Revitalization Should Not Overshadow the Continued Decline in Cities

When gentrification takes center stage, neglected places facing poverty, segregation, and disinvestment are overlooked.

February 28, 2019, 12:00 PM PST

By Camille Fink


Abandoned Buildings

Flickr user basykes / Wikimedia Commons

Jason Segedy, planning director of Akron, Ohio, considers the decline of American cities by reflecting on Alan Mallach's book The Divided City. Segedy says that much of the focus is on revitalization when it should be on “displacement by decline.”

Activists and academics often point to the impacts of gentrification, even when its meaning is not entirely clear any longer, says Segedy. "We hear far less about the primarily black middle class residents fleeing previously stable urban neighborhoods for the suburbs each year (displacement by decline), while the poor are left behind in crumbling communities, trapped in concentrated generational poverty."

In thinking about how to move forward, Segedy again draws from Mallach. "In order to become effective change agents, Mallach argues that city leaders must step back from daily crises, difficult as that sometimes is, and think about systemic issues and power structures in their communities." Segedy adds that change needs to happen at the local level, without expectations that the federal government will provide the solutions.

He also is critical of responses across the political spectrum, nothing that the right has demonstrated little interest in the future of cities. "The political left, meanwhile, spellbound by the Dada performance art that bills itself as 'The Resistance' in this absurd age of Trump, staggers drunkenly between a wonky and bloodless urbanism, and an increasingly strident and unhinged leftism."

See also: Segedy's review of The Divided City from July 2018.

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