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Cascade: No. 54, Spring 2004

National Conference on Reinventing America's Older Communities Attracts Overflow Crowd

Many of the nation's leading "smart-growth" advocates addressed a national conference in Philadelphia in January, attended by 423 representatives of government agencies, nonprofits, banks, foundations, and universities, as well as developers, planners, and architects.

The conference, held January 14-16, 2004, at the Hyatt Regency at Penn's Landing, was organized by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia's Community Affairs Department in cooperation with the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy, the William Penn Foundation, Fannie Mae, Funders' Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, Smart Growth America, and The Reinvestment Fund.

The conference focused on smart-growth issues such as increasing regional planning, encouraging development in cities rather than in undeveloped areas, strategies to assist declining older suburbs, and land-use controls.

On the conference's opening day, Bruce Katz, director of the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy, discussed findings from the center's recent report titled Back to Prosperity: A Competitive Agenda for Renewing Pennsylvania.1 The report recommends that Pennsylvania's state government improve its planning capacity, target its infrastructure and economic development planning on older communities, increase its investments in education and workforce training, encourage land reclamation and redevelopment, and promote regional collaboration.

Richard D. Baron, chairman and CEO of McCormack Baron Salazar Inc., based in St. Louis, was a keynote speaker on the conference's second day. McCormack Baron Salazar focused on neighborhood public schools as it developed large-scale communities with a mix of for-sale and rental housing in distressed areas.

Public schools have a direct impact on their neighborhoods and affect housing values, the ability to market newly developed housing, and corporate investment and location decisions, Baron said.

McCormack Baron Salazar's developments include Crawford Square in Pittsburgh, a 350-unit, mixed-income development in which half of the units were financed by low-income housing tax credits and the other half were market-rate units. In Murphy Park in St. Louis, McCormack Baron Salazar formed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that has received grants from corporations and foundations for human-capital programs and supported a strong community arts program.

Baron said that successful redevelopment requires unified planning at the neighborhood level by leaders of such separate areas as housing, schools, and parks.

Meanwhile, Governor Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania and Governor Ruth Ann Minner of Delaware discussed smart-growth initiatives and issues in their respective states. Parris N. Glendening, former governor of Maryland and president of Smart Growth America's leadership institute, moderated the discussion.

Governor Rendell said that providing government incentives to encourage developers to build on city sites is likely to be more effective than trying to block suburban sprawl with regulations. He suggested that developers can be attracted to redevelop contaminated city sites through public incentives for clean-up and infrastructure improvements.

Governor Minner said that Delaware's three counties and most of its municipalities have developed comprehensive plans. Such plans are required by the state, which provides grants and technical assistance. She mentioned that when a Delaware town annexed land not in its plan, an annexation opposed by two counties, the state withheld infrastructure funding from the town. Governor Minner is to receive the American Planning Association's distinguished leadership award for an elected official.

Meanwhile, a panel consisting of mayors William Johnson of Rochester, NY, Thomas Menino of Boston, John Street of Philadelphia, Anthony Williams of Washington, D.C., and former mayor John Norquist of Milwaukee discussed some of their successes, as well as obstacles they have encountered, in pursuing smart growth and urban revitalization agendas.

Mayor Johnson has been an outspoken advocate of smart-growth policies and a critic of urban sprawl. Sprawl, he said, has caused division by race and income in cities and suburbs and has resulted in a high concentration of African Americans in cities such as Rochester.2

In a luncheon address, Mayor John Hickenlooper, of Denver, described his work with several downtown renovation projects for which he received a national preservation award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A former geologist, he is a small-business owner who runs seven Denver restaurants.

On the conference's final day, Bob Inman, professor of finance at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, led discussion on the topic "Should Suburbs Help Their Central City?" While most attendees agreed with Inman that suburbs should help central cities, Inman noted that many suburban residents do not agree with that conclusion. Inman's article on this subject was summarized in the Winter 2003 issue of Cascade.

Presentations and other conference information may be found at In addition, articles contributed by conference sponsors may be found in the Winter 2003 issue of Cascade.