Celebrating Diversity in Shrinking Cities

The states and the cities that border the Great Lakes represent a post-industrial region in the United States that has been losing population for more than half a century. To put this in perspective, Youngstown, Ohio lost 60% of its population between 1960 and 2010. Detroit lost 57% of its population with Flint, Michigan and Dayton, Ohio losing 48% and 46% of their populations during the same time period respectively. Many cities emerged from decades of depopulation and decline in the 1990s because of the growth in immigration. The factories are largely gone, but these cities are still places where immigrants can find a home.

The Nonprofit Sector and the Provision of Public Services

The size of the nonprofit sector has also been associated with the decline of the scope of government. Commonly referred to as the government failure model, the decline in state and local revenue bases, coupled with a decline in Federal aid, increased demands on nongovernmental actors to provide the services once provided by government. The contracting out of public services to nonprofits made more sense than to for-profits given the public service motivation of nonprofits. The relationship between nonprofits and government can simply be transactional with nonprofits extracting money in exchange for task completion. The relationship could also be due to shared mission with the government and nonprofits sharing an aim to provide services. This relationship is more collaborative and is still evolving in many communities across the United States as trust builds between the two sectors.

State Financial Condition in the United States the Last Ten Years

In the tumultuous years between 2006 and 2017 there had been much change in the United States. We had three different presidents, the Great Recession and one major change to healthcare (The Affordable Care Act). It was also a time of change for state budgets. Recently, I averaged a financial condition measure for the fifty states across the years 2006, 2010, 2014, 2016 and 2017 for a project. I chose these years based on their proximity to the Great Recession and some milestones with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Financial Condition and Population Decline: The Challenge in Attracting Residents

Shrinking cities are under pressure by their state governments to remain solvent. This manifests itself as a singular focus on this area of public management. This has also led to an increasing reliance on non-governmental entities to provide important community services. Governance in these cities has been described as reliant on collaborations and networks between government, non-profits and businesses in a structured, but non-hierarchical way.

The Use of Water Trails and Other Outdoor Amenities for Local Revitalization

There is consensus in the literature on the benefits of trails and greenways to the local community. These outdoor spaces have been shown to attract businesses and residents. One cannot ignore the importance of these amenities in attracting a young and educated workforce, which is critical for local economic vitality. The seminal research of Richard Florida has found that young professionals in various creative class professions in the knowledge economy highly value outdoor recreation. These young people choose to live in communities that are in close proximity to such well-managed assets. This knowledge—coupled with the reality of a changing economy that puts less emphasis on place and more emphasis on connectivity and task—means that there is flexibility in choosing one’s community.

The Crisis of Water Infrastructure in Shrinking Cities

Certain cities in the United States and around the world continue to lose population. The City of Flint, Michigan is one of those cities. As a post-industrial legacy city, Flint lost jobs as the automotive industry declined, and the city is now less than half the size that it was in 1960. This unfortunate reality is not the end of the story. There are still more than 95,000 people there who rely upon the city to provide them with services. One of the most important of these services is water.

Public Service Values and Motivation in the MPA Classroom: An Exercise

Recently, in one of my MPA classes, I covered the topic of public service motivation. In preparation for the class, the students read the article “Public Service Motivation Research: Lessons for Practice” by Christensen, Paarlberg and Perry. I had them focus on the five lessons in the article, as a few things were of interest to me in the article and I wanted to highlight them in the class. On the topic of public service values, I had the students do a survey where they ranked some of these values that were highlighted in the article “Integrating Values Into Public Service: The Values Statement as Centerpiece” by Kernaghan.

Representative Bureaucracy and Gender: A Gap in the Research

The concept of representative bureaucracy has been around since the 1940s when Donald Kingsley published his book, Representative Bureaucracy: An Interpretation of the British Civil Service. There has been much research on this topic; however, research on gender has been limited in the literature. Despite this paucity, there appears to be an increasing interest in this topic. The lack of research on the topic of gender and representative bureaucracy limits the amount of consensus on this topic and thereby the organizational impetus to ensure that positions filled in the bureaucracy are representative of the community served by it.

The Role of Culture in Public Administration Across Contexts

The one-size fits all paradigm of public administration in the early stages of the development of public administration theory—embodied by the “science of administration” movement—has largely been replaced by more nuanced understandings of the field. This has been recognized within the borders of the United States between state and local governments for example. The recognition and study of differences in public administration between countries has also exemplified this trend through studies in comparative public administration.

