Wednesday, November 26, 2008

City Shrink

Last weekend's New Orleans Times-Picayune had a two-part series on what Nola needs to learn from Pittsburgh and Buffalo — how to cope with getting smaller.

"Lost population usually translates into widespread blight, crumbling infrastructure, stretched budgets and the loss of civic confidence and clout. But more than three years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans must confront the reality of a reduced population, as resettlement has slowed to a trickle.

Embracing or even accepting a downsized city can be painful for leaders and residents accustomed to seeing their town as the center of the universe -- with reason."

Reading that, I was reminded of something Councilman Kemp Conrad brought up several times when discussing the police residency proposal:

"Memphis has lost 7 percent of its population in the last 10 years if you don't count annexation. That's scary. ... We need rapid change," he said during a Leadership Academy forum.

Of course, New Orleans suffered a devastating tragedy, though the population was already declining before Katrina; our city shrink is more like a balloon deflating.

The story says that the process should be just as thought-out as smart growth, saying some call it "smart decline":

"The process offers opportunities, not just unpalatable choices.

When the warehouse is in disuse, should it be demolished? Can the site be reused in an inventive new way? Can green space be used to mitigate flood risk? Should we rethink zoning laws in lightly populated areas? Can we deed vacant land to neighbors so it will be better kept? Do we need to sustain the entire network of roads, sewer pipes, bridges and gas lines?

Perhaps the most direct — some might say draconian — approach to shrinkage has occurred in Youngstown, Ohio, which has lost more than half its population after a series of steel-mill shutdowns since the mid-1970s."

Youngstown (which, a personal note, was basically where I went to high school and, if memory serves, where Reid Dulberger, the chamber's vp for the MemphisED initiative, was the chamber's executive vp before coming here) has started decommissioning sections of town that have already begun to return to nature. City officials in Cleveland and Pittsburgh steer public money toward areas that have "a fighting chance."

Of course, if you're a glass-half-full-type person, growth has its own problems: sprawl, over-crowding, etc.

The second story in the series talks about ways New Orleans could slim down to match its smaller population. It might be worth Memphis taking a look, as well.


polar donkey said...

So here's what you do in Memphis. There are three areas of the city that need to be sysmetically abandoned.
Area 1- North Memphis: New Chicago, Most of Hollywood/Springdale and Douglass. Kind of sucks that we built two brand new high schools, but they could be magnets for large scale redevelopment later. The housing stock in these areas are poor in condition.
Area 2- Riverview Kansas and almost the entire area between I-55and 240 south of downtown.
Area 3-Westwood
All of these areas have been loosing population, especially between 1990 and 2000(24 to 78%). You could let Westwood return to a rural area (much of it is anyway). Level Areas 1 and 2. Leave the roads, powerlines, and sewer lines. perhaps in the future there can be large scale redevelopment. In fill doesn't work because the who is going to build a new house in a neighborhood where houses are worth $20,000.
It sounds draconian but we going to have to do something.

marycash said...

Can we trust this or are you still on pain pills?

polar donkey said...

Just because in rolling on pain pills doesn't make my idea less valid. I'm just crazy enough to write about it.