I have looked at several articles that fall within the time-frame of the past decade relating to our (Hickory) area’s Economic Development reality. The content summary related to cities that have experienced a similar plight to our community is pretty voluminous. We are not alone. These Cities/Metropolitan areas that have had a similar experience are called “Legacy Cities.” Legacy cities are older, industrial urban areas that have experienced significant population and job loss, resulting in high residential vacancy and diminished service capacity and resources.
Below are nine wide-ranging strategies that legacy cities need to adopt in order to move forward economically in the 21st Century. Along with these strategies, I have highlighted and related my personal opinion, giving suggestions as to how these strategies fit within Hickory’s economic and cultural reality.
Legacy - (Noun) - anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor.
(Adjective) - of or relating to old or outdated computer hardware, software, or data
that, while still functional, does not work well with up-to-date systems.
• Rebuild the central core. – combination of density and a walkable, urban texture with proximity to major institutions and employers creates significant opportunities for regeneration driven by residential redevelopment. This is likely to lead to other economic development opportunities. Have we not already invested huge amounts of capital in our city’s core? Are we making the right investments in City Center infrastructure?
• Sustain viable neighborhoods through targeted investments. - Legacy cities contain many viable residential neighborhoods. While some of those areas have gained renewed vitality in recent years, many others have shown signs of physical deterioration and market decline. Sustaining these areas and building their attractiveness as neighborhoods of choice in their regions are critical tasks for legacy cities. In Hickory, we have created a system of Neighborhood Associations to empower, mostly historical, neighborhoods within the City's governmental hierarchy.
We need to help these neighborhood's be more autonomous and make decisions for themselves even within the City's structure. Let's help these associations achieve 501-c3 non-profit status to raise monies to help do things in their neighborhoods. With their new status, associations would be eligible to apply for state and federal grants - in their own name - as well as various state and national foundations that offer funding. But, perhaps the most unique funding opportunity is right within the neighborhood itself. Local businesses located in or adjacent to these neighborhoods would have a new way of giving back to the communities they serve. These businesses could now make tax-deductible investments in the local communities and help to directly meet the needs of their neighbors.
• Repurpose vacant land for new activities. - The large inventory of vacant land and buildings in legacy cities is a valuable asset, and should be seen as such by local officials and their partners. By repurposing it for new uses, such land can become the springboard for building new quality places. Along the lines of reducing and re-using or recycling: How much vacant property/buildings are available? Is there a current suitable purpose for the property? What is its strategic value?
If there is an overabundance of property available, but currently little demand (now or for the foreseeable future), then it is best to demolish unneeded structures and clear land. The most effective way to reduce the inventory of unneeded buildings is to not create more buildings until the current inventory is reduced -- doing this will help to maintain (and increase) the value of existing viable structures.
What is the value of repurposing a building and will the pay-off outweigh the costs in the long run. Versus building a new structure, which process will lead to the greatest pay-off for all parties involved?
All parties involved equal the property owner, adjacent property owners, and the larger community (which may be providing economic incentives).
• Use assets to build competitive advantages. – What are the economic and cultural assets of our community? We need to do a full audit of the properties and resources within the community to figure our what is working and what is not working. This is a key to developing a plan moving forward.
• Re-establish the central economic role of the city. – Cities should focus on building export-oriented economies linked to the regional, national, and global networks, not only to build wealth and generate financial multipliers within the city, but to further their engagement with their regions in ways that will ultimately break down urban/suburban barriers and lead to greater regional integration. What is the Brand of the Community? What is its mission? What is its purpose? What is the "Vision" of what we want to be.
• Use economic growth to increase community and resident well-being -- Who needs help in the community? What areas need the most uplifting? What would you say are the most important areas of town that need to be addressed? What are the most important issues that need to be addressed? Economically? Culturally?
• Build stronger local governance capacity and partnerships -- How can we help government better understand the needs of the community? Governance is leadership and leadership must formulate intentional strategies to unlock the potential of a city’s assets to bring about sustainable regeneration. You have to communicate with the people of the community and get them to buy-in and leadership must work to have understanding and trust as the community moves forward. “Strategic Incrementalism” begins with leaders sharing a vision of the city’s future and then making incremental, tactical decisions that will transform the status quo, while avoiding grandiose and unrealistic plans.
• Increase the ties between legacy cities and their regions -- The cities within our Metropolitan area have to take a bigger role in our economic development. Hickory is the Hub and the largest city in our Metropolitan area. Hickory has to get on a path towards growth in population as well as economy and work in partnership with Morganton and Lenoir to build synergistic hubs of industry within the realities of the modern economy. We have to pull in the same direction and we also have to work within the framework of the larger cities that are experiencing growth within our region (Charlotte, Asheville, Winston-Salem).
• Rethink state and federal policy toward legacy cities. – We can’t control this, but we must promote how State and Federal policies have negatively impacted our area and work through our Congressional and State Representatives to change certain policies and to help create legislation that can help us to transition to the realities of the modern economy.