Making Do with Shrunken Cities

Population shrinkage in cities like Flint, Michigan can be the perfect opportunity to employ 'smart decline' to make such cities denser and more livable.

"A big question facing urbanists is, what to do with shrunken cities? One possibility would be re-populating them. Could the New Homestead Act be revised to give a boost to places urban zones like Detroit? Isn't it more environmentally sustainable to re-populate existing cities where land has already been cleared, infrastructure is in place, and homes can be re-inhabited? Possibly. But in very distressed urban areas that cannot count on a resurgence of urban settlers, cities could be permanently re-scaled to something smaller. There's a new movement to reclaim urban areas by clearing parts of them and even letting them go back to nature."

"Instead of waiting for an economic or growth upswing that might never come, county and city planners can work with land bank properties to pick and choose which neighborhoods to invest in, and which to bulldoze. In other words, why fight for more growth when downsizing and re=greening a city might make the city more viable and more livable for those who remain? Business could be relocated into more dense, more transit friendly neighborhoods. Cleared areas could be turned into open space, parks, greenbelts, or even forest. It would be a reversal of urban sprawl."

Full Story: The incredible shrinking city!

Comments

Comments

Smart De-Growth

From the article: "county and city planners can work with land bank properties to pick and choose which neighborhoods to invest in, and which to bulldoze. In other words, why fight for more growth when downsizing and re=greening a city might make the city more viable and more livable for those who remain? Business could be relocated into more dense, more transit friendly neighborhoods. Cleared areas could be turned into open space, parks, greenbelts, or even forest. It would be a reversal of urban sprawl."

This article is a good answer to those who confuse higher population density with higher total population. The same "smart growth" principles of building dense pedestrian and transit oriented neighborhoods apply to regions with declining populations. When population is increasing, these principles let us build dense neighborhoods to accommodate the increased population without sprawl. When population is descreasing, the same principles let us preserve and enhance the dense neighborhoods and demolish the low density neighborhoods, to roll back sprawl.

The article points out that more cities world-wide will have lower populations by 2050 than will have increased populations. Needless to say, after world population peaks in the 2050s, even more cities will have decreasing populations. Sprawl takes up so much land that, in many American cities, if population decreases by 10% and we demolish 10% of the region's housing, we could free up 30% of the region's land area as open space.

The article calls this "smart decline." This is obviously not a very appealing term, and it will not apply after world population peaks, when even successful cities will be losing population. The French use the term "decroissance," which I would translate as "de-growth."

Charles Siegel

A caveat

I agree with the need to right-size our cities, and green space is wonderful, but it must be safe. Lets not forget Jacob's lessons on the dangers of vacant city parks. I believe that ecologically valuable and recreationally valuable open space in American cities can be a huge asset, but we must take an intensive land management approach and make it really valuable to urban dwellers and visitors alike. And lets forget arbitrary shapes like belts, wedges and the like, and concentrate on land that connects with regional ecosystems and is convenient to use.
“The only way open land can be maintained against growth pressure is function, and it is in this respect that the green belt is wanting. Absence of development is not a function. The space must be usable for […] recreation, to see it, and to enjoy it.” ~ William. H Whyte

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