To hear more about Hon. Thomas J. Murphy’s work on economic redevelopment, please consider attending the ABA Young Lawyers Division Spring Conference. The program, “An Appetite for Risk: Embracing Change,” occurring on Thursday, April 15, 2021, at 3:30 p.m. EST, will feature a conversation with Murphy and other esteemed guests about the exciting opportunities that come with redeveloping a city.
Nearly every city in the world faces challenges that can completely shatter its framework. New technology, changing demographics, economic downturns, industries that shut down, and climate change have put pressure on local leaders to figure out how to emerge stronger and more vibrant. It sometimes feels impossible.
Cities can reinvent themselves with the support of forward-thinking volunteers. Take Pittsburgh, for example. Between the 1970s and 1990s, Pittsburgh went through its most significant economic collapse in history. It lost half its population, with the younger demographic leaving in droves due to lack of opportunities and uncertain futures. In early 1994, Hon. Thomas J. Murphy took office as mayor. He took the job seriously to transform Pittsburgh into a vibrant city and attracted diverse jobs and people.
Murphy redeveloped the city with a clear strategic vision: growing its goals out of its specific strengths. He realized cities sometimes need to change their zoning ordinances or planning codes to reinforce people’s choices. Community members typically want to walk or ride bikes to work or have riding trails in their neighborhoods connecting multiple suburban developments. All of these new urban developments require lawyers who think about cities in different kinds of ways.
As a senior fellow at Urban Land Institute, Murphy’s goal is to educate and work with communities worldwide regarding the latest real estate trends and actions. He said change could not happen without a multidisciplinary look at the issues, including lawyers, city planners, architects, marketers, developers, and various local leaders. He works alongside these individuals to encourage them to create thriving and equitable communities.
In some places, the pandemic has accelerated the urgency for cities to transform as community needs change. Murphy noted that a friend of his moved her restaurant to another city because she could not get permission to change an ordinance that would allow for sidewalk seating. This, he explained, is why it is vital to have land use and real estate lawyers who know how to say “yes” to change and positive growth. Murphy provided another example: McDonald’s moved its headquarters when it had trouble recruiting workers. The original location was too expensive for recent graduates to afford due to zoning ordinances that did not permit apartments and limited rental homes. Walkability is a growing community need, and cities need to consider it when planning for their post-pandemic futures.
Universities and hospitals are two economic engines that can also drive regions, and a city’s positive relationship with those institutions can boost and diversify the economy. This is an essential conversation that a lot of cities do not have. This missed engagement can be detrimental to a city’s success.
The authenticity of a city, and building on its strengths, is another way to revitalize and move forward. Murphy talked about how the textile industry in rural Massachusetts died down when many jobs went overseas. There was talk of tearing down historic 18th and 19th-century mills. Some cities demolish buildings instead of leaving what would have been a beautiful landmark street. However, in Massachusetts, the local leaders chose to use the mills as an attraction to draw people to the area.
Cities can reinvent themselves. To do that, they need good people. According to Murphy, change is inevitable and accelerating rapidly. “Cities will be successful because they understand they need to be intentional about how their cities change, and they need lawyers who understand that.”