institute’s foreclosure analysis and subsequent policy recommendations ensured that communities with a history of foreclosures, vacancy, and abandonment were not overshadowed by the recent surge in foreclosure rates in newer, sprawling, suburban communities.
Energy and Environment
The ex-urban migration of the last half century has drastically increased America’s energy consumption: more vehicle miles traveled, large and energy-inefficient residences, and sprawling roadways, rooftops, and parking lots. In short, disinvestment in our historic cities and towns has exacted a severe toll on our nation’s environment and aggravated America’s energy crisis. Reviving the compact, walkable, and high-density land use patterns found in older industrial communities is a key factor in creating a nation less dependent on foreign energy sources. The Northeast-Midwest Institute gathers and distributes information and conducts original research on issues relating to energy and environment in the region’s urban areas. The manufacturing of new energy technologies and transitioning to cleaner, sustainable energy sources has the potential to improve both the economic and environmental health of the Northeast and Midwest.
Vacant, abandoned, and often contaminated former industrial and commercial sites, or brownfields, scar every state in America, but nowhere is the issue of greater concern than in America’s Northeast and Midwest. Buffalo, Hartford, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Youngstown, Cleveland, Green Bay, and Baltimore represent only a handful of the former great cities of industry, transportation, and American ingenuity that are burdened with brownfields. Even though some older cities have seen significant improvement and rejuvenation, many still suffer from disinvestment and deteriorating properties that have far-reaching consequences for surrounding neighborhoods and communities. All too often, abandonment attracts further disinvestment, and entire communities are weighed down by the stigma of brownfield sites. The Northeast-Midwest Institute has been a leader in brownfields policy research for well over a decade.
A healthy tree canopy, vibrant urban parks, access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and an extensive network of fully accessible trails and bicycle lanes for non-motorized transportation are key factors in both the economic rejuvenation of older urban centers and the physical health of our nation’s citizens. The Northeast-Midwest Institute provides information to Congress about the positive outcomes associated with promoting healthy lifestyles in urban areas and programs that can significantly enhance the health and overall livability of older industrial communities. In addition, the Institute highlights how successful remediation and transformation of former blighted land to urban parks can drastically improve the social, environmental, and economic prosperity of a city or town.
Economic and Workforce Development
The historic manufacturing, industrial, and transportation centers in the Northeast and Midwest have suffered from population declines and lack of traditional employment opportunities. These trends undermine the economic vitality, and strain the municipal resources, of older communities. Federal policy can play a fundamental role in helping economically challenged communities capitalize on their existing assets, such as institutions of higher education, medicine, arts and culture. The Northeast-Midwest Institute works closely with its partners to disseminate information about the economic benefits of industry clusters and technology innovations in the rejuvenation of regional economies and the stabilization of employment.
Support for the Institute’s Urban Revitalization work is generally project-specific. Past funds have been provided by the Great Lakes Protection Fund, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, and the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation.