Revitalizing a ‘Forgotten City’

Galveston County’s The Daily News reported today that a recent study by MIT, which revealed Galveston as a “dead” city, has its residents in a “tizzy.”

But these residents have failed to see the bigger picture. The study offers suggestions for revitalization of cities like Galveston, which are often forgotten and left to stagnate. While the report specifically includes “old cities” which had a population of at least 5,000 by 1880, much of it still applies to younger cities, such as Harlingen.

Like Galveston, Harlingen has a low median income and a population of less than 150,000. The city also went through a period of regional dominance, but as basic economic conditions changed (e.g., the loss of high-paying manufacturing jobs), the city declined overall. Civic leaders struggled to find new, innovative ways to adapt to new market trends.

The report suggests the “new reality” for most of these cities looks like this:

1. Fragmented civic capacity, meaning that civic organizations that once supported important institutions have shrunk or vanished.

2. Low governing capacity, with overwhelmed city administrations responding to constant crisis, rather than planning.

3. Crime and corruption.

4. Historic infrastructure, meaning neglected, deteriorated infrastructure. The resources went to the suburbs.

5. A lot of abandoned industrial sites and vacant properties.

6. Large minority or immigrant populations.

7. Isolated racial and ethnic groups.

8. Struggling schools.

9. Poverty, with high rates of unemployment and low rates of homeownership.

10. Regional disparity, meaning the old city declined while surrounding suburbs thrived.

Obviously, Harlingen can relate to this “new reality.” But the report also suggests various ways, the city can counteract the effects of this declination. Harlingen’s leaders would do well to take these ideas into consideration.

1. Leadership — meaning community leaders who have a vision for the future that is radically different from the present and who can set goals and achieve them in a systematic way.

2. Civic infrastructure — meaning social networks between nonprofits, educational institutions and other groups that are willing to work toward common goals.

3. Vision and planning — meaning something that results in broad community consensus. “If people cannot see the future, then they cannot work to change direction.”

4. Social inclusion — meaning minorities are included and an ethos that diversity can be a strength, even a competitive advantage.

5. Quality of life — meaning that the things that attracted people to the city historically might attract them again.

6. Access to opportunities — specifically good housing, good schools and good jobs.

7. Resource acquisition — meaning any community seeking to revive itself must think about cash, but also other assets, ranging from educational institutions to community groups.

8. Image and Perception — meaning, in “forgotten cities, people expect failure. “To change the perception of forgotten cities, a small group of people must believe in the city, do something as well or better than any other city around, and then talk about it to everyone. Success can be infectious. …”

Source: The Daily News, Aug. 26, 2010

Note: Again, I apologize for the lack of updates. There is still plenty to write about. Part II of the Potential Game Changers series is about 75% complete.

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1 Comment

Filed under Direction, Economy, The City of Harlingen

One response to “Revitalizing a ‘Forgotten City’

  1. erlkonig

    My wife and I just came back from Galveston the weekend of August 13th. Actually it was last minute change of plans because we were originally going to another recently devasted city, New Orleans; Galveston won because another storm was hitting the Louisiana coast that weekend. We could tell the area hadn’t completely recovered from Hurricane Ike, however there was still a presence of late summer vacationers. The Strand still had shops and tourists and most of the big restaurants were full. One larger hotel, the one on stilts over the water, didn’t come back, however the city still had plenty of hotels and a brand new water front convention center and large condo complex. We took the tour of the Bishop’s Palace on the last day and the tour guide said Galveston was once the largest city in Texas and was the fourth richest city in the US before the great storm of 1900. He went on to say it never again reached it’s zenith which was around the 1880s. It is a wonderful city as it still has plenty of Victorian era architecture and that is probably one of it’s greatest strength, at least with tourism, it’s historical significance.
    Lastly it’s funny you compare Harlingen to Galveston, because after driving around Galveston, I made a comment to my wife about how it felt like we were driving around in a Harlingen/San Benito hybrid… She’s originally from East Texas and agreed that it felt a lot like Harlingen. Heck even their Bank of America tower is almost exactly like Harlingen’s… Weird… Oh, and SPI still has the best beach in Texas.

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