Shrink to Survive, Return City to Nature

Return Sprawl To Nature
Return Sprawl To Nature

Perhaps all the hype about growth is finally being put into perspective. Economic decline has a way of making us reevaluate many things – most notably in this recent decline we are questioning the growth dogma, our banking system, media and government. Local communities have also begun to play a larger role, not only in our day-to-day lives but in our ways of thinking: local is better. Together we are working on building a sustainable economy from the ground up.

As the too-large-too-exist rule has pointed out, as car companies go belly-up they have brought many areas down with them. Flint, Michigan, once the poster city for the grand American automotive industry has seen its population cut in half. This decline may be the first serious wake-up call that we’ve gotten too big for our britches. More importantly, I hope that we realize that growth may not be the answer.

As the Treasurer of Genesee County (which includes Flint), Dan Kildee noted in a recent Telegraph article, “The obsession with growth is sadly a very American thing. Across the US, there’s an assumption that all development is good, that if communities are growing they are successful. If they’re shrinking, they’re failing.”

So what’s the solution for Flint and the rest of Genesee County? Shrink! If they don’t shrink the city will go bankrupt supporting all the empty lots and infrastructure. They’re demolishing parts of their city and returning it to nature. Many would frown on this decline and propose that growth is the only indicator of prosperity. Mr. Kildee says this action is “no more defeatist than pruning an overgrown tree so it can bear fruit again.” Perhaps the new fruit will be development – qualitative improvement instead of quantitative expansion.

The local Flint authorities are focusing on buying up abandoned homes (at a discounted price thanks to State laws) and either selling them to others that will use them, giving them up to nature, or building new health care and education facilities. They have already demolished 1,100 abandoned homes around the edge of the city and there are another 3,000 that will likely go. Their work has relocated some of the poorer neighborhoods into nicer areas and decreased the sprawl radiating from their city core.

Now the Obama Administration has approached Mr. Kildee about expanding this idea into as many as 50 other cities that need to shrink. These cities mostly include those in the Mid-West and Northeast parts of the country, from Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh to Baltimore and Memphis. In Detroit there are plans in the works to break the city up into smaller centers separated by urban farmland.

Mr. Kildee noted the economic benefits, but also how the inevitability of this decline provided a positive opportunity to change:

“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. Decline is a fact of life in Flint. Resisting it is like resisting gravity.”

Talk about a sustainable solution to a serious sprawl problem. Read the full article here.

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