The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

Returned To The Forest Primeval

Flint, MI is contemplating shrinkage:

Instead of waiting for houses to become abandoned and then pulling them down, local leaders are talking about demolishing entire blocks and even whole neighborhoods.

The population would be condensed into a few viable areas. So would stores and services. A city built to manufacture cars would be returned in large measure to the forest primeval.

I’m always awed that when it comes to cities like Flint, EVERYTHING is thought of in near-cosmic terms. Instead of “let’s replace abandoned neighborhoods with new parks” — which is already a pretty dramatic undertaking — it’s “let’s let that bitch goddess nature take back what’s hers, for we can no longer maintain even the pretense of civilization.”

I mean, look:

These days, crime is brazen: two men recently stripped the siding off Mr. Kildee


What I’m having a hard time understanding in this post is what you actually expect. Beyond a national reporter popping in, what should the wider population do? The other thing, in re: Flint is that it gets this kind of media exposure, unlike countless other Rust Belt cities and towns that actually are “dying” silently. Further, these are real live planning issues that places have to deal with. Maybe returning parts of Flint to nature are what should happen. The unfortunate part of this situation is that a job managing a city’s decline (i.e. population, services, etc) is not at all sexy, and therefore difficult to attract the best and brightest.

I don’t see the callousness or flippancy in your post, but almost a kind of ignorance. It is sad what is happening in Flint (and many other places across the midwest and parts of the northeast), but unless we face reality and are proactive, it will just languish in some weird inertia-decline.

Also, because I’m terrible at html, I can’t link to other recent NYTimes articles about a small Main Street in Beacon, New York and one about a mayor in a town outside Pittsburgh that address these same issues. Sorry.

Look; I’m married to a city planner, so I know how unsexy it is. I actually DO think that reducing a city’s footprint and replacing abandoned houses with greenspace (ugh, I hate that word) is a really good idea.

But instead of presenting it solely as a tough but inventive planning decision, it’s presented in these kind of “slipping into the Dark Ages” terms. Not that I’m not immune to treating it that way myself. It’s something I marvel at, but am also skeptical about. Does this make sense?

I don’t expect anyone to understand how I feel about Michigan. It really is like trying to explain how you feel about your parents. The emotions are strong, but almost inevitably conflicted. (Unless you live in a noodle salad town and had a noodle salad life.)

Yeah, I see what you mean. It’s sloppy journalism to conflate issues germane to planning, the ambiguity inherent in shrinking cities (specifically the use of the word “decline,” which is amazingly loaded), and the recession.

I would also say that relationships to places can be incredibly conflicted. I live in Florida, and think I share the feelings that you have, though possibly decidedly less nostalgic. I fear that in 50 years it will experience a variation of what Michigan is experiencing now. The only thing it has on its side is the climate, and considering what sea levels do, it might not even be worth it.

As a life-long Michigander, I hear what you’re saying, Tim. I often hear myself think, “but can’t something be done?” when I really have no idea what that “something” is. As a Detroit resident, I just find myself saddened as interesting privately-owned businesses close down shop and buildings fall in on themselves. But should we try to save these things, or let entropy take over? I for one, don’t have the answer.

I don’t want to get too big-picture here but I think the coverage of shrinking cities employs a doomsday tone because the concept of something not growing is so foreign to American culture. Things are supposed to get bigger and better in the U.S. The economy is based on more people buying more things so businesses make more money. Urban planning, for the most part, has traditionally dealt with growth. The press has a hard time approaching a place like Flint, which has lost half its population and more than half of its jobs, and the concept of a city trying to get smaller gracefully. It’s almost like Flint is viewed as somehow un-American. It’s a scary place because large parts of the country could become Flints, and that’s a frightening prospect.

This rings true, but begs the question — do you think European or Asian countries/publics/planners handle this better? What can we learn about this kind of decline? (Because it almost seems like this kind of arc — rapid development of an industrial city and almost as rapid decline, deindustrialization, depopulation — might be as specific to the US as the ethos of growth that led us to throw these cities up in the first place.)

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