Monday, July 13, 2009

City Shrinking as Urban Planning

Flint, Michigan is conducting one of the most fascinating policies for Urban Renewal. Known as "city-shrinking," this policy is designed to destroy abandoned areas/neighborhoods in order to replace them with green space and reconcentrate the population in a more central area. I really like this idea, and I believe it could be a valuable tool for recreating a vibrant feeling in a dying city and, possibly, stop its death.

This policy is not without huge ethical issues as well. In practice, I would hope that all individuals would share equally in the costs of this policy. Invariably, those with houses in areas that are to be condemned will face the greatest challenges. They will lose their houses, memories, and be forced to uproot and move elsewhere. This is a huge cost that will never be fully mitigated, even by providing people a new house, moving their current house, etc.

Nevertheless, I feel that policies like this (or even policies that reconstitute towns around multiple "nodes" instead of in one big block) are necessary in areas like Flint, where they are dying and the process of dying causes them to collapse more quickly.

Inevitably, these projects are challanged by conservative people (people who benefit/desire the status quo-this has nothing to do with political affiliation at this time) who do not want to lose their roots and consider shrinking the city to be the same thing as surrender. While I sympathize with the first point, I consider the second to be a primary reason we are so bad at renewal. Our mentality in this country is to fight on until we win or are destroyed. This is powerful when we are winning, might win, could win, should win, etc, but it is foolishness when we fail to recognize that past times are past. The nostalgia in rust-belt America is similar to the nostalgia in post-Soviet Russia, both desire something that never truly existed and now exists only in their minds, and both ideas hold up progress and moving toward a different identity.

The reality is that places like Flint had as part of their identities things that are no longer true, things like BIG city and MANUFACTURING economy. A recognition of how to succeed and why there is failure is vital since a key goal is to move on from the past. When a current candidate for mayor of Flint this morning said on NPR that he did not like the plan since it was surrender (among other thigns), I was disappointed that a potentially influential individual would fail to see that the future is not found by looking at past glory and attempting to relive it.

No comments:

Post a Comment