Two new studies remind us that Springfield and Holyoke are just data points in a much larger phenomenon of poverty and inequality among post-industrial cities. Fully grasping local challenges–and overcoming those challenges–therefore depend on joining this national conversation.
“Facing the Urban Challenge: The Federal Government and America’s Older Distressed Cities,” a new report from Brookings and the Urban Institute, inadvertantly describes Springfield to a tee:
“The end of World War II heralded an era of urban disinvestment in the United States. Suburban flight, deindustrialization and automobile-oriented sprawl triggered massive population and job loss in the cities that had driven America’s economic growth for the preceding century. While some cities began to rebound in the 1990s, others, including great cities like Detroit and Cleveland, have continued to decline. As their population has shrunk, lack of demand has created a new urban landscape dominated by vacant lots and abandoned buildings. Their residents have become poorer, with many unable to compete in the national labor market. The recession and the crisis in the automotive industry have hit these cities heavily, making already difficult conditions worse. At the same time, they contain assets important for the future of their states and the United States as a whole, including major universities, major centers of medical research, and rich traditions of entrepreneurship and innovation. How these cities acknowledge the reality of being a smaller city, reconfigure their physical environment, reuse surplus land and buildings, and target their resources to capitalize on their assets will likely determine whether they will continue to decline, or will achieve vitality as smaller but stronger cities.”
“A Time of Opportunity: Local Solutions to Reduce Inequities in Health and Safety,” from The Prevention Institute, offers an extremely solid set of “policy principles” that reflect what I’ve seen Springfield and Holyoke stakeholders coming around to organically (below). And be sure to check out the snazzy set of Google Maps-based local profiles of successful health equity efforts around the country (click on the map above), also from the The Prevention Institute.
• Account for the historical forces that have left a legacy of racism and segregation
• Acknowledge the cumulative impact of stressful experiences and environments
• Encourage meaningful public participation with attention to cultural differences
• Focus overall approach on changing community conditions, not assigning blame
• Strengthen the social fabric of neighborhoods—sense of belonging, dignity, hope
• Respond to climate change, global economy, foreign policy in fostering equity
• Address the developmental needs of all age groups, especially children and youth
• Make structural changes via cross-sectoral partnerships—nonprofits, government
• Measure, monitor social policy impacts on health and equity over time and place
• Empower groups most affected by inequity to have a voice in policy change
• Invest deeply and broadly in community as part of designing equitable solutions