Jun 27, 2009

Dwindling City Density

A recent hot topic in the world of urban planning is the idea of tearing down portions of cities that are largely abandoned and blighted in order to contract the city’s size. The money for most of these projects would come from state or federal funds and the goal is to remove seldom-used infrastructure and save money on the future repairs thereof. Money would also be saved, and the rest of the city would benefit, from a plan like this because the police force and other emergency vehicles would have a smaller, more densely populated, area to patrol and not be stretched quite so thinly.

All in all, these benefits sound incredible. This recession could be seen as a punishment for expanding our nation’s growth so rapidly and unsustainably and this contraction of our cities looks like an answer.

However, I’m not so sure. To be clear, I’ve not yet decided my stance on any of this and I certainly don’t know enough about the subject to make my decision any time soon. All I can do is throw the Pros/Cons that I can see out there and hope something comes out of the comments that makes me think, and think hard.

So the “Pros” of this are already listed: improved policing of remaining neighborhoods, less money spent on repairs of aging infrastructure that is seldom-used anyway, better response times from emergency vehicles, and (hopefully) increased density in remaining neighborhoods to support self-policing and bring foot traffic to local businesses.

What would be done with this land, in these grand plans, would be to return the properties to nature. I’m not sure whether this’d be done through city-run reforestation efforts (which is happening in our own parks) or simply letting the land return on its own time (which could take around fifty years, according to Andrew).

However, the “Cons” are glaring. You’re taking away homes, destroying sites of future growth (i.e. the conversion of industrial spaces into affordable artists’ lofts or the refurbishment of Victorian mansions) disconnecting many neighborhoods from each other (series of “linked islands” may force car dependency on residents if public transportation isn’t varied and frequent) and, as Roberta Brandes Gratzpoints out in her LA Times piece, there hasn’t really been a history of positive effects of massive clearance

Right now, the debate rages between those flung to the far ends of the spectrum of opinion about this: either tear it all down and reforest it, or preserve all of it.

I think there’s a compromise to be found. I’ll post about it later, since this is getting a bit long-winded right now, but I’d like to hear your opinions on the pros/cons before that. Which side do you prefer, and why? And how do you think you would feel if it were in your own Rust Belt city of Allentown that this was happening?

43 comments:

Rain said...

What an interesting idea. But what about the people that live in the poorest neighborhoods? Affluent people have moved away from lower income people and I think will always continue to do so. Oh, and the loss of landmarks makes me sad.

michael molovinsky said...

ironically, years ago, before your time, a city councilman(tony frey) said that allentown should bomb sections inhabited by lowlife. now the liberals, after decades of failed urban revitalization, come up with the same plan, but repackaged in correct speak. last year i recall you traveled to europe: there, many houses are 500 and more years old. only in america would this plan be debated. as a disclosure, i don't think the local urban planners could handle a child's birthday party, let alone a city.
nyc has pretty much abandoned urban planning after wasting billions over decades in favor of market forces. we need to replace the stick with a carrot. we need to create a more level playing field based on equally accessible mild incentives. we need to provide a social safety net for local residents without being a poverty magnet.

Looking To Escape said...

as Roberta Brandes Gratzpoints out in her LA Times piece, there hasn’t really been a history of positive effects of massive clearance


Mainly because those cities are in a continued state of decline.
.
While her commentary is quaint in a PBS sort of way and there will always be urban pioneer types, The massive infrastructure costs of cities require very vibrant local economies. While happy community groups may clear out rubble in a local empty lot, the huge bridge required to get to the happy community group maybe be beyond their capacity to repair.

notlikethepants said...

I gotta say I think city clearing is a horrible idea. I think in some truly-shrunken cities like Detroit or Flint, MI or Gary, IN, where you have instances of entire city blocks abandoned and in disrepair, it makes sense to do it. But even in those times, I think it has to be seriously SERIOUSLY planned out and looked upon as a concentration and shrinking of the city. I think the "city islands" possibility is seriously the WORST possible outcome, and no city should be faced with having a forest in between its residents and each other, the places they work, the places they shop, and the places they play. I'm entirely behind reforestation efforts in cities, but a healthy urban reforestation effort does not mean you have acres of heavily forested land just spottily placed around your city, which is what would happen if cities just razed clusters of blighted areas wherever they happen to exist.

I sort of agree with Molovinsky that market forces play the most important role in the growth of a city, but good city planning (which doesn't always exist in the Lehigh Valley, clearly), can make or break a city. A city like Portland, OR is one of the most "planned" cities in the country, and the development there is beautiful. For a smaller example, the city of Saratoga Springs, NY radically changed the planning of their town about 10 years ago. I visited over the 4th of July weekend, and you'd never believe there's a recession on. There are dozens of new construction projects (infill) going on IN town, new businesses opening everywhere, and they took what was a pretty quiet downtown and expanded it to be a major destination not just for the residents of the city, but for suburban neighbors, and visitors from elsewhere in the capital/adirondack region. Without real planning, you don't get concentrated development like that - Saratoga had just started to experience sprawl when that change took place, and without the planning change, nothing would have curbed the "market" demand for cheap property on the outskirts of town, leaving downtown to just wonder where all the shoppers went.

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同業做到的,也許是你所想要!
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Karen M. Samuels said...

We can learn from the 1960s when most American cities wiped out old "blighted" neighborhoods and put up modern structures...the people left anyway.City governments need to invest in small local businesses to keep the jobs and homes in the city.

By the way, there is a spam filter on Word Press. I was having the same problem on my blog.