The Rust Belt is dotted with “stagnating cities” — once flourishing industrial hotspots where jobs have long-since disappeared.

A plan to re-energize these cities’ economic activity is being executed successfully in Massachusetts. And nonprofits are playing a key role.

From Fast Company:

In Massachusetts, however, a series of recent government-led initiatives have quietly and steadily devised ways to improve life in these cities. These efforts point to a possible way forward for design professionals to engage with government, nonprofits, and the private sector as a crucial part of the solution.

The downtown districts of the Gateway Cities witnessed significant growth in the 19th century, and many suffered from incomplete urban renewal plans in the mid 20th century. As a result, bringing new life to these urban cores required planners who could reassess what was there and what was missing and who could propose both medium- and long-term visions.

Other cities have chosen to support robust public art programs, spearheaded by locally rooted nonprofits, as a first step in changing perceptions. The North Shore Community Development Coalition is focused on Salem’s LatinX community, largely in the el Punto neighborhood immediately adjacent to downtown. El Punto suffered from negative perceptions from other parts of the city—and also from its own residents, who until recently saw little of themselves in the neighborhood. The CDC develops and manages affordable housing, runs youth programs, and provides support to small neighborhood businesses.
Nearby nonprofit Beyond Walls has contributed to a reinvigorated downtown Lynn, a once thriving mill town with a historic reputation for vice. The nonprofit has hosted four citywide mural festivals in Lynn, with more than 60 large-scale installations as well as a lighting campaign to illuminate storefronts and underpasses. The project has been wildly successful, garnering national attention and funding, in no small part thanks to the entrepreneurial energy of founder and CEO Al Wilson, who previously worked for tech startups. The efforts seem to have paid off: Positive news stories are changing the city’s narrative, and (prior to the pandemic) local businesses were seeing higher revenue with the increased downtown foot traffic.