Monday, June 15, 2009

Urban Contraction

An interesting plan for dealing with urban sprawl is taking place in Flint, Michigan. The city has begun to eliminate entire neighborhoods and return them to nature. Flint is best known as the birthplace of General Motors and for its rapid decline which set the stage for Michael Moore's 1989 film Roger and Me. The decline mirrored the closing of several GM plants in the area beginning in the 1980s.

The author of the plan is Dan Kildee, the treasurer of Genesee County, the seat of which is Flint. Mr. Kildee has been approached by the federal government to participate in a study about how to implement this plan in other cities that have experienced significant declines recently.

An article from the Daily Telegraph can be found here.

In the article Mr. Kildee speaks of how Americans view development and growth as necessarily positive and perceive contraction as failure. But the reality is that some communities need to shrink in order to survive.

Here is the money quote:

"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," said Mr Kildee. "Decline is a fact of life in Flint. Resisting it is like resisting gravity."

The comments section contains some revealing thoughts about how we feel about development, property rights and the government.

Although the areas effected are virtually deserted, obvously in order for the plan to work some people will need to be forced from their homes.

Trepidations are understandable given that this seems at the outset to be a draconian solution. The idea of the Feds coming in and telling folks that their homes are going to be razed to make way for a prairie may sound to some a little Stalinist at best.

Yet we also need to look at the bigger picture of how our culture has promoted the idea of if something doesn't work, let's get rid of it and start fresh. We haven't been very good at holding on to our past, and that's both a good and a bad thing. Good in that we haven't been hindered by looking backwards, bad in that we have failed to see the value of what we have.

My belief has always been that our cities are our best hope for the future. They are dynamic, they're able to grow and adapt to the times, and they retain a sense of place by preserving the best of the past. Growth and development doesn't require the continued destruction of our ever dwindling natural resources.

Urban sprawl does not work. We are learning this more and more every day.

America doesn't need to expand to the point where every inch is covered in concrete. There's plenty of room to expand right here in town, if only we care to open our hearts and minds.

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