Revitalizing America’s Smaller Legacy Cities: Strategies for Postindustrial Success from Gary to Lowell


From Gary, Indiana to Lowell, Massachusetts, smaller post-industrial cities are taking strategic steps to regenerate – with the chance to follow their larger rebounding counterparts like Pittsburgh and Cleveland – by building on downtowns, capitalizing on a unique sense of place, and focusing on workforce development.  But these places also face unique challenges, as well as opportunities, as smaller legacy cities.  In partnership with the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, GOPC’s Torey Hollingsworth and Alison Goebel, have produced Revitalizing America’s Smaller Legacy Cities: Strategies for Postindustrial Success from Gary to Lowell, a new report that examines how small and mid-size legacy cities and their residents can be prosperous and resilient in the future economy.

America’s small and mid-sized legacy cities – cities located primarily in the Midwest and Northeast with 30,000 to 200,000 residents and traditional economies built around manufacturing – have long been central to building American middle class prosperity.  Historically, these cities played a vital role in their regional, state, and national economies. Yet as the economy continues to transition away from manufacturing, these cities are facing challenges familiar to all post-industrial communities: entrenched poverty, neighborhood disinvestment, and a workforce with skills that may not match employers’ needs. The strategies that have helped larger legacy cities like Cleveland or Pittsburgh combat some of these challenges are not always directly transferrable to smaller communities.

Hollingsworth and Goebel examine the trajectories of 24 smaller legacy cities across 7 states from 2000 to 2015.  Five Ohio cities are included in the report – Akron, Dayton, Hamilton, Lima, and Youngstown. The authors found that while many of these cities are facing severe challenges, strong and collaborative local leadership can help these communities forge a path forward.

Based on interviews with local stakeholders, the report lays out strategies that are contributing to progress in small and mid-sized legacy city revitalization efforts around the country. These strategies are:

  1. Build civic capacity and talent
  2. Encourage a shared public- and private-sector vision
  3. Expand opportunities for low-income workers
  4. Build on an authentic sense of place
  5. Focus regional efforts on rebuilding a strong downtown
  6. Engage in community and strategic planning
  7. Stabilize distressed neighborhoods
  8. Strategically leverage state policies.