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Shrinking Cities Across the Pond « The Washington Independent

For a while now at TWI, we’ve been keeping and eye on developments in the shrinking cities movement. It’s a new idea for urban development, aimed at saving cities by making them smaller: Cordoning off the sections that are abandoned and marred by blight, urging the few people left to move, and letting the land return to nature. It’s an idea borne of desperation in places like Flint, Mich., which have been hit hard both by job losses and by foreclosures.

But it also may be an idea that’s going to pick up steam elsewhere. The Obama administration is seriously considering supporting the shrinking cities movement as a way to address economic decline, reports the British newspaper, The Telegraph.

The Telegraph dubbed the idea a “shrink to survive” approach, and said it is being headed by a familiar name to TWI readers: Dan Kildee, founder and chairman of the Genesee County Land Bank in Flint. TWI profiled Kildee and his land bank last year. Land banks allow cities to acquire and reuse vacant and abandoned properties.

Having outlined his strategy to Barack Obama during the election campaign, Mr Kildee has now been approached by the US government and a group of charities who want him to apply what he has learnt to the rest of the country.

Mr Kildee said he will concentrate on 50 cities, identified in a recent study by the Brookings Institution, an influential Washington think-tank, as potentially needing to shrink substantially to cope with their declining fortunes.

Most are former industrial cities in the “rust belt” of America’s Mid-West and North East. They include Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Memphis.

The Telegraph has few other details on how this all is going to work. It’s also not clear how aggressively the Obama administration will embrace the idea. It’s true that in many ways, the shrinking cities movement is a “radical experiment,” as The Telegraph puts it. We are long accustomed in this country to the idea that only growth is good.

But the shrinking cities movement could quickly gain traction, despite its controversial nature. For all the towns and communities like Flint that have been smacked hard by the foreclosure crisis and are facing a deluge of abandoned and vacant properties, shrinking to survive soon may seem more like a smart move than a radical proposal.

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