After years of decline, many American cities are experiencing growth and renewal. In the first decades of the new century a host of U.S. cities saw increases in urban employment and population along with decreased rates of poverty and crime (McDonald, 2008). For the last three years data show American cities growing faster than their surrounding suburbs (Voith & Wachter, 2014).
Still, the urban resurgence is not happening everywhere (Ehrenhalt, 2012). This is especially true for the country's traditional manufacturing centers, or "legacy" cities such as Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo (Mallach 2012). A similar situation can be seen in Massachusetts where the state's so-called "Gateway Cities", the former manufacturing centers that once provided a "gateway to the middle class" lag behind more prosperous areas such as Boston and its suburbs (Forman, 2009). Note: for this study the term "legacy city" is used to describe former manufacturing centers, in general. The term "Gateway City" is used to describe former manufacturing centers located in Massachusetts. Like many former manufacturing centers, Springfield faces serious challenges. In several neighborhoods adjacent to downtown over 50% of families live in poverty (Browne, 2011). Also, Springfield residents tend to be poorer, less educated, and have fewer job opportunities when compared to residents of other parts of the state. The Springfield jobless rate, as of December 2014, was 8 percent, compared to Worcester (6.5%) and the state average of 4.8% (Mass Office of Workforce Development). Despite these challenges Springfield has advantages that set it apart from typical legacy cities. Springfield never suffered thehuge population losses that many Midwestern cities did. And Springfield doesn't have the vast number of vacant buildings and vacant lots that places like Akron and Detroit have (Mallach 2012). In recent years Springfield's population has stabilized (153,451 residents based on 2010 census). New downtown development is underway including an MGM resort casino, an intermodal transportation center, and a new factory to build transit cars. Local planners and residents are hopeful these projects are the beginning of a long term comeback.
The UMass Amherst Design Center (The Design Center) opened in 2009 as a collaboration between the City of Springfield and UMass Amherst (UMass Extension, Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, Department of Architecture, and Building Construction Technology). The Design Center was created to foster closer ties between the University's design and planning programs and the Springfield community, and to spur economic development. Like other similar university- community design collaborations, the UMass Design Center carries out a range of functions, serving as research center, design studio, extension center, and community gathering space (Forsyth, 2006). In 2015, UMass Extension and the Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning are contributing resources and the academic expertise to reassess and re-imagine the Design Center to better meet the needs of the community while advancing the academic and institutional goals of the University of Massachusetts. This study will provide important information and recommendations to help move this initiative forward.
The research study will:
· Identify trends and reasons some American cities are rebounding
· Identify the factors that are inhibiting the revitalization of legacy cities
· Identify the factors that are inhibiting the revitalization of Springfield
· Identify new approaches to revitalizing legacy cities, including Springfield
· Disseminate new approaches to revitalizing legacy cities in ways that can impact other cities
· Explore ways to optimize the partnership between the UMass Design Center and the City of Springfield
· Implement new university supported design and planning projects in Springfield
Important questions the study will address:
1. How have legacy cities approached revitalization?
2. What are the special challenges that face Springfield and other Massachusetts Gateway Cities?
3. What are the best strategies to address these challenges?
4. How can Springfield benefit from recent trends showing jobs and residents moving back to cities?
5. What is the most effective way to implement successful revitalization strategies in Springfield?
Important benefits to Springfield and Massachusetts cities and towns:
New research into the challenges facing Springfield will offer insights into processes and approaches for revitalizing cities
Understanding the key factors in successful revitalization strategies will allow the Design Center to implement better, more useful projects that will have a larger impact on the community.
Successful projects based on a thorough and systematic investigation of other collaborations, can be used as case studies that other Massachusetts cities and towns can benefit from.