What Works in Revitalizing Distressed Older Suburban Areas?

About the Author

Jonathan Morgan

Jonathan Morgan is a School of Government faculty member.

Jonathan Morgan is a School of Government faculty member.

This is a continuation of the series of blog posts focused on “What Works” in economic development.  Two previous posts (Part I, Part II)  identified some effective strategies for incubating small start-up businesses. This post highlights a recent study that offers insight into what communities can do to revitalize older suburban areas that are experiencing chronic economic and social distress.

The findings are presented in a report titled “Revitalizing Distressed Older Suburbs” that was prepared by participating researchers involved in the What Works Collaborative, which is funded by several foundations interested in promoting evidence-based housing and urban policy in the U.S.  The researchers conducted in-depth case studies of four distressed suburban areas with majority African American populations:

  • East Cleveland, Ohio  (pop. 17K)
  • Inkster, Michigan (suburb of Detroit; pop. 25K)
  • Chester, Pennsylvania (midway between Philadelphia and Wilmington, DE; pop. 34K)
  • Prichard, Alabama (suburb of Mobile; pop. 23K)

Once prosperous and vibrant, all four of these suburban cities now suffer from high poverty, declining employment, fiscal pressures, low-performing schools, sub-standard housing, and shrinking populations.

The report discusses the lessons learned from the case study research related to the following issues and their roles in revitalizing older distressed suburbs:

  • housing and community development
  • concentrated poverty
  • trust in government
  • anchor institutions
  • education
  • local government capacity
  • regional collaboration
  • state programs

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