Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Shrinking the Rust Belt

Ok, as a surprise bonus, here is some new content. My latest post is up over at New Geography and it is called “Shrinking the Rust Belt“. In it I lay out a concept plan around a federally assisted managed shrinkage program based around:

  1. Education
  2. Relocation Assistance
  3. Shrinking the Urban Footprint
  4. Financial Restructuring
  5. Development Restrictions

While the focus of this article is on shrinking metros like Detroit and Cleveland, even growing metros like Indianapolis and Columbus face problems. Theirs is a bit different, however. They’ve got strong metro growth paired with significant core declines. This creates a similar dynamic whereby large areas of the urban core are depressed and significantly depopulated from peak, without the prospect of re-population any time soon. Because of the overall regional growth, it’s a different problem from a Detroit or Cleveland, and I’m still analyzing it.

You might also find this AIA Michigan roundtable discussion on shrinkage in Detroit of interest (hat tip Nick Helmholdt):

In Part I, you’ll notice one of them talking about a polycentric network which is similar to the “100 Monument Circles” plan I’ve touted for Indy.

There are several other parts to this, which you can view: Part II, Part III, Part IV, and the conclusion.

Lengthy, but perhaps interesting to some of you.

Topics: Public Policy
Cities: Detroit

49 Responses to “Shrinking the Rust Belt”

  1. pete from baltimore says:

    MR Renn
    I read your interesting article.I have never been to Detroit ,so I can not say what I think is the solution to their problems.

    But I do live in the post- industrial city of Baltimore.And I know that in the 1970's the government was going to bulldoze the "run down" neighborhoods of Fells Point and Canton in Baltimore, in order to extend a highway.

    The community rose up and protested .One of the leaders was a social worker named Barbara Mikulski ,who is now one of Marylands Senators.

    The neighborhoods were saved and the end result is that some of these "rundown" 12 ft by 40 ft rowhouses were going for as much as $ 600,000 before the rescession. These two "rundown" neighborhoods are one of the few sources of tax dollars in Baltimore[We have a very small tax base].

    I am not saying that this is the case with Detroit.But I would hope that the government thinks twice before they send the bulldozers in.

    Many people in Baltimore think that we should bulldoze the poorer areas of the city.But I work in construction ,specialising in interior demolition of small rowhouses so that they can be rehabbed.

    And I know for a fact that most of these houses in the poorer areas are larger and have nicer architecture than the houses in the rich neighborhoods.

    If we could clean up the drugs and crime in these neighborhoods and produce good paying blue collar jobs in Baltimore again these would be great neighborhoods to live in.

    I would hope we could do this without forcing out the blue collar workers who live in these neiborhoods now.Often It is a small minority of hoodlums who are making these neighborhoods "bad".

    I have seen some of the pictures of the abandoned houses in Detroit.And I think that most of them could be rehabbed by their owners if only people could be convinced to live there again.

    To do that of course there needs to be jobs.

    My main point is that bulldozers can tear down rundown houses. But they cannot produce good paying blue collar jobs or stop crime and drugs.

    I hope we can rebuild some of these neighborhoods instead of simply destroying.

    I'm sorry that this comment is so long but I have strong feelings on this subject .

    Thank you for posting the article MR Renn .And as always thank you for running this fascinating blog.

  2. The Urbanophile says:

    pete, thanks for the comment.

    What you are describing sounds not like planned shrinkage, but part of the 70's freeway revolt movement. Many of the neighborhoods displaced for freeways were in fact very populated.

    Here is the challenge. We've got cities that are down 50% from their peak population. (Not sure where Baltimore fits on this). Huge areas of them are in dire straits. But city governments have only very limited funds to invest. So what do you do?

    Approach #1 is to try to be "fair" and spread the money around, which accomplishes nothing. Approach #2 is to concentrate development. As near as I can tell, almost every city follows some variation of #2, they are just not transparent about how they are doing it. Shrinkage is simply the flip side of targeted investment. You encourage people to relocate, either within the city or to another city, away from districts that are not receiving investment.

    Can the city compel people to leave? No. But nor are people entitled to demand that other Americans make income transfers on their behalf.

    I do think there needs to be a process for this with a lot of sensitivity and community involvement and asking the hard questions about what our communities can afford to do and how to face up to the problems of our inner cities. We shouldn't just announce to people that they should leave. This won't be easy, but I think it is a shared process cities and their citizens need to go through.

  3. pete from baltimore says:

    As I said in an earlier comment,I do not claim to know all of the answers to Detroit's problems.

    But since large scale manuftacuring is dying in most parts of America, why don't we start thinking about small scale manufacturing.

    In my own city of Baltimore there are still a family owned small foundry[ American Alloy Foundry] and there is a small factory [ Baltimore toolworks}that produces metal chisels.

