Urban Pioneers: Not Your Typical Revitalization Tool

February 29, 2016

 As part of larger efforts for revitalization, cities throughout New York and the Northeast are looking towards adaptive reuse of vacant industrial buildings as housing as a way to attract young, enthusiastic residents to their downtowns. These reuse projects have a positive impact on the surrounding neighborhoods and tend to be attractive to young professionals and those that are part of the Creative Class. The Creative Class is a segment of the population made up of educated young professionals seeking urban lifestyles, and this cohort is often seen as the key to reviving the economies of post-industrial cities. Reports on the Creative Class note that this cohort is often willing to live in older, even gritty, downtown cities earning them the title of “urban pioneers.”

An example of this can be seen in the City of Rochester where urban pioneers moved into a newly renovated loft building located in an area that would not traditionally be attractive for residential development. The urban pioneers of the Creative Class embraced the frequent freight trains passing their windows and saw the potential of the area with its proximity to the Rochester Neighborhood of the Arts and the Rochester Public Market. The loft building is now filled with young professionals who are investing in the City of Rochester and revitalizing the previously uninhabited neighborhood.

Cities around the Country are vying for these vibrant, educated, young professionals to come and live in their neighborhoods and are even willing to offer incentives such as tuition repayment and other subsidies. One example is the City of Niagara Falls, who is offering recent college graduates up to $7,000 in loan repayment funds if they buy or rent market-rate properties in a target area of the City. The program has attracted applicants from around the country looking to participate in the loan repayment program and who are willing to locate in the City for a two year period. The City believes that this program will help to build a cluster of young talent that will foster entrepreneurial and economic development opportunities while at the same time help to revitalize a struggling neighborhood.Another example of offering incentives to attract urban pioneers comes from the City of Detroit where a public-private partnership was formed to bring people back to the City to live. Five companies that have operations in downtown Detroit offered incentives totaling $4 million to employees who choose to live downtown. The Live Downtown program has attracted hundreds of applicants looking to receive financial assistance to purchase a home in downtown, which also covers some costs associated with the first-year of owning a home. Residents who already live in downtown can also receive funds for exterior work. The City hopes the program will increase the number of young professionals living in downtown and lead to revitalization and increased economic activity for the City. The Cities of Rochester, Niagara Falls, and Detroit are just a few examples of the many communities in the northeast that are being proactive in their approach to attracting young professionals and young families into older neighborhoods to act as pioneers for revitalization. Housing preferences have been changing over time; more and more people are looking for an urban lifestyle with access to nightlife, restaurants, diversity, public transportation, and walkable neighborhoods. Beyond offering incentives to financially entice new residents, cities should consider the following to improve quality of life and initiate the revitalization of older neighborhoods:

• Streetscape enhancements

•Biking and pedestrian connections

•Transportation connections to major employment centers

•Retail offerings that will appeal to residents (food store, pharmacy, general merchandise stores, etc.)

•Engaging neighborhood associations

•Security

•Community events that appeal to a wide variety of people from young professionals to families

•Business friendly environment that supports small business and entrepreneurs.

Rachel Selsky is a senior economic development specialist at Camoin Associates.

Rachel joined Camoin Associates in 2008 after receiving her Masters in Regional Planning from the University at Albany.

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