The decline and fall of the American Empire

"Smart shrinking" edition:

Today whole sections of Detroit and Cleveland and Youngstown look like ghost towns: boarded-up houses everywhere, boarded-up office buildings, schools, even hospitals and train stations alongside vacant lots, with wild animals creeping back in.

Enter "smart shrinking:

But to the proponents of the idea, it’s a recognition of reality, and, more than that, an opportunity to free struggling cities from a paralyzing preoccupation with past glories. At its most ambitious, smart shrinking offers an opportunity to rethink what makes a city a city: Some planners envision a landscape that isn’t recognizably urban, suburban, or rural, but some combination of the three, with multistory apartment buildings next to working farms, and public transit lines extending through neighborhoods where most households have ample space to park their cars.

Good luck with that

Part of the difficulty planners face in thinking about the problem is that there are no real case studies of managed urban shrinking in the United States. There is, however, some precedent abroad. After the collapse of the Berlin Wall and reunification of Germany, the former East Germany experienced a massive emptying, with waves of residents from cities like Leipzig, Dresden, and Jena leaving for the more prosperous west.

The only think comparable is the former Soviet Union, apparently.

And some "charter" ideas:

All of these proposals, of course, merely shrink a city’s supply of inhabited land. Edward Glaeser, an urban economist at Harvard, argues that cities like Detroit might think of shrinking in a more fundamental way, selling off parts of the city to private entities. Those companies would then manage their parts of the city the way the holders of private charters governed colonies in the early days of North American settlement. Glaeser concedes that the idea is politically improbable. Still, he points out that recent decades have seen the rise of privately owned and managed housing developments throughout the suburbs — he’s just proposing trying it in the city.

I couldn’t have concluded better:

It’s a problem even the fastest-growing cities may someday face. “One hundred years ago, Cleveland wouldn’t have expected to be in the situation it is today,” Schwarz says, “but all cities grow and all cities decline and I think there are lessons that we can about how to manage decline that apply to all cities.”


3 Responses to The decline and fall of the American Empire

  1. Ulysses says:

    I like farmers. I’m a big fan of eating cows. My brother in law used to live next to cows.

    I don’t want to live next door to cows.

    There are some smells to which I don’t want to become accustomed.

  2. Jehu says:

    Detroit’s problem is its governance, which is a function of its population. What are the rules for seceding from a city? If they’re tractable, a group, perhaps Amish or Hutterites or some other intentional group could break off a chunk of Detroit for itself and make it a functional place again. But they can’t do it unless they’re safe from democratic depredations.

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