The Johns Hopkins Gazette: December 13, 1999
December 13, 1999
VOL. 29, NO. 15


Policy Students Debunk the Myth of Urban Revival

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Following three months of intensive research and analysis, students in the Master of Arts in Policy Studies program uncovered data that show urban revival during the 1990s in five American "comeback cities," including Baltimore, is largely a myth.

The 23 students presented their findings in Levering Hall at Homewood last week to a crowd of about 30 people, including city planners, policymakers and community leaders such as Bernard L. Berkowitz, who, as the former head of economic development for Baltimore, played a large role in Baltimore's tourism boom.

Using four measurements--economics, quality of life, demographics and image--the students found that none of the cities showed sustained improvement.

"It seems that our cities are just surviving today rather than reviving," said Brenda Stoneroad, who presented the students' conclusions on Dec. 7, the day that Martin O'Malley, Baltimore's new mayor, took office.

As part of a course in policy analysis, Sandra Newman, interim director of the Institute for Policy Studies, wrote a hypothetical memo from O'Malley to the students, setting up the framework for an analysis of urban revival and its meaning for Baltimore.

Students spent months combing through census data, conducting research and interviewing urban experts for the most up-to-date evaluation of urban revival theories. They methodically laid out their evidence debunking the myth of urban revival in Baltimore, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. But they were quick to note that there are no easy answers to curing urban woes.

"Unfortunately, we didn't find as neat a pattern as we were hoping to find," said Jennifer Comey, 28, one of the students in the course, Introduction to Policy Analysis. "I think the message of our report is, you can't put all of your eggs in one basket. ... Focusing on one issue is not going to help the entire city."

While all the cities studied have invested heavily in downtown redevelopment, with at least one new sports stadium and a convention center in each city, the students found that the emphasis of urban revival differed. Some cities, like Cleveland and Milwaukee, followed the so-called Baltimore model, a tourism-based approach that assumes the money tourists spend in cities will translate into more jobs and ultimately a higher quality of life for residents.

Pittsburgh and St. Louis, meanwhile, have used the Denver model, which emphasizes improving the city's quality of life in order to draw more people to live and work in the city. That higher quality of life is supposed to translate into a better economy, population growth and a better image.

Students found that the assumption underlying both models failed to work, in fact.

While the unemployment rate declined in Baltimore, for instance, the number of people living below the poverty line increased. The newly employed held jobs predominantly in the low-paying service sector. And while Pittsburgh did decrease crime, improve air quality and increase students' performance in schools, those quality-of-life gains did not result in economic benefits or an improved image.

"We do not believe that a tourism approach should be abandoned altogether, because we do not know where Baltimore would be without it," said Stoneroad in presenting the conclusions. "But tourism is not enough to sustain a city in the long run."

Already, the students noted, cities like Cleveland and Milwaukee are moving toward a more "integrated approach" to urban revival.

This is the seventh year that first-year policy students have undertaken a Baltimore-oriented research assignment, culminating in a presentation and document that could be used by the city, according to Newman, the professor of the policy analysis course who creates the "real-life" assignments. "The course, for first-year policy students, works well as an introduction to policy analysis as well as offering a real-world lesson in developing useful urban policy documents," Newman said.

"My two goals are to provide hands-on experience in policy analysis for the students and [to provide] something that is potentially useful to the city of Baltimore," Newman said. "And based on the students' performance and requests that we already have received for the report, I think we met both goals."

The final report, which will be published as an IPS Occasional Paper, will be available through the Institute for Policy Studies early in 2000.