2nd Edition

Fixing Broken Cities New Investment Policies for a Changed World

By John Kromer Copyright 2023
    338 Pages 9 Color & 22 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    338 Pages 9 Color & 22 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    338 Pages 9 Color & 22 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Fixing Broken Cities explores the planning, execution, and impact of urban repopulation and investment strategies that were launched in the wake of two crises: late twentieth-century economic disinvestment and the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Because past practices could no longer serve as a reliable guide to future outcomes in this uncertain environment, any new initiatives had to involve a significant level of risk-taking. Based on the author’s experience as a policymaker and practitioner, this book provides detailed insights into the origins and outcomes of these high-risk strategies, along with an explanation of why they succeeded or failed. This new edition examines policy initiatives from a fresh perspective, based on an awareness that (1) real estate ventures are best evaluated over the long term, rather than shortly after the completion of construction activity; (2) policies that had guided the allocation of public-sector resources during past decades of urban disinvestment need to be reconsidered in light of the economic resurgence that many American cities are now experiencing; and (3) the places described in this book are representative of other municipalities, of all kinds, where the pandemic has led to a fundamental rethinking of the relationship between home and workplace.

    A key theme of the book is equitable development, the question of who should benefit from the allocation of scarce public capital, and what investment policies are most likely to support this principle over the long term. The author provides realistic guidance about pursuing the best opportunities for improvement in highly disadvantaged, resource-starved urban areas, with reference to several key issues that are pressing concerns for members of urban communities: enlivening downtown and neighborhood commercial areas, stabilizing and strengthening residential communities, eliminating industrial-age blight, and providing quality public education options.

    This new edition will be of great use to planning, housing and community development professionals, both regionally and nationally, as well as to students on Urban Politics and Planning courses.


    1. The Ten-Year Tax Abatement: An Equitable Development Controversy and a Political Compromise

    2. The Center City District: Rethinking Downtown and Post-Pandemic Futures

    3. The Transition Zone: Remaking a Neighborhood and Revisiting, 25 Years Later

    4. The Neighborhood Transformation Initiative: An Ambitious Policy, a Land Management Problem, and an Organizational Development Success

    5. Two Institution-Assisted Neighborhood Public School Ventures, a Generation Apart: Penn Alexander and Powel/SLAMS

    6. The West Philadelphia Fire House: Constructing a Community Partnership and Witnessing Neighborhood Change, 1982–2022

    7. Public Power and Political Dynamics in Camden: The State Receivership, Grow NJ, and the Newest Waterfront Plan

    8. Two Inheritances for a New Administration in Allentown, Pennsylvania: A Rental Housing Crisis and a Wealth-Generating Neighborhood Improvement Zone

    9. Conclusion: Three Glimpses of the Future


    John Kromer is a housing and development consultant who specializes in the design and execution of reinvestment strategies for distressed urban communities. As Philadelphia's Director of Housing from 1992 to 2001, he supervised the expenditure of more than a billion dollars in public investment to implement housing preservation and development strategies that improved living conditions for thousands of Philadelphia families. Since then, he has completed strategic planning and capacity building projects for municipal government agencies and nonprofit development organizations. He teaches a course in "The Politics of Housing and Urban Development" at the University of Pennsylvania, USA, where he previously served as a program administrator and consultant at the Fels Institute of Government. His most recent book, Philadelphia Battlefields: Disruptive Campaigns and Upset Elections in a Changing City (2021) draws on his extensive participation in local political campaigns and elections.

    "John Kromer has done it again! His community development experience shines through in this second edition of Fixing Broken Cities. John reminds us that the process for revitalizing our core communities continues and that, now more than ever, partnerships are needed to strengthen neighborhoods."

    John Brenner, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Municipal League, USA

    "In Fixing Broken Cities, John Kromer brings the wily experience of a practitioner and the creative understanding of an intellectual to some of urban America’s seemingly intractable problems. Through detailed case studies in Philadelphia, Allentown, and Camden, NJ, he carefully analyzes how proposed solutions have been devised, debated, and carried out, evaluating the consequences and suggesting paths for the future. For anyone working in urban policy and for all students of American cities, this is an essential read."

    Nikil Saval, Pennsylvania State Senator, District 1, USA

    Praise for the 1st edition:

    "This book is a tour de force about planning efforts and their impact in postindustrial urban downtowns and residential communities. . . . I recommend this book highly to anyone looking for a way to navigate our older, struggling cities into a brighter urban future."

    L. Nicolas Ronderos, NY Regional Plan Association, USA

    "Kromer's illuminating case studies and advice garnered from years of experience working in some of the nation's neediest areas are a welcome addition to the literature."
    Richard LeGates, San Francisco State University, USA

    "Reinvestment in our central cities is critical to the health and prosperity of our metropolitan areas and our country. Drawing from the author’s own experience, Fixing Broken Cities provides inspiration and practical guidance to community leaders as they struggle to meet the challenges of urban redevelopment… this book is a must read."
    Parris N. Glendening, President, Smart Growth Leadership Institute and former Governor of Maryland, USA (1995–2003)

    "John Kromer shows that after decades of decline cities can come back with the right combination of reinvention and reinvestment."
    Paul S. Grogan, President & CEO, The Boston Foundation, USA

    "John Kromer’s medley of memoir, practical tips, case studies, and honest reflections will be of value to anyone striving to transform older American cities."
    Paul C. Brophy, Principal, Brophy & Reilly, USA

    "Kromer's work in cities has shaped this exciting blueprint for action in the post-industrial city. The book is a must-read for both urban policy-makers and students of the city."
    John Pelissero, Loyola University Chicago, USA

    "Kromer draws from decades of in-the-trenches experience implementing development strategies in cities in this readable book… I recommend this book for experienced developers to broaden their horizons and provoke thought as well as for students and scholars who are looking for a lucid, realistic primer on the arcane tools of development."
    Beth Walter Honadle, University of Cincinnati, USA