    In a newspaper article the foundry owner said that he can compete with China because when a factory needs a new part ,he can produce a new part faster and cheaper than China.The point is that he cannot compete with China in mass production.But he can compete in small scale production of indavidual parts that need to be hand crafted.

    At this point ,what does Detroit have to lose.They have plenty of empty buildings.And plenty of skilled and unemployed people.They should give the buildings away for free and give huge tax breaks to whoever whants to invest in a small workshop.

    They should also help some of these laid off auto workers get togther to start their own workshops.

    I do not claim that small scale workshops can solve all of our problems.But at this point we have very little to lose.And we cannot compete with China on a lot of the large scale manufacturing.

    The origianal idea of our founding fathers was that we should be a nation of yeomen who all owned our own farm.This would be the backbone of our democracy

    Obviousely most of us are no longer farmers.But our small business owners are still the backbone of our democracy as far as i am concerned.

    Maybe if our government provided incentives and promoted small family owned workshops ,we could have a new group of "yeomen ".

    Thank you once again MR Renn ,for producing this blog and allowing me to comment.

  4. The Urbanophile says:

    pete, thank you for reading and for your contributions. People like you are a big part of what makes this blog tick.

    I agree completely with your take on small scale or craft manufacturing. I don't believe we should try to create purely post-industrial futures for our cities. We need to find a way to continue making things as a country, and to create new enterprises that employ a middle class work force. In fact, I've got a future blog post I plan to do on this very subject. I think you're onto something.

  5. pete from baltimore says:

    MR Renn
    Thank you for your quick reply.I was writing my second comment as you replyed to my first one.

    I can defintly see your points.And I also acknowledge that Baltimore is probably a lot denser than Detroit.

    I also agree with you about not subsidiseing failing neighborhoods and transfering income .

    But I do wish that the federal state and city governments can combine with the people of Detroit to solve these problems.We in Baltimore have some of the same problems.

    The solution will take more than a federal bailout.

    The people of Detroit also need to realise that while there should be good paying blue collar jobs in Detroit, they may never make what they used to.Not because they do not deserve a high wage. But because it is no longer 1950.

    I would hope that there is a middle ground between minimum wage and $30 an hour.

    Once again thank you MR Renn for your informative reply.

  6. Patrick Ottenhoff says:

    Great post and I agree with a lot of what you're saying. The challenge – if you've ever seen the Wire – is trying to get city politicians to relinquish their constituencies.

    Jamie McQuinn at Cartophilia had a great map a few weeks ago showing that Detroit's city limits are so big that it could fit Manhattan, Boston and San Francisco within its borders.

  7. pete from baltimore says:

    I will write one last comment and then I promise to shut up.

    Concerning my comment on small scale manufacturing. I am curiouse as to why there are no small car manufactures.

    When Bethelhem Steel went under Nucor Steel was there to pick up their business.So it cannot simply be a case of not having enough capital to start one.

    Is it regulations?

    If anyone knows why someone hasn't started a new car company in America lately I would sincerly like to know.

  8. OINKER says:

    pete from Baltimore – It is nice to hear from someone who is trying to make life better for the forgotten class. As one example, there is currently a proposal to spend $50B for HSR (I call it the Pork Train). I would like to see how that $50B could be spent on projects that you think would create jobs and opportunities there in Baltimore (and Detroit etc).

    I for one, would be much happier if our Federal Government was spending $50B on jobs and neighborhoods in those areas that needed it vs the proposed $50B spend on the Pork Train which will not help you or your neighbors in Baltimore (or Detroit etc).

    Heck I bet $1B would go along way to improving things in Baltimore.

    Would be interested to hear your thoughts.

    no oinks

  9. Alon Levy says:

    Oinker, stop trolling with your anti-train hobbyhorses. It's obnoxious.

  10. OINKER says:

    Alon – what is truly obnoxious is the thought of spending $50B on the Pork Train while folks like "pete in Baltimore' try to figure out how to improve their neighborhoods and job prospects.

    Pete, do you or your friends use Acela much?

  11. Anonymous says:

    Is there really any difference between a Detroit and an Indianapolis other than where along the timeline of decline they currently sit? Until the economy crashed, some of Detroit's suburbs were enjoying tremendous growth. We had townships that had grown from 20,000 residents in 1990 to close to 70,000 residents today. But what the analysts have known is that the overall population growth in Detroit Metro Area has been pretty flat for the past several decades. As the suburbs grew, the population moved outward with that growth while Detroit declined. That hollowing out has continued into the first ring of inner suburbs and even some one-time leaders in growth like Southfield and Farmington Hills are seeing their population level-off and start to decline. If Indianapolis isn't seeing an overall growth in its population, it's probably going down the same road. While Detroit and Flint appear to be the worst-case scenarios, what's to say that an Indianapolis or Columbus won't be in the same boat 20 – 30 years from now?

