Declining cities have a chance to reinvigorate

The decline of large USA industrial cities has received  media attention recently in articles such as the Forbes Fastest Declining cities, which have caused a great amount of emotion and despair among the named city’s citizens. This was evident from the city meeting last weekend in Dayton, Ohio reported by Wall Street Journal – ‘Fastest Dying Cities’ Meet for a Lively Talk.

Many cities may have declining populations and reduced levels of employment within the city, however it does not mean that they are necessarily going to die and become ghost towns. Many of these cities have large amounts of cheap residential and commercial buildings that could be reused for other uses within the city. The office tower, big box stores, abandoned schools and office parks could once again come to life.  There is time for these cities to act and draw up plans on how to reinvigorate the city. However, its not just a city level or county level problem – state and the federal governments need to work together with citizens to find solutions. These solutions need to be found and acted upon quickly and decisively to change policy and zoning within cities.

These cities have an opportunity to reinvigorate through gaining new residents and businesses that need access to cheap affordable housing and office space. It is a can be achieved with a two level approach. The first level is the small scale businesses such as artists, architects, engineers, web developers, and other entrepreneurs all need somewhere cheap to start up as they go from being unemployed to small business owners and our priced out in their home city. Many of these people can work on their ventures by remote through the internet. With small budgets they can make their dollar go further as the rent is lower for the office space and also make their budget go further as the salaries of employees can be lower due to a lower cost of city living.

The second level is the large MNC’s who currently are hurting but will start to look for bargains and cheap places to start production. Although a large amount of production has been moved off shore, this will change. As peak oil is not too far in the future and with rising costs of production in places such as China and South America some companies will decide that it is better to localise their production. They may lose on salary costs but will gain on reduced shipping costs.  The other MNC’s that these cities should focus on is the new ‘green’ industries such as solar, wind, transportation (cars, buses, trains) as they shift from dirty technology produced overseas to localised clean technology that can be exported to the world.

However these cities have to lobby and work with the state and federal governments to steady the decline and reinvigorate the city. It will not be just about jobs, industries and people it will also be about maintaining infrastructure and improving the name of the city.  Although I have given some ideas on how cities can reinvigorate, the problems they face are multi-faceted which require fast solutions through working with the citizens of the cities. The ideas need to cohesive and an overall vision and not just white elephants such as multi-million dollar ‘look at me’ buildings or public art works.

I have hope as I read the article at NPR  titled ‘Despite Tough Times, Some See Opportunity In Detroit’ that this could happen for at least some of the 10 cities named in the Forbes article.

As landscape architects we have to be apart of the conversation in making these cities reinvigorate whether as a citizen or contributing through newspapers or research or just writing comments on website to stimulate ideas.

Feedback is welcome in comments or email to the author Damian Holmes

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