Bruce Katz on Cities and Pittsburgh

Brookings Institute urbanism scholar Bruce Katz is interviewed by Pop City's Tracy Certo:
One highly positive sign is the shift in thinking about cities among senior policy makers and youth. “Most importantly there’s a shift among young people because the attitudes of cities have changed among youth,” says Katz. And while cities have become cool again, some, such as Portland, are cooler than others. “In terms of smart growth, where there’s more reinvestment to the city and less sprawl, Portland is the poster child of smart growth in the U.S,” says Katz.

The key to its success? Continued growth in the periphery and a whole set of policies for reinvesting in cities. “Very few places have gone that route. Maryland and Michigan and Pennsylvania have begun to focus on transportation policies that ‘fix it first’,” he says, which include measures such as stopping expansion at the periphery of cities that fuels excess sprawl.

And cities have done a good job of getting their own act together, notably in the reduction in crime which has had a dramatic effect, and the delivery of basic services.

Seize the Dayton

As an example of his advocacy, in a report Katz authored called “Seizing City Assets: Ten Steps to Urban Land Reform,” he argues for a citywide, collective action approach to reclaiming vacant lots. Katz cites two model examples in Pittsburgh: the Pittsburgh Technology Center built on the former site of the J& L Steel mill; and Cool Space Locator, an innovative group “committed to the mission of no more empty buildings in the city core.”

Both represent examples that breathe new life into cities instead of fueling growth in the exurbs. “Sprawl,” Katz says solemnly, “is unconscionable for environmental and other reasons.” Pointing to the “classic lag between change on the ground and policy change”, he argues for greater acceleration of reform particularly at the federal and state levels to combat it.


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