The Future of Older New England Cities

The economic recession and drastic federal budgets cuts are confronting municipal governments in the U.S. with a looming fiscal crisis that will severely strain their capacity to formulate the strategies necessary to ensure their long-term economic competitiveness, deliver essential services and address problems of urban poverty. Smaller cities in the Northeast are in “triage” mode as they struggle in the face of shrinking financial resources, staff reductions and diminishing local aid from state and federal funding sources. The difficulties in meeting critical short-term needs with less staff and constrained budgets leaves them with a limited capacity to plan strategically for mid- and long-term economic development.

Building upon its international experience, the Institute is exploring ways to provide them with short-term assistance to build the capacity of local governments to develop innovative interventions strategies to reverse their economic decline and continue to provide essential services to their communities. After extensive discussions with senior officials at the regional office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD), MassDevelopment, the state’s development agency, and the Pioneer Institute, Kendra Leith and I are submitting a grant proposal to the SURDNA Foundation in New York to finance a Capacity Building Assessment for five cities in New England and upstate New York to determine the nature of the technical assistance and capacity-building they require to reverse the downturn in their economy.

We will quantify their current needs and capacity through interviews and work sessions with key stakeholders: elected officials, community development agencies, educational institutions, business associations, civil society, etc. We view the participation of immigrant communities, a growing part of their population, as critical to this process. We believe that the transfer of I2UD’s international experience on participatory planning will enable us to create a process of ‘joint learning’ among all participants leading to a development strategy that mobilizes the participation of the diverse communities in these cities and building consensus around the specific interventions needed to ensure the revitalization of these cities.

In a second phase, we will seek the funding necessary for a pilot project to provide the cities with technical assistance on a no-cost basis to prepare a development strategy and submit funding applications to Federal and State agencies and foundations.

James Kostaras, Senior Research Associate