  12. The Urbanophile says:

    Hi, no more high speed rail discussion in this thread please.

    anon 6:39, I do think there is a difference between Detroit and most places. Detroit grew much bigger, was dominated by a single industry that defined it, and ended up with a terrible racial divide.

    However, that's not to say your observation is off track. Places like Indianapolis or Columbus, Ohio should not be saying that this can't happen to them, because it can. Maybe not to the scale of Detroit, but I made the case myself in a posting called Could Marion County (Indianapolis) Implode?

  13. Anonymous says:

    In that post, you mentioned that the Indy Metro area had a net growth of 55,000. That seems pretty anemic. What's the total metro population? If the metro area is "growing" by growing in area and not in population, you're seeing the same patterns that Detroit and Cleveland have suffered through.

    I also didn't see an answer that really tackles the issue of sprawl in the hinterlands. Some have joked that one day, the sprawl from Detroit will run into the sprawl out of Lansing. While that doesn't seem likely in the current environment, the truth is that the sprawl in the Detroit area easily extends out 40 miles from downtown Detroit. If people simply keeping moving further out, the cost to support that entire area of infrastructure expands while the total population stays the same. There are no natural boundaries in Michigan (save the Detroit River) or Indiana to limit that kind of sprawl.

  14. The Urbanophile says:

    anon 8:02, I think those were cumulative net migration figures. The Indianapolis metro area is growing by between 20-25K per year, or about 1.4-1.5% growth. The US during that time has grown at a rate of 0.9-1.0%, so as you can see, the Indy metro growth rate is, if not at boomtown levels, solidly above the national average. The challenge is, as Mayor Hudnut noted, you can't be a suburb of nowhere.

  15. Alon Levy says:

    Anon at 6:39: it's hard to say what will happen in the future. But the current recession is destroying auto industry cities far more than the rest of the rust belt. Rust belt cities that aren't linked to making cars, such as Buffalo and Cleveland, are actually adding jobs, while Detroit and its supply network are losing them.

  16. Anonymous says:

    "Rust belt cities that aren't linked to making cars, such as Buffalo and Cleveland, are actually adding jobs, while Detroit and its supply network are losing them."

    But are those cities sustainable? Detroit (city and industry) rode the SUV-binge through the 1990s and into the mid-2000s, masking a lot of structural problems that ultimately have all collapsed at around the same time. Detroit as a metro area had lots of growth for a couple of decades but look how quickly it's all fallen apart (across the entire Metro Detroit area, save Ann Arbor).

  17. JG says:

    Nice article. I posted a similar comment to this at NEW GEOGRAPHER. It's a interesting site to any who have not visited.

    Addressing the issue of reducing FIXED costs is vitaling important as URBANO noted, however, in the short term many cities are still struggling for revenue as their tax bases move for outer-ring suburbs out of city limits. Shrinking central cities still provide support in many ways to those outer communities – not the least of which is international name recognition.

    It is debatable whether outring communities OWE anything to their central, anchoring city neighbors – but as declining midwest cities fail, so too could their outer suburbs.

  18. David says:

    Urbanophile – I respectfully disagree here with parts of your analysis. I think it is the size and diversity of the Detroit Metro Area that is throwing your analysis off. Detroit is the stand-in for three separate communities that have a lot less in common then you think.

    When people talk about Detroit they might be talking the actual city of Detroit They might be using like they do in the news as shorthand for the Auto Industry and the factory towns clustered in Southeast Michigan or they might be talking about the Detroit Metro Area, whose population is mostly located in some (until just now) surprising prosperous suburbs. Let me take them one by one.

    The city of Detroit has been almost entirely black since the aftermath of the ’67 riots. A fairly small percentage of the residents work even indirectly the auto industry. The article you linked to in the NYTimes about the Black UAW worker is a good example of this. The suburbs have turned their back on Detroit, and they have for a while. For instance I went to college at Michigan in the late 80s I was repeatedly told not to go to Detroit.

    In fact, I have only been to the actual city twice. One time I went to an event 1 block from the Renaissance Center with my friend to see a dance performance put on by one of our college friends. The event had security supplied by Detroit police officers (who were white). During the event one of the cops turned to my friend and said “This isn’t the mall boy, you should make sure you leave before it gets dark.” Yes, my friend did look like he belonged in a mall but I was floored that a city cop essentially flat out said Detroit is not a place for white suburban folk.

    Around 1990 a book by an Israeli author called Devil’s Night came out (a very good, if depressing, read about Detroit and I think you would be especially amused at the chapter on the Detroit ‘People Mover’). Things have gotten much worse in Detroit since then. My point is that ’New Orleans North’ has been almost completely cut-off as an active driver of the economic fate of Southeast Michigan for over two generations. Like New Orleans, we have a large minority community trapped in a dysfunctional environment. They might even benefit from a complete collapse of the Michigan economy since it would force Detroiters to flee a bad environment, just like the hurricane forced a mass relocation from New Orleans to Houston. I can think of other less extreme solutions to Detroit’s problems, but this post is getting a bit long already.

