Smaller is more beautiful
Many other cities are battling problems almost as acute as Detroit’s
THE five kinds of heirloom tomatoes on Joanna Lehrman’s and Roxanne Adair’s farm look delicious. Their tiny two-acre (0.8 hectare) farm also has a buzzing beehive and a hoop house, which protects produce in the winter. It is just a short walk from downtown Flint, a gritty struggling Michigan city. Until about a year ago the land was 16 abandoned residential lots along Beach Street, filled with rubbish, broken pieces of concrete and burnt trees. According to Doug Weiland, who runs the Genesee County Land Bank, a third of all Flint’s parcels are abandoned. Even seemingly stable neighbourhoods have boarded up houses.
在琼娜-勒曼和洛克森-艾黛儿的农场种植的五种看起来非常好吃。除此之外，在他们的农场里还有一个嗡嗡作响的蜂巢和冬天保护作物的大棚。从弗林特 – 一个在密歇根州常年与风沙作战的城市的闹市区到他们面积约两英亩（合0.8公顷）的小型农场只要走很短的一段路。直到一年以前，这块地还是沙滩街边上16个废弃的住宅用地，上面堆满了垃圾，破碎的混凝土块还有烧焦的树干。据乔纳斯郡土地银行的经营者道格-维兰德说，弗林特三分之一的土地被荒芜了。甚至看起来稳定的区域房子也被钉上了木板封起来了。
Flint is one of many cities in America’s rustbelt, like Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Youngstown and Rochester, which have seen dramatic drops in population over the past half century or so. When manufacturing left these cities, so did their residents. In 1968, General Motors, which was founded in Flint, employed 80,000 employees there. Today, there are only 6,000. The city’s population has halved since 1960, falling from 197,000 to just over 100,000; proportionately, it has suffered nearly as badly as Michigan’s largest city, Detroit. Many unable to sell were forced to abandon their houses. Others lost their homes to foreclosure. The rustbelt cities of the Midwest and north-east have been in decline for decades, but it has taken decades for many of them to accept that no one was coming to save them.
These cities—many with acres of abandoned property—are finally and desperately trying to come up with stabilising plans. This is no easy task with a poor, ageing and dwindling tax base, expensive health and pension legacy costs, reduced commercial activity, high unemployment and high crime. Some of the problems of shrinking cities are so fundamental that there is no quick fix. For instance, the need to diversify was long ignored. Many of the rustbelt’s cities were single industry towns. Some were single company towns, like Kodak in New York’s Rochester or GM in Flint.
Flint is in the middle of developing a 20-year master plan, the first since Jack Kennedy was in the White House. The old thinking was to sell tax-foreclosed property to whomever, even speculators. The new thinking is that land is an asset for the city. Since its creation in 2002, the Genesee County Land Bank has had the power to take control of and to redevelop vacant, abandoned or tax-delinquent properties. Neighbours are encouraged to buy abandoned adjacent property for as little as $50. Alternative land use is encouraged. Ms Adair and Ms Lehrman own three of their farm’s lots, which they bought for $100 each from the Genesee County Land Bank. The rest they lease. The land bank has been a model for other cities and states, like Ohio and Georgia. Just this summer, Andrew Cuomo, New York’s governor, signed a bill allowing land banks.
Pittsburgh is often pointed to as a model for other shrinking cities. Its revival since its steel industry collapsed in the early 1980s is partly thanks to good long-term planning. Under the leadership of Tom Murphy, a three-term mayor, more than 1,000 acres of abandoned, blighted industrial land in Pittsburgh was cleaned up and is now thriving commercial, retail, residential and public space. Once lined with factories the city’s waterfront has been given over to parks. Mr Murphy oversaw the development of more than 25 miles of new trails alongside the river and urban green space. He helped develop public-private partnerships which leveraged $4.8 billion in economic development.
As well as land, there are other assets, such as institutional “anchors”, even in the poorest of cities. Anchors can be hospitals and universities, arts organisations, and foundations (the Mott and Ford Foundations have been especially helpful to shrinking cities). Cleveland has its famous Clinic. Detroit Medical Centre, the Henry Ford Hospital and Wayne State University provide the same service for Detroit (see article).
Changing attitudes is essential. The American Assembly at Columbia University, which recently published a report on post-industrial cities, used the term “legacy cities” as “shrinking” and “resizing” can have negative connotations. Youngstown, a steel town, was devastated when its mills closed: over 30 years it lost more than half its population and thousands of jobs. It adopted a plan in 2005 which demanded accepting it is a smaller city. This is crucial, says Dan Kildee of the Centre for Community Progress. “Then you can get people’s minds to focus on what’s next and not what has been lost.” And there is hope. Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution has long believed these cities will once again be the engines of their regional economies. Pittsburgh, for instance, reinvented itself as a successful tech and health hub, even as its population continues to fall. As Aristotle put it, “a great city should not be confounded with a populous one.”