The new economy's impact on legacy cities

Legacy Cities can use the New Economy principles to create shared economic prosperity at both the local and regional levels.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “legacy” as anything handed down from the past from an ancestor or predecessor; of or pertaining to old or outdate while still functional but does not work well with up-to-date systems; inheritance. Post-industrial cities such as Detroit, Flint, Cleveland and Pittsburg have been labeled “Legacy Cities.” The Lincoln Institute of Land Policies publication Regenerating American’s Legacy Cities defines Legacy Cities as “New England, Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern cities that were once industrial powerhouses, and hubs of business, retail and services. Manufacturing firms provided their economic base. Department stores, professional offices, and financial institutions serving large regions were located in legacy cities downtown areas.”

Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP) states Michigan has 15 legacy cities located across the southern half of the state: Lansing (Ingram), Battle Creek (Calhoun), Detroit (Wayne), Bay City (Bay), Kalamazoo (Kalamazoo), Saginaw (Saginaw), Grand Rapids (Kent), Jackson (Jackson), Flint (Genesee), Muskegon (Muskegon), Ann Arbor (Washtenaw), Port Huron (St. Clair), Warren (Macomb), Holland (Ottawa), and Pontiac (Oakland).

MLPP states Ann Arbor, Michigan is a legacy city that has done well in the post-Industrial economy. Ann Arbor’s economy has shifted from a post-industrial economy to a knowledge-based new economy. The “New Economy” refers to a global, entrepreneurial, and knowledge-based economy where business success comes increasingly from the ability to incorporate knowledge, technology, creativity and innovation into products and services.

In the old economy, attracting jobs was the key to cities’ economic growth and development. People followed jobs and the industrial sector was manufacturing based. Success equaled competitive advantage in some resource or skill, and the labor market was skill dependent. Dirty, ugly and poor quality environments were common outcomes that did not prevent growth. In the new knowledge-based economy, clean green environments, proximity to open space and quality recreational opportunities are critical.

An example of a county that shifted to the new knowledge based economy is Washtenaw County. The Growing Together or Drifting Apart? Economic Well-Being in Washtenaw County’s new “Knowledge Economy” report states:

Between 2005 and 2013 – a period that brackets the severe recession of 2008-2009 – Washtenaw County become “more like Ann Arbor and less like Warren.” The number of knowledge jobs in Washtenaw County increased by over 15,000 (a gain of 23%) while the number of industrial jobs dropped by over 12,000 (a decline of 31%). Overall, the growth of knowledge sector employment resulted in net job gains for the county and lower unemployment rates than the rest of the state.

Legacy cities’ shift to the New Economy is not an easy overnight solution as highlighted in the Washtenaw County report findings: In short, we show that the knowledge economy is not distributing the gains from economic growth widely among all workers.  

County officials and local government can use the principles of the New Economy to begin the discourse and analysis at a local and regional level to determine how these principles can be used to shift from the Old Economy to the New Knowledge-Based Economy. The Washtenaw County report findings states: Research has shown that shared prosperity is ultimately the most sustainable model for community development. Citizens and policy makers should take an active role in developing policies that addresses economic inequalities, and enhance the quality of all jobs, regardless of sector, with a focus on broadly spread income growth so that workers can support their families, local businesses and the overall county economy.

Those in Michigan State University Extension that focus on land use provide various training programs on planning and zoning, which are available to be presented in your county.  Contact your local land use educator for more information.

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