By the Editorial Board | Original Editorial
June 25, 2019

Erie Refocused offered a blunt assessment of Erie’s state — especially its cratering real estate market.

Municipal planning documents tend to stay on the shelf for a reason. The recommendations, no matter how sound and inspiring, do not miraculously materialize like the changes instantly wrought on popular property makeover shows.

Implementation of the sweeping, detailed plans — with advice on housing, land use, development, transportation and economic growth — requires collaboration among leaders and citizens, and disciplined, concerted action to both identify priorities and build the capacity needed to achieve them. They also cost a lot of money.

In cities where viability is not in question, shelving plans is a viable option.

That is not the case with Erie. Erie Refocused, the city’s first comprehensive plan in years, did not arrive at the city’s rock bottom. But urban planning firm czb made clear Erie’s point of no return, after decades of unstanched population and job loss, lay within view. Erie Refocused offered a blunt assessment of Erie’s state — especially its cratering real estate market. Weighted down by 4,700 vacant properties and nearly 10,000 with signs of moderate to severe distress, the market threatens to undo the tax base and the government services it supports.

Lead czb consultant Charles Buki noted the city’s habit of shirking hard decisions about how to deploy resources, and also its prospects. If Erie wanted to maintain the status quo, it could look to dire Rust Belt object lesson Flint, Michigan, to see its fate.

As reporter Kevin Flowers detailed, Erie chose action. Thanks to neighborhood groups and the Erie Redevelopment Authority, and aided by new tools like the city’s land bank, dilapidated housing is coming down to the relief of residents like Reuben Robbins, who lives in the 500 block of Wallace Street. New investments by the Erie Downtown Development Corp. aim to create market-rate housing and vibrancy downtown. The Erie Innovation District and others are working to erect a new, high-tech economy. City Planning Director Kathy Wyrosdick capably marshals the work.

The change contemplated has forced to the fore painful, overdue conversations about Erie’s entrenched, unacceptable economic and racial disparities. A better, more inclusive Erie must emerge from this process. Achieving both the reversal of fortune and equity Erie needs will require balance, nuance, good faith and attention to detail. Implementing Erie Refocused is not a pipe dream for the privileged, but a fight for the city’s survival against very tough odds. There can be no better Erie if the city winds up in receivership.

We like the observation and advice voiced by Robbins at this fraught moment. An unkempt, unsafe apartment building that plagued him is now gone, replaced by a manicured vacant lot, thanks to the plan.

“People are working together and making things better,” he said. “Be patient.”