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Monday, December 18, 2006


One of this year's big ideas, according to the New York Times Magazine, is "creative shrinkage," i.e., a strategy employed by struggling cities to "shrink[] [their] way into a new identity," rather than grow their way back to prosperity:

At its peak, Youngstown supported 170,000 residents. Now, with less than half that number living amid shuttered steel factories, the city and Youngstown State University are implementing a blueprint for a smaller town that retains the best features of the metropolis Youngstown used to be. Few communities of 80,000 boast a symphony orchestra, two respected art museums, a university, a generously laid-out downtown and an urban park larger than Central Park. “Other cities that were never the center of steel production don’t have these assets,” says Jay Williams, the city’s newly elected 35-year-old mayor, who advocated a downsized Youngstown when he ran for office.

Williams’s strategy calls for razing derelict buildings, eventually cutting off the sewage and electric services to fully abandoned tracts of the city and transforming vacant lots into pocket parks. The city and county are now turning abandoned lots over to neighboring landowners and excusing back taxes on the land, provided that they act as stewards of the open spaces. The city has also placed a moratorium on the (often haphazard) construction of new dwellings financed by low-income-housing tax credits and encouraged the rehabilitation of existing homes. Instead of trying to recapture its industrial past, Youngstown hopes to capitalize on its high vacancy rates and underused public spaces; it could become a culturally rich bedroom community serving Cleveland and Pittsburgh, both of which are 70 miles away.

Youngstown’s experiment has not gone unnoticed. Williams’s office has already fielded calls from officials in a few of the many American metropolitan areas that have experienced steep population drop-offs. When cities hit rock bottom, it seems, planners can find new solutions for urban decay — if they are willing to think small enough.

In the land-use and local-government areas, there's been a lot of work done on annexation and secession.  I wonder, if "creative shrinkage" catches on, can we expect a wave of efforts by cities to slough off unwilling, perhaps previously annexed neighborhoods?  (Of course, the Times piece is not so much about changing the political boundaries, only about limiting new construction and capturing open spaces.)  I don't know this field, but is there precedent for cities (let's assume we're talking about "home rule" cities) kicking out -- i.e., returning involuntarily to unincorporated status -- parts of themselves?

Posted by Rick Garnett on December 18, 2006 at 11:58 AM in Property | Permalink


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Anything you REALLY want to know about Youngstown is found in the novel SWAP by Sam Moffie

Posted by: Harry | Jan 15, 2007 7:07:23 AM

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