Shrinking Cities

This week in class we had two guest speakers, Joe Schilling and Stephen Goldsmith, who touched on the topics of urban ecology and sustainability with a focus on shrinking cities. The main point made in the lecture on urban ecology was that we as people are managing natural systems no matter what we’re doing. Mr. Goldsmith made the point that we are all engaged managers and the systems under our control range from the natural landscape to the buildings and roads we have constructed. Joe Schilling’s presentation was related to the topic of urban ecology however it focused more on sustainability and how it offers a way for Older Industrial Cities (OIC’s) or shrinking cities to be reimagined. A shrinking city is one that is currently experiencing a sustainable and sustained decrease in population and one whose physical footprint is larger than its current needs. Some modern cities that qualify as shrinking cities are Baltimore, Pittsburg and Buffalo and all three are experiencing emerging sustainability planning efforts in order to transform the city and ensure it remains large and prosperous. Some examples of how these cities are planning for a sustainable future are to implement sustainable or “green” building practices, to start reclaiming vacant property and to reconfigure the layout of neighborhoods.

The first source is a link to a New York Times article about Flint, Michigan and the idea to control the decline of this city by condensing the population as well as stores and services into a few viable areas by demolishing entire blocks and whole neighborhoods. The city is dealing with a $15 million budget deficit as well as an endless population decline and its leaders are looking for ways to combat this decline. Due to the fact that in 75 of Flint’s neighborhoods, 900 houses have been acquired through foreclosure in the past year, the city has now resorted to planned shrinkage as its primary way to keep the decline of the city in check and ensure that it continues to thrive.

The second source is a link to a policy guide on how to plan for sustainability that has been adopted in New York. The guide first goes over the indications and contributing factors of unsustainability some of which are deforestation, suburban sprawl and the loss of agricultural land and open space. The guide goes on to define Land use actions, Housing actions, transportation actions and economic development actions that can be taken to help ensure that the city’s future will be more sustainable. There are many objectives given to show how this will be accomplished including a reduced dependence on fossil fuels, encouragement of activities that reduce encroachment upon nature, as well as meeting human needs fairly and efficiently.

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