    So I will break it into two post

  19. David says:

    The second meaning of Detroit is not tied to the city or even the suburbs of Detroit as it is really just short hand for the Southeast Michigan auto manufacturing economy, which I believe is often located outside the Detroit metro area in cities like Ysipilanti, Warren and Flint. This is mostly what outsiders mean when they talk about Detroit.

    The third Detroit is of course the entire metro Detroit area, which was until this last downturn very big and very prosperous. For instance I observed an upper level economics course at U of Michigan (Ann Arbor) in the fall of 2007 when things were trending downward but before the bottom dropped out. The instructor who was newly hired from Berkeley asked the room of fifty students, ‘How many were from Michigan?’ – About 2/3rds raised their hands. He then asked ‘How many of you (talking about the in-state students) plan to stay in Michigan? – A majority (60/40) raised their hands. This surprised the instructor (and me) since an economics degree from Michigan is fairly portable. I took this to mean that there must be more going on in the area than the hapless city of Detroit and a handful of new jobs at the big 3 auto manufacturers.

    Consider these facts from Wikipedia’s entry for Oakland County Michigan, which is one of several suburban counties ringing Detroit:

    As of 2008, the population was estimated at 1,202,174… Metro Detroit’s suburbs are among the most affluent in the nation. Oakland County is the fourth wealthiest county in the United States among counties with more than one million people. … is one of the largest employment centers for engineering and related occupations in the United States. … The median income for a household in the county was $61,907, and the median income for a family was $75,540 (these figures had risen to $67,619 and $85,468 respectively as of a 2007 estimate.)

    By the way, Oakland County does not include nor does it border on Detroit’s richest suburb Grosse Pointe.

    So it appears that Oakland County is the place that needs to be rebranded – as a separate entity from Detroit. This also implies that each of the three ‘Detroits’ would need their own separate urban strategies to succeed.

  20. marko says:

    One thing that always irks me about Detroit discussions especially people from Detroit, is that they seem to be quick to get over automobile manufacturing as the golden goose. I'd say no! If your claim to fame and expertise is autos than by all means SELL SELL SELL it!! Thats their thing.

    Auto manufacturing may not need as many line workers but its probably the largest market for computer sensors, mems technology, industrial engineers, fluid dynamics research and robots. Yes robots that ultra 21st century vision of the future. All these industries could be Detroit's IF they could break the chains of the labor contracts from the 60s. Thats the reason for Detroit's decline. It should be a fertile, innovative place for the auto industry and all the super high tech tertiary services and industries that orbit it. It should be a global hi tech wonderland and a world leader in transportation technologies. But its not because the work force is stuck in the past and the companies lack the balls to institute real change. My greatest fear is that the bail out has truly put the final nail in the coffin. I just read how the government refused to up production of SUVs after dealers reported shortages in early March. Now Toyota's cross overs and suvs sales are rapidly climbing – we gave away the market. The Camero has sold out to. One way to not get out of bankruptcy is not giving your customers what they want. If they cant profit – they cant make the future cars and technologies that require investment.

    Maybe Detroit needs a real bank headquartered there. Like Chicago, Detroit is lacking a powerhouse regional centric bank. Maybe the midwest's real problem all along was NY banks eager to sell the midwest out.

  21. Anonymous says:


    When your comments include the statement that you have only been to Detroit twice in your life, it's hard to give much weight to your analyis. Your lack of time in Detroit is reflected in your comments. While some of it is accurate, you get a lot of the facts wrong and as a lifelong resident of the area, I think most of your points reflect a view that's lacking in any real understanding of Detroit and its history and that are colored by your experiences of the late 1980s.

    The idea that the auto industry has little impact on the city proper is just wrong. Even if you ignored the presence of the GM world HQ in Detroit, there's still a number of manufacturing facilities within Detroit or in close proximity (Ford's HQ and Rouge plant in Dearborn on Detroit's SW border). These include the facilities in Warren, which you imply is no where near Detroit but which in fact borders the city of Detroit along 8 Mile Road.

    Your anecdotal comments about the scary Detroit where white suburbanites dare not venture likely reflects the racial tensions and attitudes of the late 1980s. But it's not reflected in the number of suburbanites who trek downtown in the winter for the Lions and Red Wings and in the summer for the Tigers and the cultural events and festivals. Plus, there's been a surge in suburbanites moving back into the city to take advantage of the cultural opportunities that the city still offers. While many areas of Detroit are suffering, the downtown area, especially along the Detroit River, is much improved from the 1980s and I would challenge you to find an area downtown that doesn't look better than it did 20 years ago.

