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Redefining Rust Belt Conference

Redefining “Rust Belt”: An Exchange of Strategies by the Cities of Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, and Philadelphia

The first videoconference, held June 18, aimed to survey the landscape of current urban redevelopment strategies and identify areas of shared interest among community leaders from the four cities. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake spoke about her city’s initiative to increase its population by 10,000 residents by 2020, citing several critical collaborative efforts that have moved the city closer to its goal. In his remarks, keynote speaker Jeremy Nowak outlined specific challenges facing older industrial regions, as well as areas of opportunity. The agenda provides details of the initial videoconference, which connected leaders gathered at all four sites. This summary document captures key themes that arose from the discussions among participants; these themes will drive the agendas of subsequent events in the series.

The second videoconference, held October 25, focused on anchor institutions and the arts. Leading off the program, Ted Howard, founder and executive director of the Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland, introduced the “anchor dashboard,” which uses indicators to establish a baseline of conditions in a community and then track the impact on that community of an anchor institution’s actions, including spending, procuring locally, hiring of employees, etc.

“Metrics must include a measure of how investments in the area help retain and improve outcomes for low- and moderate-income residents,” Ted explained, “and not just of diverting procurement dollars to local suppliers.” (See the video of Ted's presentation below or read the transcript here.)

Discussion followed among participants at all four locations. What’s working? What’s not? Success stories include Detroit’s midtown, where reducing crime by some 40 percent created space for artists and foundations. Cleveland’s Happy Dog owner, Sean Watterson, shared how he had drawn musicians from the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra and professors from nearby Case Western Reserve University to perform and lecture for free at his neighborhood bar, which specializes in hot dogs and craft beers. The program series has been a huge success in terms of engagement and exposure for everyone involved—the professionals, the neighborhood residents, the anchor organizations, and Watterson’s small business.

Participants in several cities pointed to the critical role of public leadership in economic development. “Don’t lose sight of what smaller businesses around anchor institutions can bring and contribute,” offered Watterson as a message for public leaders in cities looking to redefine themselves. In his case, it’s far more than hot dogs and beer.

Sponsored by the Federal Reserve Banks of Cleveland, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Richmond