Prescription for Shrinking Cities: Don't Demolish, Preserve
Inspired by Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory's speech at last month's Reclaiming Vacant Properties conference in New Orleans, Gratz argues that historic preservation deserves to be considered by so-called "shrinking cities" as they consider ways to stabilize population losses and encourage new investment. According to Gratz, Mallory "prefers working with community-based groups that renovate empty properties and put people back in homes," rather than tearing down abandoned buildings. "When you keep clearing land," said Mallory, "it makes it difficult to get new investment and kill the chance to repopulate."
And, apparently, the findings of a new report, "Historic Preservation and Rightsizing" [PDF], commissioned by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, back Mallory up.
In the cities losing population studied by Don Rypkema and Cara Bertron of Place Economics, "they found the least shrinkage in places where preservation is made a priority over demolition; sometimes renewed population growth occurred. They compared the rate of population change between 2000 and 2010 in the 20 cities with the highest proportional population loss. By overlaying historic district maps on census tracts, they found that historic districts either 'lost less or grew more when the larger city lost population,' Rypkema said."
"Preservation is one of the most potent tools for city revitalization," concludes Gratz. "That message should not get lost amid worries about city shrinkage."