    As for the idea that Oakland County needs to create a brand distinct from Detroit, it's been one that's been pushed by some suburbanites. But I think most people have realized that the time and energy required to create a distinct brand for the County is better put into efforts to improve the region as a whole. That has included the creation of the Automation Alley branding that has sought to highlight the high-tech aspects of the auto business and use that to leverage new development that can take advantage of the technical and engineering knowledege in the area in non-automotive industries. Until the latest economic downtown, Oakland County didn't lack economic growth. But it was clear to all that the County's fate was tied to that of Detroit's. Simply rebranding the County into a distinct identity won't change that reality and would do little or nothing to get Detroit going in the right direction.

    If you really want to understand Detroit, you need to actually come to the city and spend some time seeing what's here and how the communities interact (and don't, we're notorious for failed regional efforts). Armchair analysis based on a couple of trips to the city over the past 20 years isn't cutting it.

  22. David says:

    Anon 12:37 you certainly have some fair points about reading too much into one’s experiences, if like me, you are only an occasional visitor to the region, although I have been in the area many times without winding up in Detroit. However I am still not sure how integrated into the regional economy city of Detroit truly is.

    “there's been a surge in suburbanites moving back into the city to take advantage of the cultural opportunities that the city still offers.” In cities like Atlanta where this is undisputedly true the city demographics and racial balance has changed to reflect this. My understanding is that the racial balance in Detroit is not that different than what it was in the 80s. Are you saying this is not really true? I was also saying that relatively few Detroit residents work for the big 3 and that a lot of the money in the region is not spent in Detroit. Of course, there are the casinos, but their impact is another discussion. Minus the casinos, I did not think Detroit’s slice of the Southeastern Michigan revenue pie was any bigger than it was during the bad old 80s. In fact I would not be surprised if it was considerably smaller. Certainly Detroit’s (the city) current problems are both a long time in the making and very bad, (even in comparison to the rest of Southeast Michigan) which again leads me to wonder if you are overstating your case a little.

    I guess it all comes down to whether the problems of this populous region are best dealt with piecemeal to address specific problems/groups like I was suggesting or more ‘holistically’ to address the region’s problems together as you suggest is the best course.

  23. Anonymous says:

    If you look at where people with decent employment prospects are moving in this country there are basically three patterns:

    1) Moving to metros that never had masses of unskilled/unemployed people.

    2) Moving to "coordination" neighborhoods, where enough other high income people are simultaneously moving so everyone is gauranteed few low-income neighbors and fewer in the future.

    3) Moving to sprawling exurbs to get away from low-skilled, low-income people in the central city and inner suburbs.

    The housing stock is also a factor for couples with children beyond toddler age. They want some extra space in their house and yard that is very rare in central city neighborhoods. This is true even though most of those couples love the city neighborhoods they spent their 20s in.

    It would be wonderful if we could retrofit some of the nearly empty neighborhoods in our shrinking cities to create a place for middle to upper income families with children. This could involve removing every other home, converting doubles to singles, or clearing acres of land and building modern homes.

    But there are several obstacles.

    In segregated cities, the elected officials serve social-service dependent populations and openly hostile to middle class families.

    Clearing or converting areas would involve hundreds of property owners and hold-up disputes.

    Middle class families are extremely sensitive to safety.

    I am not aware of any central city neighborhood that has gone over to ghetto, and then come all the way back to being safe enough for middle class families with school-age children. You can find city neighborhoods that have never been bad and neighborhoods that have been down, but become safe enough for middle class singles, childless couples, and pre-schoolers. But it is very difficult to get every last intimidating character out of the neighborhood, especially if it borders a bad area. You can't let your ten-year-old walk two blocks to her friend's house if there are any of these people around. And if you have to drive/escort the kids everywhere for safety, you might as well live in an exurb.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Just to clarify

    -Metro populations in the rust belt are shrinking very slowly, or growing very slowly.

    -Most central cities or cores of annexing cities are shrinking rapidly.

    -Anyone who cares about vibrant urban neighborhoods (urbanophile readers, investors, corporate location choosers, most educated young adults) doesn't want to see a doughnut metro area. Being a doughnut sooner or later drags the economy and quality of life down.

    -In an ideal world, we would educate and employ everyone. That would be good for the uneducated-unemployed and it would remove most of the disincentive from living in the central city (being near desperate, dangerous people). Fixing the housing stock would be relatively easy.

    -As a society we have proven unable and/or unwilling to educate or employ a third of our population. We have chosen to geographically segregate ourselves instead.

    Are we looking for are ways for Rust Belt cities to disperse their unemployed to other regions, while retaining their educated people? Or are we trying to achieve a "demographic inversion" so wealthy people can stop fleeing further and further from the core, creating the doughnut.

  25. The Urbanophile says:

    David, thanks for the comments.

