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.


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

Unlocking the Potential of Post-Industrial Cities. 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 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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