Monday, April 11, 2011

Shrinking Detroit in the New York Times by way of the Columbus Dispatch

Detroit Where the Weak are Killed and EatenApril2011Badge

N.Y. Times via Columbus Dispatch: Reversing Detroit
Fast-shrinking Motor City plans best way to manage population loss
Sunday, April 10, 2011 03:18 AM
By Monica Davey
New York Times News Service

DETROIT — When Marja M. Winters was studying urban planning in graduate school, she learned the art and science of helping cities grow.

Now, Winters, a native of Detroit and deputy director of the city’s planning and development department, finds herself in an unexpected role, one that no school would have thought to prepare her for: She is sorting out how to help her hometown shrink, by working through difficult decisions that will determine which neighborhoods can be saved and which cannot.

“It was always this notion that the population of the world continues to grow, and more and more people want to live in cities,” Winters, 33, said about her courses at the University of Michigan. “The reality is very different. Who knew?”
Actually, the reality isn't that different from what Ms. Winters was taught. The population is growing, as it's projected to reach 7 billion this year, and 9 billion by 2050 (but read what I tell my students about this projection). At the same time, urbanization is continuing; about half the world's population is already living in cities and the percentage is expected to increase throughout the century. It's still the case in the United States as well. Even though the proportion of people who live in what the Census calls Metropolitan Statisical Areas has remained pretty constant at ~80% for the past 40 years, the population of the country is still growing, so more people are still living in cities now than 40 years ago.

The problem is that Michigan is the only state in the Union that has lost population. Even if the proportion of people living in cities here has remained the same, the number in most cities in the state will decrease, which has happened. The real problem is that most of those people who lived in Detroit 10 years ago still live in cities; they just don't live in Detroit. A lot of them have moved to the suburbs, and a lot have joined the exodus out of state. The result is a lot of abandoned houses and a lot of empty land.

First, the empty houses. From the NYT via the Columbus Dispatch:

Now the empty land, which is the size of the outline of San Francisco inside the city limits of Detroit. From the Detroit Free Press via New Geography.


So, how is Ms. Winters going to deal with this issue?

Puzzling through the best way to downsize a city is not unheard of (it has been considered in Youngstown, Ohio, and Flint, Mich.). And Mayor Dave Bing has made it a top priority to deal with Detroit’s fast-sinking population and crumbling infrastructure by steering those who remain into fewer neighborhoods, rather than leaving them scattered throughout the 139-square-mile city, whose boundaries made more sense when twice as many people lived here 40 years ago.

Actually carrying out such an effort, particularly in a city as vast as Detroit, is like solving a complicated set of interwoven puzzles, as Winters has discovered over many long days and some nights poring over thousands of pages of maps and statistics in her 23rd-floor downtown office.

How to reconfigure roads, bus lines, police districts? How to encourage people — there is no power of eminent domain to force them — to move out of the worst neighborhoods and into better ones?

Later this month, a team that includes Winters is expected to present a proposed — and certain to be highly controversial — map to guide investment in each of the city’s neighborhoods. A final plan for a remade city is expected by year’s end.
Stay tuned for that plan. I'll be sure to blog about it.

There's much more of that article.  Be sure to read all of it.

Meta note: I know in my previous post that I would continue analyzing Contemplating the Hedgehog, but it's not every day that the New York Times covers exactly those aspects of Detroit that I cover in this blog. Better yet, it was picked up by the Columbus Dispatch, which doesn't have the 20 article limit before hitting a paywall that the New York Times has.  Also, a friend of mine in Columbus posted the link on my Facebook wall.  Who am I to refuse a good story when it's dumped in my lap?

In short, I'll get around to the series sooner rather than later. Unless LiveJournal completely disappears because of a DDoS attack (in Soviet Russia, LiveJournal trolls you!), it's not going anywhere.

ETA: Welcome to all of you from Clusterfuck Nation. I have a follow-up to this post here.

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