Unlocking the Potential of Post-Industrial Cities

In February 2021, Johns Hopkins University Press will publish 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 a pathway to knowledge for six post-industrial cities including Baltimore.

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.

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