Doing more in Duluth with fewer of usDAVID ROSS: Can our beloved city continue to experience a renaissance without experiencing a concurrent increase in population?
By: David Ross, for the Budgeteer
Can our beloved city continue to experience a renaissance without experiencing a concurrent increase in population? I believe it can. Our population has stabilized in recent decades: 85,493 in the year 1990, then 86,918 in 2000, and 86,265 in 2010. Yet, despite not experiencing growth, a hopeful paradox exists: our community is thriving in significant ways. This is true even though our population has dropped from a 1960-census high of 107,312.
Our community is not alone in experiencing this paradox. Nationally recognized trends illustrate this phenomenon of cities flourishing, even as their populations lessen. Providence is becoming a center of urban fashion and transforming its image as a once gritty manufacturing center. It has strong demand for its downtown apartments; office buildings are operating at high occupancy; and construction cranes line the horizon. Yet, Providence has lost more than 100,000 people since its population peak of 235,504 in 1940.
Chicago, too, is enjoying a powerful economic and cultural comeback. It is doing so, in part by attracting affluent professionals to live in warehouse district buildings converted into chic condominiums and apartments. This revitalization is occurring despite Chicago’s population being down by more than 800,000 since 1950.
Washington, D.C. is in the heart of a vibrant region enjoying a strengthening economy. It is becoming increasingly attractive to investors and homeowners notwithstanding losing more than 200,000 people since 1950.
Cleveland recently reinvented its downtown district by building a sports stadium, a rock-and-roll museum and new housing. By doing so, the city attracted young professionals into its core commercial district. Cleveland has lost more than 400,000 people since 1950.
Old industrial cities like these — and Duluth — may never be as populous as they once were, in part because new urban households are smaller than those of the 1950s. People are marrying later and having fewer children. Households that included six, eight or ten family members now are home to two or three occupants. I grew up in a small home that housed our family of eight. Residing there now is a family of two.
Our shared challenge as Duluthians is to find ways to bring additional development and energy to our beloved community, especially our downtown and business districts. This challenge is compounded because we have fewer of us to make it happen. How can we reduce poverty, increase home ownership, maintain our schools, and reinvest in our Emerald City?
We can begin by fully appreciating how the answers to our questions and to our challenges are within our community. These answers and solutions will be made known through open, unguarded and creative interactions between all segments of our community. Therefore, the Chamber seeks to continue expanding our interaction with other groups, organizations and individuals interested in building our community.
Together we can enhance and enliven our beautiful city on the shores of the greatest of the Great Lakes. We can do so with 86,265 of us making it happen. It simply means each of us has to do more than what was asked of the 107,312 Duluthians in 1960.
David Ross is the president and CEO of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at (218) 740-3751 or firstname.lastname@example.org.