Cities: back from beyond the blue horizon

A livable city is one in which people are willing to work together for improvement, according to Robert H. McNulty, president and founder of Partners for Livable Places, a nonprofit organization based in Washington. ``No community is ever at a state of rest,'' says Mr. McNulty in an interview. ``It is either going up or down.

``So a livable city must be a place where people keep facing new challenges and are willing to tackle change, to form coalitions, and to put their shoulders to the civic wheel.''

It is also ``a human city that adjusts to people as they get older and that accommodates them gracefully at all stages of their economic lives.''

Such cities, and what makes them so, are the subject of The Return of the Livable City (Gondolier Press, Southampton, N.Y.), a book that tells the stirring stories of how distressed cities have fought back with economic development tools, cultural planning, and historic preservation.

Written by Mr. McNulty, R. Leo Penne, and Dorothy R. Jacobson, the book was put together by Partners for Livable Places.

This upbeat and informative work is for all those people who want to know how to plan and to take effective civic action to make their cities look and function better. It is an encouraging and well-illustrated look at renaissance and transformation, at inspiring innovations, and at new forces at work across America.

``We've worked in about a hundred cities in the last 10 years, both in the US and abroad,'' says McNulty. ``Working in an advisory capacity, we literally help communities to help themselves. Cities whose futures looked bleak are now experiencing substantial revitalization and real achievements in urban development and redevelopment.''

The experiences of the cities covered in this book suggest many possibilities for developing ``amenity assets.'' It is a teachable message.

``Just last fall,'' McNulty remarks, ``we had Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's chief adviser on urban policy over for 10 days to see what we could teach the United Kingdom on how to revitalize some of its inner cities.

``We took him to Baltimore, St. Paul, Cleveland, and Indianapolis, sat him down with mayors of those cities, and showed him what can occur to overcome very difficult city problems when hard thinking and planning are put together with public and private, corporate and philanthropic funds.''

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