Smart Decline for Shrinking Cities

Many cities across the US are experiencing declines in population. In the aftermath of disinvestment new strategies are emerging to downsize communitiesno longer able to maintain the infrastructure and services built to serve a larger population in a low density development pattern. One of the big problems in downsizing is the fragmentation of local governments that have created and supported development / growth policies that are now being exposed as unsustainable. In a November 2011 issue of Planning article by James Krohe, The Incredible Shrinking City – Places are trying to make smaller better, but it ain’t easy, some ideas and realities of the problem are captured. the following is an excerpt from the article:

“If lack of trust complicates relations between city halls and the public, lack of cohesion complicates relations among foundations, community organizers, local politicians, planners and academics… ‘We coninue to tackle things in a piecemeal way and we are getting piecemeal results.’ ” 

Even cities of greater prosperity than the “incredible shrinking cities” of Flint, Youngstown and Detroit face the challenges of having built unsustainable infrasturcture and services to support a low density development pattern. Not only can the sprawling infrastructure not be adequately maintained but the need to invest in 21st century infrastructure (higher speed internet, smarter utility grids and other upgrades) will be slowed or will not happen at all.

The challenge of aligning regional resources around shared outcomes, the necessity of growing a civic environment of trust, embracing a discipline to guide loosely joined networks to innovate and developing skills needed to better connect planning to implementation are why we are developing the tools and strategies for Agile Planning.

In an NPR broadcast, Smart Decline: A Lifeline for Zombie Subdivisions, the Phoenix area problems from the mortgage crisis have contributed to the need to downsize. communities are finding new opportunities in the challenges of reduced resources. you can listen to the Morning Edition audio here.