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Cascade: No. 68, Spring/Summer 2008

Mayors: Reinventing Begins with Planning

The idea that a city is part of a greater metropolitan area was embraced by the mayors and the municipal official who spoke at the plenary sessions of the conference.1 Each understood how his city matters within its larger region. A common theme about reinventing these cities was the need to involve the community in actively planning to enhance assets and minimize liabilities. Each of the cities is in a different stage of reinventing itself, but all have a shared experience of decades of industrial decline.

Turin, Italy; Valentino Castellani, Former Mayor

The mayor of Turin for two terms, from 1993 to 2001, Castellani presented the city as one that has reinvented itself many times during its 2,000-year history. Turin, which has a current population of approximately 900,000, has had significant ups and downs in the last 150 years as it lost its status as capital of Italy, became an automotive capital, lost some 80,000 manufacturing jobs, and hosted the 2006 winter Olympic Games. Most recently, Turin has been the beneficiary of new public and private investment that aims at diversifying the city’s economic base and maintaining the euphoria created by hosting the Olympics. Castellani said that key factors that have enabled Turin to reinvent itself are the city’s cultural heritage, a long history of planning, and the fact that it is a key transportation node with connections to western and eastern Europe.

Stamford, Connecticut; Mayor Dannel P. Malloy

Currently in his 13th year as mayor of Stamford, Connecticut, Malloy is keenly aware of the physical assets of his city. He noted that Stamford, a city of approximately 125,000 residents, is the fastest growing city in New England. Stamford’s location on Long Island Sound, 30 miles from New York City, is a major factor in the city’s transformation. Malloy also credits a conscious planning effort and clear vision of what the city wants to be. In the face of industrial decline a half-century ago and with good commuter and national rail service2 and a major interstate highway (I-95) running through it, Stamford focused on office development. To prevent sprawl and reinforce its effort to create a vibrant 24-hour downtown, Stamford currently uses tools such as zoning and density bonuses to keep big box retailers downtown and out of neighborhoods and to encourage infill housing and mixed-use development.

Youngstown, Ohio; Mayor Jay Williams

Youngstown is located between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, approximately 65 miles from each city. This former steel-producing city, with a population of 170,000 at its peak, was laid out to accommodate a population of 250,000. With an estimated population of 83,000 in 2006, the city, Mayor Williams explained, has “finally come to terms with itself rather than looking in its rearview mirror.” As a result of a plan known as Youngstown 2010, the city now accepts that its size will range from 80,000 to 85,000 residents; it is no longer the economic juggernaut in the regional economy; and it needs to address image and quality of life issues through land-use planning and economic development. Williams cautioned that similar to a private enterprise, a city can downsize or “right size” physically, but morally and legally it must deliver certain goods and services. Youngstown has become known for its effort to right size, and the city is in the contemplation and trial stages of limited decommissioning of roads, utilities, and other infrastructure, turning vacant and abandoned areas into parks and recreation areas. Finally, Williams explained that the community is beginning to accept that “no knight from Columbus or Washington, D.C., will save the city.”

Cleveland, Ohio; Christopher Warren, Chief of Regional Development

Warren was asked to address the impact of subprime lending and foreclosure on the city of Cleveland. He reported that 17,000 units were in foreclosure in the city from 2005 to 2007 and that researchers at Case Western Reserve University had found that 80 percent of these foreclosures were traced to subprime originators. In 2007, the city of Cleveland spent $12 million for demolition in connection with foreclosed properties, a fivefold increase over the cost in 2005. Warren explained that Cleveland’s problems predated subprime lending, but “those problems made Cleveland and similar municipalities susceptible to subprime lending schemes.” He estimated that at least 50 percent of the subprime borrowing in Cleveland was done by investors. Their purchases were “financed by hedge fund investment vehicles that provided mezzanine financing for hundreds of one- and two-family houses at a clip.” Those loans and the subprime loans made to the ultimate home purchaser were packaged and sold by Wall Street firms as securitized investments.

