City Downsizing

Chana Joffe-Walt has an interesting story over at Planet Money about Youngstown's attempt to stabilize its population, while giving up all interest in economic growth.

(from jmd41280 on Flickr)

I've heard Youngstown praised for its role in the "shrinking cities" movement. If a city is truly hopeless, relying on big projects to try to turn things around is entirely futile. The problem that often doesn't get discussed is exactly how cities shrink. Metro areas grow in a predictable pattern, starting downtown and expanding outward, with the newest development typically happening along the fringe.

Joffe-Walt explains some of the challenges.

The problem with shrinking cities is that they don't shrink in a smart, organized way. It's chaotic. Thousands of people will leave one neighborhood, and maybe a dozen people will stay behind.

In a perfect world, shrinking a city would mean reversing sprawl - pushing people and commerce from the outside back toward the center. Of course, this isn't how it works and there's no easy way to make it work. Instead, the risk is that we wind up with a bunch of doughnut hole cities - places with a few people and businesses remaining along the fringe, but nothing left in the center.