Remaking Post-Industrial Cities

Interesting talk this lunchtime at the RSA from Don Carter about his new book Remaking Post-Industrial Cities, which looks at 10 cities in the US and Europe and charts their decline and recovery. 

Don Carter, Carnegie Mellon University

Carter looks at the history of the cities in three phases:

  • The industrial powerhouse phase, from 1865 to 1945
  • Renaissance, from 1946 to 1985
  • Re-invention from 1986 to 2015

He argues that there are clear parallels between all the cities he has studied and that lessons can be drawn. 

First up, turning cities around in the post-industrial period takes time and determination. It is important to realise the the scale is large – metropolitan and long-term. This means, a strong vision of what kind of city is being built it critical. And it means strong leadership and being prepared to take risks. Often it has involved very significant investment, such as the Olympics in Barcelona, but these grand plays aren’t enough on their own, as they can fail. 

The successful cases have all developed diversified economies, have strengthened the central city and have invested in culture, heritage and quality of life. 

The over-riding impression at the end though, underlined by perceptive questions from the audience, was that while the city may recover, many of the people who made their lives there often don’t and that tectonic societal upheavals, such as the election of Trump, or Brexit, or populism in Italy, may the cost.

Maybe we can look back on the cities themselves in 20 years with satisfaction that they recovered so well, but what happened to the broader society in the meantime is quite another question. 

Don Carter is an architect, urban designer and developer of international renown. He is currently Director of Urban Design and Regional Engagement at the Remaking Cities Institute, Carnegie Mellon University.

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