We mentioned last summer that there was a chance some of the American cities affected worst by the changing economic climate deliberately “downsizing” themselves in order to consolidate what remains and cauterise the wound, and it seems that the decision has been made in the case of Detroit.
With the town already showing signs of becoming a new frontier for hippies, frugalists, art communes and close-to-the-land types, Detroit’s planners are proposing to change roughly a quarter of the city’s ghost-town urban areas into semi-rural farmland [via BoingBoing].
That’s a grim decision to have to make; I think we can assume that it’s being made by people who really can’t see any other way out. Question is, will Detroit be just the first of many?
Tough times call for tough decisions: faced with long-term urban decline accelerated by the global economic SNAFU, the US Government is considering razing sections of some failing cities in order to keep them from collapsing. What were once bustling industrial towns are now underpopulated, underfunded and poorly maintained, and pruning them back like a rosebush might just enable them to survive.
Mr Kildee said he will concentrate on 50 cities, identified in a recent study by the Brookings Institution, an influential Washington think-tank, as potentially needing to shrink substantially to cope with their declining fortunes.
Most are former industrial cities in the “rust belt” of America’s Mid-West and North East. They include Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Memphis.
In Detroit, shattered by the woes of the US car industry, there are already plans to split it into a collection of small urban centres separated from each other by countryside.
“The real question is not whether these cities shrink – we’re all shrinking – but whether we let it happen in a destructive or sustainable way,” said Mr Kildee. “Decline is a fact of life in Flint. Resisting it is like resisting gravity.”
If things don’t get a lot better very soon, I imagine there will be some small cities that collapse entirely, littering the country with hollow remnants of the late industrial age, a series of Twentieth Century ghost-towns inhabited by wildlife and a few back-to-the-land loners. Meanwhile the larger cosmopolitan centres – anywhere with a diverse enough economy to attract a newly itinerant workforce – will presumably keep growing as the ongoing urbanisation of the world gathers pace.
It’ll be interesting to see whether we’ve gotten much better at urban planning in the last half century or so; many of Britain’s planned cities of the post-war period were less than glowing successes, as the architectural philosophies of the day were based on principles that we’d now consider naive at best. But downsizing for survival is a time-honoured tactic in nature as well as economics; perhaps we’re living in the last days of suburbia. [via Slashdot; image by NESJumpman]