In February 2021, Johns Hopkins University Press published Unlocking the Potential of Post-Industrial Cities, a new book by Matthew E. Kahn and Mac McComas at JHU’s 21st Century Cities Initiative. The book explores synergistic investments in people, businesses, neighborhoods, and government in post-industrial cities including Baltimore.

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The urban centers of New York City, Seattle, and San Francisco have enjoyed tremendous economic success and population growth in recent years. At the same time, cities like Baltimore and Detroit have experienced population loss and economic decline. People living in these cities are not enjoying the American Dream of upward mobility. How can post-industrial cities struggling with crime, pollution, poverty, and economic decline make a comeback?

In Unlocking the Economic Potential of Post-Industrial Cities, Matthew E. Kahn and Mac McComas explore why some people and places thrive during a time of growing economic inequality and polarization—and some don’t. They examine six underperforming cities—Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis—that have struggled from 1970 to present. Drawing from the field of urban economics, Kahn and McComas ask how the public and private sectors can craft policies and make investments that create safe, green cities where young people reach their full potential. The authors analyze long-run economic and demographic trends. They also highlight recent lessons from urban economics in labor market demand and supply, neighborhood quality of life, and local governance while scrutinizing strategies to lift people out of poverty.

These cities are all at a fork in the road. Depending on choices made today, they could enjoy a significant comeback—but only if local leaders are open to experimentation and innovation while being honest about failure and constructive evaluation. Unlocking the Economic Potential of Post-Industrial Cities provides a roadmap for how urban policy makers, community members, and practitioners in the public and private sector can work together with researchers to discover how all cities can solve the most pressing modern urban challenges.


Unlocking the Potential of Post-Industrial Cities provides a clear-eyed diagnosis of the problems facing America’s older industrial cities. It uses the tools of urban economics to outline a bold agenda for revitalizing these cities. A must-read for urbanists and anyone concerned with the future of these great cities and our nation as a whole.” — Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class

“Kahn and McComas’s excellent book is well-written, well-argued, and important—the sort of economics that should be widely read, digested, and discussed. It offers a clear account of the economic forces that are shaping some of America’s most important industrial cities and their regions, and explores economically sound ideas for their rebirth.” — Enrico Moretti, University of California, Berkeley, author of The New Geography of Jobs

“McComas and Kahn make a persuasive case that cities should be viewed as centers of expanding opportunity, not massive shelters for the poor. They explore a variety of factors, including technological changes, environmental policies, and creative economic strategies, that will lead to unlocking the urban potential they describe.” — Kurt L. Schmoke, President, University of Baltimore.

Book Talks and Discussions with Experts

Access to Capital for Minority-Owned Businesses and Labor Markets in Post-Industrial Midwest Cities, May 5, 2021

On May 5, 2021, coauthor Mac McComas talked with Treye Johnson and Mark Schweitzer at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland about the Fed’s new Small Business Credit Survey Report on Firms Owned by People of Color and their research and work on access to capital and labor markets in Cleveland and other Midwest cities.

Investing in Startups, Small Business, and Entrepreneurs in Post-Industrial Cities with Arpit Gupta, April 5, 2021

On April 6, 2021, coauthors Matthew Kahn and Mac McComas discussed investing in startups and small businesses in post-industrial cities with Arpit Gupta. Arpit Gupta is an assistant professor of finance at the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at NYU. Professor Gupta’s research focuses on household finance, real estate, and corporate finance.

Hopkins at Home Book Talk, March 30, 2021

On March 30, 2021, coauthors Matthew Kahn and Mac McComas discussed their new book on a Hopkins at Home livestream.

Gentrification, Investment, and Neighborhood Change in Cities with Emily Badger, March 26, 2021

Coauthors Matthew Kahn and Mac McComas discussed gentrification in cities and their new book, Unlocking the Potential of Post-Industrial Cities, with Emily Badger, reporter at the New York Times. The talk includes discussion of the relationship between the crime decline in cities and the return of wealthy white homeowners to downtowns, gentrification without displacement, maintaining commercial and cultural shared spaces, community land trusts, and historic preservation in cities.

The Rise of Pittsburgh with Richard Florida, March 23, 2021

On March 23, 2021, coauthors Matthew E Kahn and Mac McComas joined Richard Florida, University Professor, Professor of Economic Analysis and Policy at the Rotman School of Management and Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence, School of Cities, at the University of Toronto, for a discussion of their new book Unlocking the Potential of Post-Industrial Cities. They discuss a wide range of questions related to Pittsburgh. How does the future after COVID change the fate of post-industrial cities? What tensions existed in the late 1980s between the rise of robotics and the history of steel? What role did public policy play in the rise of robotics? Is there a local multiplier effect for local jobs when high skill jobs are created? As Pittsburgh’s housing market heated up, what were the consequences for poor and minority renters? Where did the financing come from and how important is a local venture capital ecosystem? What lessons can be learned from Toronto, a city famous for its multiculturalism?

Urban Leadership: Lessons from New York City. A Discussion with Mitchell Moss, March 10, 2021

Coauthors Matthew E Kahn and Mac McComas discuss urban leadership in New York City with Mitchell Moss, Henry Hart Rice Professor of Urban Policy & Planning and Director of Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management at NYU. The discussion centered on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s career in New York City and lessons for other cities.

Climate Change Adaptation in Baltimore. March 1, 2021.

Coauthors Matthew E Kahn and Mac McComas discuss the comparative advantages Baltimore has in climate change adaptation, the challenges it faces, and some of the unlocked potential of the city. They discuss a variety of environmental challenges and solutions including urban heat island, air pollution, coastal and riverine flooding, and surging demand on the energy grid.

A Discussion About Urban Economics With Edward Glaeser. February 15th, 2021.

Coauthors Matthew Kahn and Mac McComas discuss the future of post-industrial cities with Edward Glaeser, Professor of Economics at Harvard. They discuss place-based initiatives, transportation and spatial mismatch, fostering entrepreneurial environments in cities, the consumer city and quality of life in cities, strategies and barriers to reducing violent crime, investing in education, and history vs expectations.

Investing in Education, Workforce Development, and Startups in Baltimore. A Discussion with Bob Embry. February 12, 2021.

21CC’s Mac McComas discussed how the Abell Foundation invests in startup companies, education, and workforce development in Baltimore with Bob Embry. Bob Embry is the President of the Abell Foundation and has also served as President of the Board of School Commissioners for Baltimore City, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Commissioner of the Department of Housing and Community Development for Baltimore City.

Investing in Black Lives and Property in Post-Industrial Cities. A Discussion with Andre Perry. February 5, 2021.

21CC’s Mac McComas talks with Andre Perry, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities. They discuss investing in Black businesses, neighborhoods, and properties in majority Black and post-industrial cities and what the new Biden administration could mean for Black cities and equitable investments.

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