Shrinking Cities

New England’s “Rising Star” has several initiatives underway to promote economic growth and increase home ownership. I’ll be writing about some of these projects and programs in future posts. In the meantime, I came across an interesting article on the Wall Street Journal Online that talks about a very different strategy, purposely planning to shrink a city.

According to the article, Youngstown, Ohio has seen its population decline by 60% over the last fifty years. Heavily focused on the steel industry, Youngstown saw most of its steel mills close during the industry downturn in the 1980s. Tens of thousands of jobs left with the mill closures. Since then, Youngstown has been plagued with blight and abandonment. Over a thousand homes, businesses, schools, and other structures have simply been abandoned. In order for Youngstown to survive, the city planner and other city officials came up with a unique and controversial plan to shrink the tax base by razing empty structures in order to create more green space, reducing infrastructure and services accordingly.

I found this article refreshing. So many times we see cities trying to fight economic cycles with a short term view and rose colored glasses. It is impossible for every US city to grow at the same rate, yet we see declining cities continue to push for growth when it may not be the financially responsible thing to do. Just like a business, a city must reevaluate its strategic plan when faced with new economic challenges. Continuing to do the same thing and expect different results is foolish and naive. Transforming from a struggling larger city to a thriving smaller town should be viewed as a responsible way of using taxpayer dollars and safe guarding for future generations.

Teaming with Our Sister States?

I’ve written about the lack of affordable of housing in CT before. Add to this a few of my other pet peeves, suburban sprawl (yes, I know it is counter-intuitive for a REALTOR to dislike sprawl) and youth drain, and we’ve got the potential for long term economic hardship not only in CT, but all of New England.

Clearly, on a town by town basis, we can start business development and real estate development projects that encourage working here rather than migrating to the more affordable Southern states and reusing land for better economic use. Blue Back Square in West Hartford center is a good example of redeveloping existing land for increased economic benefit, rather than contributing to sprawl. CT’s Department of Economic and Community Development promotes an aggressive agenda of economic and community development initiatives throughout the state.

But what about our sister New England states? Are they facing the same issues? What can we do to work together to fight “youth brain drain” and the growing housing affordability crisis? Well, as New England Futures sees it, all of New England needs to band together and work on these issues as a region, rather than individual communities and states. No more of the “I, I, I” attitude and more of the “Us, Us, Us” attitude.

This initiative seems like a good idea, however is it too many cooks in the kitchen? And if you take the bureaucracy of one state and add five more states to it, does it just become an unmanageable, ineffective distraction that dilutes our individual efforts?