Shrinkage in Phoenix? Call it 'Smart Decline'

Shrinkage -- the term long associated with rust belt cities like Detroit and Cleveland that saw their heydays 60 years ago and have been in decline since -- is now being applied to Phoenix and other fast-growing areas of the Southwest and Sun Belt.
December 29, 2011, 7am PST | Chris Steins | @urbaninsight
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The Maricopa NPR affiliate reporter interviews a realtor, sustainable development advocate, development services director, and an urban planning expert on what to do with the huge swaths of land outside Phoenix prepped for development as exurban subdivisions but now lying vacant.

"This is the land of zombie subdivisions. Some experts believe up to 1 million dirt lots in central Arizona were in some stage of approval for new homes when the market crashed," reports Peter O'Dowd.

"Urban planners are floating a radical solution for areas like this. It's known as 'smart decline.' Justin Hollander, an assistant professor at Tufts University, wrote a book called Sunburnt Cities, about smart decline in the Southwest. After the bust, he says, more than a third of ZIP codes in major Sun Belt cities saw population losses."

The vacant properties closest to the urban core present opportunities in Maricopa, south of Phoenix, for smarter development unheard of before the foreclosure crisis.

"During the boom, Maricopa planners issued 600 housing permits a month. After the bust, a single piece of land with room for 182 houses was rezoned for mixed use. The Roman Catholic Church bought it, and now there are plans for a private school, shops at ground level and loft-style housing above."

From USA Today: 'Sunburnt' cities have a shot to control growth: "Cities such as Detroit and Buffalo are trying to adjust to economic decline by shrinking smartly - concentrating development in small pockets and razing abandoned homes to make way for parks.

"There's an extraordinary potential for 'sunburnt' cities to embrace the idea of smart decline" - doing more with less, whether it's fewer people, fewer home buyers or fewer jobs, says Justin Hollander, urban planning professor at Tufts University and author of Sunburnt Cities, which was published March 1 (2011)."

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Published on Wednesday, December 28, 2011 in National Public Radio - Morning Edition
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