|Image from “Steel Valley: Meltdown”
(This post was written by National Vacant Properties Campaign intern Ryan Kraske.)
Over fifty people gathered on Capitol Hill last Thursday in support of new legislation that would strengthen cities and metropolitan areas that have experienced large-scale property vacancy and abandonment. The Community Regeneration, Sustainability, and Innovation Act of 2009 would empower these communities and give them the opportunity to turn the tables on the problems created by abandonment and creatively reshape the environment for healthier, more economically competitive and sustainable neighborhoods.
The speakers agreed: the federal government needs to renew its commitment to work in partnership with these older industrial cities and regions as they work to make themselves stronger for the future.
The bill’s sponsors, Congressman Tim Ryan and Congressman Brian Higgins, spoke about the challenges and lack of resources available to the many cities like their hometowns of Youngstown, Oh., and Buffalo, N.Y., that have long suffered from sustained population losses and high property vacancy and abandonment rates. Under the new legislation, these struggling cities could adapt innovative policies and systematic changes they need to become healthy and vibrant. New links between planning, capacity building, and revitalization programs can turn community blight into urban agriculture systems, energy producing fields, and new job opportunities (to name a few.)
Terry Gillen of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) spoke about the high financial cost imposed by vacant and abandoned properties, many of which are tax delinquent and privately owned. She pointed out how new tools must be made available in these regions to help identify the best strategies to encourage the private market to better manage its assets and help identify where areas of strength and opportunity lie (such as through regional information systems), and to more effectively acquire, manage, and hold properties until redevelopment needs catch up with the land supply (such as through a land banking program.)
Phil Kidd, a community organizer from the Mahoning Valley Organizing Project in Ohio, carried not only his own message of the urgent need for a new approach to community revitalization in cities big and small (Youngstown’s population hovers around 80,000) but also delivered an inspiring video made by a 20-year old student from Youngstown. The video depicted the town’s remarkable industrial history and transformation through neighborhood based organizing, university investments, and entrepreneurship. Read more information about the feature-length documentary, “Steel Valley: Meltdown.” Mr. Kidd emphasized the progress he sees coming from the region but acknowledged that they need help raising the capacity among the government, nonprofits, and other partners in making real change happen.
The Regeneration Act would have a significant impact on cities like Youngstown, Buffalo, and others that have lost significant population and are challenged with high long-term vacancy rates. Using performance-based standards, the Act would give local communities the resources and technical assistance to create a regeneration plan tailored to local conditions, in places that have long lacked the resources they need. Please show your support by asking your Representative to co-sponsor the Regeneration Act.
Find out more about the Regeneration Act at http://www.vacantproperties.org/CRSI.html