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Legacy Regions, Not Legacy Cities: Growth and Decline in City-Centered Regional Economies

Journal Title Journal of Urban Affairs
Published Date January 28, 2023
Research Type


Advocates adopted the term legacy city for older former industrial central cities to shift policy discussions from their social liabilities to their economic and physical assets. In examining this concept, we place U.S. central cities within a regional context, using cluster-discriminant analysis to distinguish between groups of metropolitan statistical areas, which proxy regional economies. Cluster analysis subsets metropolitan areas according to their position on several theory-driven dimensions. Discriminant analysis then identifies the variables most closely associated with each subset’s statistical grouping. The results respond to three questions: (1) Are regions with legacy characteristics homogeneous in population size? (2) Do socioeconomically troubled regions share legacy characteristics? (3) Does the typology of metropolitan regions provide insights into the performance of regional clusters? The findings suggest that private investment and public policy must change regional economic development paths while intentionally including distressed jurisdictions and populations before the futures of central cities that experienced severe population losses can shift to a positive trajectory.

Van Leuven, Andrew and Edward W. Hill. Legacy Regions, Not Legacy Cities: Growth and Decline in City-Centered Regional Economies. Journal of Urban Affairs, Electronic publication December 2021.