    What I would say is that there are pockets of prosperity in almost any location. Go to Sao Paulo and see luxury to rival New York or Paris, surrounded by seas of impoverishment. Oakland County does not a region make. Also, Oakland County itself has been stagnant in population for some time and is even slightly declining at the moment. The New York Times recently did a major article on the challenges facing Grosse Pointe.

    I do think the key question of what to do on a regional basis is a valid one. Should the federal government, for example, continue to subsidize additional suburban infrastructure in a region that isn't growing? That only fuels the development of the Disposable City. Regions that aren't growing – and none of these Rust Belt cities has been growing near the national average for quite some time – ought to have their funding priorities questioned.

  26. The Urbanophile says:

    marko, I agree that the auto industry is not going away in Detroit. The auto design and engineering expertise of Detroit is a key center of the economic future of the region. But as wonderful as that is, it won't produce enough jobs, and certainly not enough jobs for low-skilled labor at good wages, to sustain a region of nearly 5.5 million people. Ford's River Rouge plant used to employ 100,000 people. How do you replace that?

  27. The Urbanophile says:

    The reference to Atlanta shows the scale of the problem. Places like Atlanta or Chicago have a combination of regional growth and/or demand for urban living that generates sufficient quantity of redevelopment to transform large parts of the city. Detroit, Cleveland, Indy, etc. don't have nearly enough of this to deal with their vast acreages of struggling territory. That's the challenge.

  28. Alon Levy says:

    I am not aware of any central city neighborhood that has gone over to ghetto, and then come all the way back to being safe enough for middle class families with school-age children.

    New York has many such neighborhoods, chiefly in Downtown Manhattan and the western sections of Brooklyn and Queens – for instance, the East Village, Chelsea, SoHo/TriBeCa, Ridgewood, and Williamsburg. Those neighborhoods have low crime rates and either are filling with condos or have a burgeoning population of white middle-class families.

    In fact, the concern among parents who move to the New York suburbs is schools rather than crime. Even in high-crime cities like Philadelphia, the gentrified neighborhoods are safe. The real issue is that central cities like New York have no segregated public schools except possibly a few selective magnet schools. Inner suburbs with too many minorities and free-lunch kids in their schools don't attract middle class families, even if their crime rates are low (e.g. Yonkers).

  29. marko says:

    Urbanophile –

    I guess what I was trying to say is that a lot of the tertiary industries like sensors and robotics that whose major market is the auto industry do employ large numbers of unskilled workers. Chips and sensors are actual very similar to old style production lines. Workers learn to operate a plasma etching machine fed with data from engineers – its a low skill position like a press operator. However most of production occurs in Taiwan or pockets of California and Nevada. It should and could be located in Detroit. Robotics to offers a lot of semi skilled mechanics and hydraulics positions. I have no idea who makes the robots but I would venture to say its not in Detroit.

    One thing modern economists overlook about manufacturing is spatial proximity of the supplier to customer. We think distance doesn't matter but clustering has leads to innovations when the robotic arm supplier can be onsite to see the real world challenges on the line on a daily basis. it leads to innovation no one thought about when the engineer 1000 miles away is just given a problem to solve. There was a good book written that touched on this in the garment and printing businesses in Chicago which were under assault as early as the 40s yet persisted into the 80's despite global competition. Researchers found that the clustering of pattern makers, cutters and fabric dyers in the same loft building sharing the same freight elevators had a serious competitive advantage even over cheap imports and could react much faster to change. Same with the printers. What they eventually couldn't compete with was land use policy and mass imports through American retail buyers who narrowed their variety. My Godfather still owns a 3 tower press in the west Loop and to this day in 2009 despite the drive to rid the area of industry, the spatial proximity to other print related companies is still profitable despite also hundreds of times increases in the value of land.

    The book is called Remaking Chicago by Rast. It has some surprising insights that seem counterintuitve to most planning and policy taught in schools for the last 30 years.

  30. Alon Levy says:

    One thing modern economists overlook about manufacturing is spatial proximity of the supplier to customer.

    On the contrary, Paul Krugman just got a Nobel Prize for his role in new trade theory, which give spatial proximity special place. Krugman argues that nowadays spatial proximity has become less important due to improvements in transportation technology, so the clustering of manufacturing around the Rust Belt is dissipating.

  31. JG says:

    DAVID: You may be correct about the outlying counties of Detroit needing to rebrand distinct from Detroit. However, I am convinced you forgot to read the original post that argues Detroit (the city of Detroit) and others in the “Rust Belt” need to downsize geographically. In other words vast areas of the city that lie mostly vacant would be converted to agriculture or wilderness. I cannot imagine you disagree with that strategy. Cleveland is another example with a drop from population peak in the 1950s of 900,000 to below 450,000 – the same (or possibly) larger geographic area with half the population. The trend continues in Buffalo with a drop from around 500,000 people through the 1920s to 1950s down to under 280,000 estimated today. These numbers are still trending downward. Even Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) and Erie County (Buffalo) are losing population.