In January 2007 the city, “in an effort to hold those parties responsible for the devastation in Cleveland,” filed suit against 21 financial services companies3 the city said had purchased investments backed by the subprime mortgages. The lawsuit claimed that the subprime lending practices had created a public nuisance. The city is seeking damages for the cost of rebuilding the city, public nuisance costs, and lost revenues. Warren explained that the lawsuit is based on the belief that the financial institutions “could have, [and] should have foreseen the massive numbers of foreclosures and cataclysmic impacts that those foreclosures have had on [Cleveland].”

In response to questions about what would be done with proceeds from the lawsuit, Warren answered that Cleveland has a citywide plan in which citizens and community groups are key partners and indicated that there are plans in place to deal with land that comes into public ownership. The city will continue its work with Neighborhood Progress Inc. and the George Gund Foundation on stabilizing six of the city’s neighborhoods. On a regional level, the city is working with the Gund Foundation and nearly 100 other entities in northeastern Ohio on a tax sharing plan to capture the benefits of growth in the region.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Mayor Michael A. Nutter

Michael Nutter became mayor in January 2008. As a moderator at the conference, Mayor Nutter decried the “lack of a national discussion among current presidential candidates from either party of the role of the federal government in cities, education, public safety, and economic development.” The candidates, he said, were not focusing on the concerns of cities. Mayor Williams agreed and quoted former President John F. Kennedy: “We will neglect our cities at our peril, for in neglecting them we neglect the Nation.”

An urban renewal project in Turin, Italy, has renovated the north-south rail line, moved half of it underground, and created a wide boulevard on the surface. The boulevard, known as La Spina (the backbone), is lined with tall white light fixtures and can be seen in the background. In the foreground is a small park adjacent to the boulevard that contains a walkthrough sculpture of a tree.An urban renewal project in Turin, Italy, has renovated the north-south rail line, moved half of it underground, and created a wide boulevard on the surface. The boulevard, known as La Spina (the backbone), is lined with tall white light fixtures and can be seen in the background. In the foreground is a small park adjacent to the boulevard that contains a walkthrough sculpture of a tree.

Completed in 1921, the Fiat Lingotto factory in Turin, known for its roof-top test track shown here, is a prominent example of modernist architecture. After Fiat closed the factory in 1982, architect Renzo Piano was chosen to transform the building. Today, Lingotto is a multifunctional complex containing a trade center, convention center, auditorium, art museum, 11-theater cinema complex, two hotels, shops, and offices. The exterior of the building remains as originally designed. The Olympic Arch is in the background. Lingotto is at the southernmost tip of La Spina.Completed in 1921, the Fiat Lingotto factory in Turin, known for its roof-top test track shown here, is a prominent example of modernist architecture. After Fiat closed the factory in 1982, architect Renzo Piano was chosen to transform the building. Today, Lingotto is a multifunctional complex containing a trade center, convention center, auditorium, art museum, 11-theater cinema complex, two hotels, shops, and offices. The exterior of the building remains as originally designed. The Olympic Arch is in the background. Lingotto is at the southernmost tip of La Spina.

  • 1 Valentino Castellani, a former mayor of Turin, Italy, and president of the Organizing Commitee for the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, spoke on Wednesday morning, addressing the topic “Rebuilding a Sense of Place in Older Industrial Cities.” Mayor Dannel P. Malloy of Stamford, Conn., Mayor Jay Williams of Youngstown, Ohio, and Christopher Warren, chief of regional development of the city of Cleveland, participated on a panel Friday morning moderated by Mayor Michael A. Nutter of Philadelphia.
  • 2 Stamford is a busy station on the regional Metro North train line and, according to Malloy, is second only to Grand Central Station in Manhattan.
  • 3 These companies include banks and bank holding companies, mortgage companies, and investment banks.

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