Panel Discusses Rust Belt Economics
Former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer expressed his conviction that Detroit can recover from its current economic slump during a discussion with political leaders at the Harvard Kennedy School last night.
Archer pointed out that Detroit was “turning around” during his time as mayor. and added that the city has the potential to change again for the better.
Archer and the other speakers on the panel discussed the economic climate of cities within the Rust Belt, the manufacturing area of the United States that is comprised of parts of the Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwestern states.
The cities within this area once relied largely on businesses like the steel and coal industries that have declined in financial productivity in recent years, causing widespread joblessness, Archer said.
“We’re here today to discuss what in the world a reasonable response would be to that [problem],” said Edward Glaeser, director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government and the moderator of the event.
Denise DiPasquale, the president of City Research—a research firm whose major focus is urban economics—offered Pittsburgh as an example of a Rust Belt city that has managed to recover from the decline in industry. However, DiPasquale cautioned that though economic growth is possible, Pittsburgh still faces huge fiscal problems and has been named a financially distressed city by the state of Pennsylvania.
Barry Bluestone, dean in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University, blamed the decline of Detroit on the dominance of the automobile industry—which he said discouraged other industries from establishing themselves in the area—as well as on a lack of good leadership in the city with the exception of Archer.
Bluestone suggested that it was necessary to make “mayors the CEOs for economic development” in order to repair the economies of struggling cities.
“That means understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your own community; trying to figure out what the opportunities are, as well as the threats,” Bluestone said.
Allyson Baughman, a doctoral student in public policy at the University of Massachusetts, said that she saw the issues discussed by the panel as important because of their potential consequences on the national level.
“I think that what is happening in cities, if we don’t address it, is eventually going to leak into the suburbs,” Baughman said.