  32. Alon Levy says:

    JG, agriculture is more useful on the outskirt of the urban area, where it can be built at any scale, than in a vacant lot whose size is constrained and whose property values may appreciate. It might be better for Detroit and Cleveland to instead increase lot size – for example, destroy a pair of houses and offer the land as one large lot for a single-family, or destroy just one of the houses and offer the lot as a yard for the other house.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Alon – Paul got a nobel prize for saying the same they've been saying for 30 years. However I'll take the word of a guy who owns a printing press, stamping shop or rolling mill and employs people in order to make a profit.

  34. marko says:

    anon 10:10 is me – forgot to check in

  35. Alon Levy says:

    No, he got the Nobel Prize for understanding how these mechanisms underpin global trade. Either way, he's not making anything up; he shows how the concentration of manufacturing around the Boston-Milwaukee-St. Louis-Baltimore quadrilateral started loosening after WW2, so for example cars can be made in Alabama and Tennessee and not just Michigan and Ohio.

  36. JG says:

    ALON: True, agriculture has always been on the outskirts of cities. However, there is some discussion about converting failed vacant sections of cities into either farms or greenhouses. I agree such a proposal would not work lot by lot, but could rather by converting entire failed neighborhoods. URBANO makes the argument this must be done with the upmost SENSITIVITY and he, as well as us all, know this is easier said than done. However, many neighborhoods in Rust Belt cities exist with 25% or fewer of their original structures standing and continue to lose ground each year.

    Such is an opportunity for municipalities to reduce infrastructure associated costs, and profitably use land. With time such land might find its way toward redevelopment.

    I am aware of YOUNGSTOWN, OH plan to consolidate plots as you mentioned. I like that approach too.

  37. Anonymous says:

    There is much to like about the concept of strategically shrinking Rustbelt cities. But, at this point, I think it will likely remain another exotic planning concept that garners more ink than substance in the Midwest.

    Significant opportunities are there for for smaller cities with enlightened leadership. But, there are also significant institutional and operational barriers to to managed shrinkage becoming standard practice on a wide scale.

    It's hard for me to conceive leaders from both the public and private sectors—the ones that have been so thoroughly pantsed by globalism—being capable of orchestrating effective interventions that mitigate the impacts of the market forces that have been so obvious for so long.

    The only way it could work is through strong public / private partnerships that gain popular support and show benefits quickly. And, those will probably succeed only through the heroic efforts of a small number of committed grassroots leaders who know how to organize and command attention.

    In the meantime, I would be very skeptical of big budget, top-down efforts (even if they exercise local control over how Federal dollars are spent), no matter how worthy they appear to be on paper… unless there is a critical mass of public sector support for any alternatives to proposed land uses beyond land banking.

    I don't wish to sound so negative. But, cities are still on the losing end of public sector support for game-changing attention and resources. The stimulus dollars that flowed into long-planned, but unfunded transportation projects (until now) shows where the center of power lies. It's not in the inner cores of Rustbelt cities.

    It's cruel to raise widespread expectations that governments have solutions and will ride the rescue. It's better, for now, for everyone to understand the powerful effects of the global marketplace, what that means to them individually and what they can do to address its impacts.

  38. Jim Russell says:

    "Either way, he's not making anything up; he shows how the concentration of manufacturing around the Boston-Milwaukee-St. Louis-Baltimore quadrilateral started loosening after WW2, so for example cars can be made in Alabama and Tennessee and not just Michigan and Ohio."

    If that's the synopsis, then the research is flawed. The urban economics changed, making greenfield development much more attractive. A contiguous Rust Belt region is a myth. The same story of decline applies to Chattanooga and Birmingham. Just so happens that most of the centers of American manufacturing are in the Boston-Milwaukee-St. Louis-Baltimore quadrilateral.

    That leaves the brownfields with one option: Urban triage and better density.

  39. Alon Levy says:

    A contiguous Rust Belt region is a myth. The same story of decline applies to Chattanooga and Birmingham.

    True. But Chattanooga and Birmingham were never very successful, not nearly to the same extent Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit were. They were too far away from the major industrial centers to take significant part in the manufacturing economy. They're rust belt cities now, but were never manufacturing belt cities.

    In fact, only two cities outside the old manufacturing belt were as developed as the cities within the belt: San Francisco and New Orleans. Neither was much of an industrial center, and both arose as centers of trade between their remote regions and the rest of the world. They were basically colonial ports, exporting primary goods from the hinterland to the center. New Orleans never transcended that mechanic, which is why it declined so much. San Francisco did mainly because the West Coast became important in and after World War Two, and was showered with defense money; this made California a secondary manufacturing belt.

