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More on Shrinking Cities and Help for Land Banks

Over at Hungry Hungry Hippos. they’ve taken me to task for my post Wednesday on efforts in Flint, Mich. to deal with abandoned and vacant properties by literally shrinking the size of their city — cordoning off the blight and leaving it behind. I had written that Flint and other cities facing overwhelming property abandonment need major resources from the federal government to handle this, both in tearing down trashed houses and in using land banks to reclaim and reuse the land.

Here’s Hungry Hungry Hippos:

While the story that Flint, Michigan, is considering bulldozing entire neighborhoods, blocking them off, and withdrawing city services from them is a sad and stark indicator of what’s happening in cities where the combination of the declining auto industry and the mortgage crisis are causing large population shifts, I’m not sure why Mary Kane thinks federal dollars would help avert it, or even why she thinks averting it is a good idea.

What interest does the federal government have in the city limits of Flint, Michigan? What interest do we, as a society, have in keeping the residents of Flint, Michigan, living in Flint, Michigan, when their reason for being there is gone?

None, as far as I can tell.

Actually, I’m not talking about averting anything, and I’m sorry to have given that impression. Flint and other cities facing blight and looking to shrink their cities as a result may be going down exactly the right road. And, frankly, they may have little choice. But here’s the hard part: Reclaiming properties, tearing down blighted neighborhoods, reusing land on a large scale, and planning for reconfiguring a city will take the kind of money many of these hard-hit places don’t have. They’ll need land banks, which are public authorities that can do these sorts of things. And those land banks need major resources and money from the government to reach the kind of capacity that will allow them to handle all this responsibility.

Flint is a leader in the shrinking-city movement because it has the Genesee County Land Bank, which is a model for the rest of the country. But as we’ve written, other communities are only now beginning to plan for land banks, and it can be a lengthy and expensive process to get one up and going. It took almost two years in Cleveland, where the foreclosure and abandonment crisis has been particularly severe. Unless the government gets behind these efforts, it’s like fighting a million-acre forest fire with a pick and a shovel, as housing expert Alan Mallach told us.

Mallach thinks the crisis requires a federal land bank. That may be a long time in coming, if it ever comes at all. Like Flint, other communities may be ready to join the shrinking city movement. But being ready – and having the money to actually make it work – are still two different things.

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