Optimism and Investment, Not 'Managed Decline," for the Rust Belt

Managed decline assumes that struggling cities will continue to struggle indefinitely. Is there a better way to plot neighborhood stabilization?

July 25, 2018, 10:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

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Sherman Cahal / Shutterstock

Jason Segedy, director of planning and urban development in the city of Akron, writes a dissent of the "managed decline" policies that gained traction in Rust Belt cities like Detroit as it struggled with the consequences of a shrinking population.

Segedy acknowledges the argument "that managed decline is a pragmatic approach to present-day economic realities." There is also an argument, adds Segedy, that managed decline is a fatalistic, self-fulfilling prophecy.  

Are cities simply hapless victims, subject to the whims of the fates? Or can wise leadership, creativity, and strategic planning create demand to live in a place, and bring about a reversal of fortunes? People who remember Brooklyn in 1977, or East Berlin in 1983, would probably agree that places can change in dramatic and unexpected ways, and that it is sometimes darkest before the dawn.  

In fact, argues Segedy, Detroit never actually threw its full bureaucratic weight behind managed decline, and many of its successes now result from embracing the slogan of Mayor Mike Guggan's administration: "Every neighborhood has a future."

To elaborate on the argument against managed decline, Segedy points out a few key areas that offer optimism in Rust Belt cities—and not just Detroit. Opportunities include for new housing, adaptive reuse, and creating incentives for new demand (beyond job creation).

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