In the 1990s and early aughts, a popular recipe for staving off economic decline involved overtly pandering to the “creative class” with quirkiness and diversity.

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Troy has turned half a century of neglect into a competitive advantage, recombining rust and rot into quaintness and authenticity. Troy is one pearl in a necklace of small towns in the Hudson River valley that are trading grit for service-economy glory: Albany, Hudson, Cohoes, Rensselaer, Schenectady, and Poughkeepsie and on through the Rust Belt of upstate New York, fanning out to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and the outskirts of the midwest metropolises.

Its genuine outdatedness is an opportunity to roll out state-of-the-art “place-making” renewal strategies. They have all doubled down on Jane Jacobs’s insistence that the best places to live are the ones that best preserve, manage, and then celebrate the heterogeneous aspects of urban environments: How a sidewalk is comfortably buffered from or introduced to the road, the way buildings and foliage enclose a space without making it feel crowded, the arrangement of street furniture such as benches and street lamps—all these go toward a well-made, livable urban environment. A long-loved park or street corner is more than the sum of its parts.

In today’s Troy, a consumer would have no problem sating oneself with beers, coffees, and bagels that have been substantially prepared, brewed, roasted, and baked within city limits.

One can enjoy Brooklyn bohemian quirkiness at an upstate discount price in the inarguably real environment of Victorian dilapidation. Entirely unique and one-of-a-kind midsize cities are a dime a dozen now.

Any given place has thousands of forces influencing it: A pocket park is shaped by everything from the frequency of blizzards (what can grow there) to the gerrymandering of congressional districts (how well it is cared for).

Jacobs’s prescription was to not try and control all these things, because in trying to control everything, bureaucracies end up curtailing some of those forces that make a place unique and alluring.

Buying in to such a neighborhood is selling out: To rent a room in certain parts of Brooklyn is to pay cash for the cultural capital you would otherwise have to earn through “discovering” something not yet congealed into a recognizable commodity.

This link between “discovery” and the relative cultural value of a neighborhood gives smaller cities a kind of arbitrage opportunity in authenticity.

Good Jacobsonian urban planning involves a lot of observation of cherished neighborhoods or streetscapes and using those observations to inform future development. In large, world-class cities like San Francisco and New York, the balancing act of preserving what works and carefully building or restoring new components has been going on for years.