Navigating Religion and Public Service with an Increasingly Diverse Workforce

It is rare for the discipline of public administration to acknowledge religious inclinations as a public service motivation. This lack of attention or appreciation does not negate the very real connection many in public service have with their career choice and their own religious understandings of the world. This is especially the case in the United States where religiosity is much higher than in other developed democracies (in which the freedom of religion and the ability to act on those religious beliefs are protected by the Constitution).

Using “Happiness” as a Measure of Community Performance in Shrinking Cities

In 2012, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network published their ‘World Happiness Report’ for the first time. The report was meant to change the discussion on country-to-country comparisons with various metrics so those countries considered a more inclusive conception of well-being. Since this report, ‘happiness’, or its more encompassing term ‘well-being’, is starting to become another formal measure of whether a country, state or community is actually improving the well-being of its citizens over time.

Creating Local Economic Resilience to Military Base Closures

Many declining cities in the United States began their long road of decline by relying on one large industry which either relocated or collapsed along with changes in the economy. Similarly, changes at the state and federal levels of government exacerbated or even precipitated this decline. The lesson learned from this experience is the importance of having a diversified economy with more local autonomy and diversified own-source revenues.

Local Law Enforcement in an Era of Nativist Populism

I was recently at an event in Salt Lake City where several distinguished guests ranging from various religious leaders to the Chief of Police expressed support for the city’s immigrant population. There was a consensus among participants that immigration enforcement is not a local responsibility and that local immigration enforcement sows distrust towards local law enforcement that makes the community less safe. These sentiments were shared by local officials while the threat to cuts in Federal aid looms over so-called sanctuary cities.

Can Shrinking Cities be Communities for All Ages?

What is a community that supports all ages? It is a community structured to support all age groups in various stages of life. It is not a topic of debate those in their 20s and 30s have different needs, desires and expectations than those in their 60s or older. An overemphasis on one of these age groups will be to the detriment of the other group, possibly leading to out-migration. The problem with this, besides the issue of inequality, is due to the nature of aging, everyone who has the privilege of living a full life will experience both youth and old age. Does that mean those communities which were once suitable for their age group will no longer be suitable upon old age necessitating out-migration?

The Potential for Civic Crowd-Funding to Finance Small Public Projects

It had been argued in public economics by well-known scholars such as Eric Lindahl and James Buchanan that there is a need to make government more responsive to the voters, avoid interest group dominance, balance the budget and increase transparency and accountability. These scholars argued for an optimal provision of public goods based on a marginal cost curve that would determine the amount of revenue needed to produce the desired level of goods. The voters / taxpayers would then have to determine the level of good to produce based on the cost assuming that all public goods are funded through taxes.

Engaging Citizens in Shrinking Cities

The post-industrial ‘Rust Belt’ of the Midwest and Northeast United States has been experiencing population decline since the mid-20th century. Decades of perpetual population loss has led to the rise of an alternative approach to planning in these ‘legacy’ cities. This has been referred to as ‘right-sizing’, ‘smart decline’ and ‘shrinking.’ In essence, instead of planning for population growth, the city plans for loss with a focus on improving the quality of life and balancing the budget. This is not a new concept as it has been around since the 1980s. The first city to officially plan for population loss was Youngstown, Ohio in the early 2000s.

Citizen Participation in Sustainability Planning through Observatories

The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) recently released a report on a survey they conducted of local government sustainability practices. They found only 31.5 percent of responding cities have a sustainability plan. They also found that even among those cities with a plan, 58.6 percent had little to no citizen participation in preparing those plans. Those cities that did not have a plan responded that a lack of community support was one of the reasons they did not have one.

Preparing and Budgeting for Resilience in the Urban Environment

The concept of resilience is replacing sustainability as the new prerogative for cities around the world, particularly as the impacts of climate change become apparent on many vulnerable cities. Resilience has been defined in different ways. In a 2011 report titled, “‘Financing the Resilient City’ for ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability,” Jeb Brugmann defined it as an effort to provide predictable performance for benefits and returns for users and investors in an urban environment. He considered the term to be more comprehensive and proactive than sustainability or adaptation. He noted that resilience is about mitigating risks that come from catastrophes such as natural and man-made disasters or system-wide inefficiencies.

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