Rational and Equitable: A Framework for Social Equity in Distressed Cities

Authors: Jason Knight*, SUNY Buffalo State, Charles Buki, czb llc, Russell Weaver, Texas State University
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Urban Geography, Social Geography
Keywords: distressed neighborhoods, affordable housing, social equity
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Zulu, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

American cities that have endured persistent population loss since the mid-1900s have an excess of everything: housing units, sidewalks, classroom building, roads, streetlights, et cetera. In these shrinking cities, the supply of public infrastructure and built environment outpaces demand - often significantly. Disinvestment has become self-fulfilling in our Buffalos, Clevelands, and Detroits. Most problematic is excessive housing supply. There too many homes chasing too few buyers, leaving thousands of properties to fall first into disrepair and eventually abandonment. Cash-strapped local governments face a confounding either-or decision: either rationally but inequitably invest what little they have in areas where a concentrated geographic focus might be catalytic, or equitably but irrationally deploy a worst-first strategy of spending scarce dollars where need is greatest but a rebound is nearly impossible. Neither politically appealing, the default adopted across the political landscape is to sprinkle a little everywhere. This paper asks: is a smart and fair outcome in America’s most challenged cities possible, given prevailing fiscal weakness, the politics of race and class, and the tools at our disposal? Using Buffalo, NY as a case study, we analyze historic and current social, economic, and physical conditions of its neighborhoods. We then propose an imperfectly smart and imperfectly fair policy framework aimed at strategic reinvestment around a city’s most vital organs. This framework primes blocks showing incipient strength with the investments needed to become strong; blocks that are both vulnerable and recoverable with the means to stabilize; and the weakest with the tools to hold steady.

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