Youngstown, Ohio, Tries To 'Shrink' Smartly

<p>Rather than advocate for population growth, the gritty industrial city of Youngstown, Ohio, has launched a bold plan to -- among other strategies -- let declining neighborhoods empty out and be converted to greenspace.</p>
May 6, 2007, 11am PDT | Alex Pearlstein
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"Youngstown, a former steel-producing hub, has been losing residents for years as a result of the closing of most of its steel mills. But rather than struggle to regain its former glory or population, it has adopted an economic-development plan that boils down to controlled shrinkage. By accepting the inevitable, the city says it can reduce its housing stock, infrastructure and services accordingly."

Neighborhoods that are "emptying out" will eventually be converted to greenspace through mass demolitoin of decaying housing and commercial structures. "The city estimates it will take about four years to bulldoze the biggest eyesores, including about 1,000 abandoned homes and several hundred old stores, schools and other structures."

"Accepting that a city is going to shrink goes against conventional wisdom that a bigger city means more jobs, more taxpayers, more revenue, better education, and better services -- in essence, a higher standard of living. The approach is controversial. Encouraging and accepting the hollowing out of neighborhoods will, by default and design, hit Youngstown's poor and minority residents the hardest."

"Youngstown, which has lost half its population since the 1950s, says it needs a radically different approach to halt decay. It's pointless to try to revive certain neighborhoods, the city's leaders argue, since the exodus of residents often makes those areas unpleasant and dangerous places to live, leading to further decline."

"Although Youngstown is one of the first cities to openly embrace this philosophy, the idea of planning to get smaller is gaining consideration around the world...In parts of eastern Germany, the government has earmarked some $3.4 billion for tearing down communist-era prefabricated apartment blocks and replacing them with green space, partly in response to an exodus of residents to the West."

"European cities are more experienced with the phenomenon of shrinking urban centers, having endured centuries of war and famine that caused many of the region's great cities to fluctuate in size over time. A Berlin-based 'Shrinking Cities' project, partly funded by the German government, compiles research about urban-population loss."

[Editor's note: Although this article is only available to WSJ subscribers, it is available to Planetizen readers for free through the link below for a period of seven days.]

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Published on Thursday, May 3, 2007 in The Wall Street Journal
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