Macke: Why some cities succeed while others don’t

Published 9:17 am Tuesday, March 13, 2018


Mark Twain once said, “We take stock of a city like we take stock of a man. The clothes or appearance are the externals by which we judge.”

Many studies on “why some cities succeed while other don’t” place emphasis on the same issues. Successful places have in common the ability to attract people and to enable them to collaborate. However, those that thrive, thrive in their own ways, seeking additional and/or new sources of prosperity when the old ones run out.

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Successful cities also have a clear vision for the future. They have done this by taking an inventory of community assets and creating their plan around those existing assets. They cooperate with neighboring communities for mutual benefit, while focusing on place.

Place? Focusing on place is to maintain appearance throughout, from head to toe.

A successful city has committed citizens who care about their city. This includes longtime residents who are upset with how unmanaged growth has changed what they loved about their hometown. It includes newcomers who want to make sure their adopted hometown doesn’t develop the same ugliness or congestion as the one they left. They want for citizens better than what has become commonplace.

But above all, every successful city has strong leaders in government. A city in turmoil or decay reflects the leadership to which it is entrusted. Leadership is crucial, and often unappreciated. As the city leader of a small town in the Midwest once remarked, “If you don’t care who gets the credit, you can get an awful lot accomplished.”

But what does this all mean? There are cities all over the world that revitalized themselves by placing focus on these very simple things. And doing so creates a quality of life that people want, will stay for, and will come to.

Cities across the world such as Tokyo, Singapore, Boston, Milan, Minneapolis and New York have all had to recreate themselves over the years. Yes, these are all much larger cities than Port Arthur, but smaller cities can do this, too.

When you look at cities that have declined, Detroit is the prime example. During the 19th century, Detroit had the right, vibrant combination of educated people and a mass of small businesses.

However, by the late 20th century it was a one-industry town dominated by three large companies that employed hundreds of thousands of workers. Between 1950 and 2008 the population dropped 58 percent. Trying to rebound, Detroit fell victim to what is called the “edifice complex,” the belief that new office buildings, sports arenas and transportation systems alone can stop the rotting and bring people back. They were wrong.

Now Detroit is following the example set by Youngstown, Ohio. A city of 67,000 that was declining, it has accepted the shrinkage of the community, organized an ambitious urban renewal plan to find better use for land and work to reverse the declining trend.

Port Arthur is absolutely no different than thousands of cities its size around the world, cities that battle the same issues and concerns Port Arthur continues to call normal.

But Port Arthur “is” different from other cities its size around the world that were able to stop the decline and bring about a new, better city for its residents. Although there has been much talk over the years, it has not been able to do so.

City leaders cannot be timid or naive in understanding their own limitations on this topic. They should reach out to those communities that have been successful with their own community revitalization efforts in order to find ways that may best fit Port Arthur.

City leaders that work together, succeed together. It’s as simple as that.

Or is it? It does take having the “right” leaders as well. That’s another topic altogether.

Rich Macke is publisher of the Port Arthur News.