Forbes magazine is infamous among urbanists for a string of statistics-based, list-style articles highlighting a variety of American cities’ trends toward failure. Past features have included “America’s Most Stressful Cities,” “America’s Most Dangerous Cities” and “America’s Emptiest Cities”.
Along those same lines, last summer, Forbes used long-term trends on unemployment, population loss, and economic output to name ten of “America’s Fastest Dying Cities” in a piece that identified the usual suspects – Flint, Michigan, Dayton, Ohio and Buffalo, among others – as struggling cities facing “even bleaker futures”.
Frustrated by what he saw as the article’s failure to capture the successes these cities are realizing in overcoming challenges to attract entrepreneurs, implement policy innovations and revitalize neighborhoods, Peter Benkendorf, director of an arts program in Dayton, Ohio, and a relatively new resident of the city, decided to do something about it.
The result was Ten Living Cities, a two-day symposium and arts festival aimed at bringing together community activists, artists, and concerned citizens from all ten of the cities listed to share ideas and celebrate the fact that these cities are very much alive.
At the symposium, presenters from eight of the ten cities responded directly to Forbes (the article’s author, Joshua Zumbrun, attended and offered opening remarks), highlighting unique aspects of their revitalization strategies from a variety of perspectives. Youngstown’s Mayor Jay Williams talked of helping startup companies get a foothold in his city; Youngstown was named one of the 10 best cities in the U.S. to start a business this year by Entrepreneur Magazine. And Michael Gainer, founder of Buffalo ReUse, talked about his efforts to put young people to work dismantling abandoned homes and reclaiming and reselling the scrap materials, a venture that has helped address blight and create new jobs in Buffalo.
The symposium was also meant to serve as a shared starting point for a different kind of conversation among attendees, Benkendorf says, about the cities they want to live in and have thrive. And while not all participant feedback has been positive (some complained that the event was poorly organized and didn’t focus enough on how to implement change), it represents a commendable first effort. More than two hundred people attended Ten Living Cities, the symposium-sponsored photo contest earned more than 100 entries, and Benkendorf has already received interest from cities that didn’t make the Forbes list, but are struggling with some of the same core issues, in participating in a second iteration of the symposium.