Kain Benfield of the Natural Resources Defense Council has raised questions about the wisdom of mass demolitions in “shrinking cities.” In this article, he points out that leading urban thinker Richard Florida has joined him in this perspective.
Benfield makes the point that Detroit, Cleveland and other shrinking cities are being hollowed out, not by regional population loss, but by sprawl. Returning urban areas to quasi-rural will simply lengthen commute times as investment and population continue to flow to the periphery.
Metro Detroit, the poster child for these supposedly shrinking places, actually grew in population from 1990 to 2003; the population did decline between 2000 and 2008, but only by six-tenths of one percent. The real problem is that the footprint of its suburbs was allowed to grow during that period, at the expense of the central city. With demolition and conversion of urban land to neo-rural tracts, that pattern will only be exacerbated, with serious consequences for transportation emissions and the surrounding landscape.
I think this is a very, very good point. From a regional perspective, it just doesn’t make sense to invest a bunch of resources to convert city land into agricultual use while in the meantime investing a bunch of money in the exurbs to convert agricultural land into housing.
How can we stop the destructive pattern of outmigration? The problem is in Cleveland is there is just no political will for this. Everyone seems content to live in a suburban bubble 6 miles from urban apocalypse.
Someone told me yesterday that there is a 24-year difference in the life expectancy of someone who lives in Cleveland’s inner-city Hough neighborhood and someone who lives in the nearby suburb of Lyndhurst. 24 years! Why is this kind of inequality tolerated in Cleveland? Fear? Racism? Complacency? Cosy ties between politicians and developers?
Our cities need to stand up for themselves. Their problem isn’t caused so much by de-industrialization as by their own suburbs. Urban agriculture, to me, is a conciliatory strategy because it doesn’t address the true cause of urban problems it only treats the symptoms.
Check out what the city of Cleveland has done to its now popular entertainment district. My friend Matt sent me these photos. And he asked, what was gained?