  40. Jim Russell says:

    But Chattanooga and Birmingham were never very successful, not nearly to the same extent Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit were. They were too far away from the major industrial centers to take significant part in the manufacturing economy. They're rust belt cities now, but were never manufacturing belt cities.

    Depends on how you define "successful", but I take your point about the relative isolation. I assume it has something to do with density of operations and economies of scale. That acknowledged, manufacturing cities of the South rose and declined much like its Manufacturing Belt kin.

    I don't see any reason to exclude them from the shrinking city family. We can go around the world and find a repeat of the same story, the same set of problems.

  41. pete from baltimore says:

    I don't know if this is completly relevant to this post.But in today's Washington Post there are several articles about Fairfax County [a DC suburb ] becoming officialy a city.

    It has to do with Fairfax becoming more urbanised. And the fact that the "new" city would gain control of all secondary roads from the state.

    Fairfax County has a population of one million people vs six hundred thousand for Washington DC.
    In other words the "suburb" of Fairfax would be bigger than the city it is a "suburb" to. Fairfax will also become one of the largest cities in America.

    One wonders if this is the future.Suburbs becoming major cities.

  42. Anonymous says:

    "One wonders if this is the future.Suburbs becoming major cities."

    Sometimes this is just a matter of semantics. For almost every public service, didn't Fairfax effectively operate as a city already? It sounds like the main push it to gain control of certain roads. A similar situation exists here in Michigan. We have townships that are full-service municipalities with full-time police and fire departments and the full range of services. The only thing they don't control or fund are local roads. Otherwise, they provide as many and in some cases, even more services than neighboring cities.

  43. Anonymous says:

    Shrinking is a huge pride issue, but its details do matter. Most of the fast growing cities are attracting hundreds of thousands of unskilled Hispanic immigrants. The housing boom is over, how do you employ those people now?

    If you take an "average" midwestern city – 3M people, 2M over 25yrs, and 25% of adults are college grads. That city would become smart, hip, prosperous, and young if you could shrink it by getting 350,000 uneducated people to move away. College attainment would become 30%.

    We had "go west young man" and the Great Migration, mostly organized by private organizations. If cities/states can't do this politically, maybe a civic group could.

    Where could we encourage our unskilled people to go?

  44. Jim Russell says:

    Where could we encourage our unskilled people to go?

    Alberta and Saskatchewan. For the really adventurous, Australia.

  45. Alon Levy says:

    Most of the fast growing cities are attracting hundreds of thousands of unskilled Hispanic immigrants. The housing boom is over, how do you employ those people now?

    Why don't we ask the cities of Texas, which are adding jobs as we speak, without being Anglo-only?

  46. pete from baltimore says:

    Regarding anonymouse at 8:38 am

    You seem to be using the terms "uneducated" and "unskilled" to mean the same thing.You seem to share the desire of Richard Florida to make our cities more "hip".

    I fail to see how an English proffessor is any more "skilled" than a plumber who may not have a high school diploma.

    We need college proffesors in our cities and in society as a whole.But we also need plumbers who are just as skilled and trained in their proffessions as college proffessors are in theirs.

    I myself did not finish high school . But I have never been on welfare or unemployment.Nor have i recieved any charity from anyone including my parents.I am not claiming to be a hugely succesful business man . But I do own a very small construction business and i do get involved in my community by volunteering on community projects.

    I fail to see how we can make our cities better by pushing out all of the blue collar people.

    I do not consider myself better than any college grads.Nor do i consider myself inferior.

    On my block we have college educated proffessionals and non college educated blue collar workers.We all contribute to our community.

    A couple of weeks ago me and my neighbor and friend who is a school psycoligist both cleaned up our alley together.I do not think that our community would be better off without either of us.Although we have different educational levels we both contribute to our neighborhoods wellbeing.And we both can be and are friends.

    With all due respect mr/mrs Anonymouse if all of these " uneducated" people left your city who would fix your plumbing.Who would put a new roof on.Who would cook your food when you ate out.

    I do not want to live in a city of nothing but college educated proffessionals.Nor do i want to live in a city of just blue collar workers.Diversity is good and diversity is about more than race.

  47. thundermutt says:

    "I am not aware of any central city neighborhood that has gone over to ghetto, and then come all the way back to being safe enough for middle class families with school-age children."

    Fall Creek Place, Indianapolis.

    Formerly "Dodge City"…so called by the Indianapolis Police Department. Not named after the car brand, but after the Wild West place.

  48. Anonymous says:

    A lot of things I post on here are sarcastic. I'm restating the arguments of the navel gazing academics and pundits, hoping they might notice how rediculous they sound.

    They are falling all over themselves to create the high tech economy and bohemian meccas. Most of the time we are just supposed to assume that the creative class will drop a few dollars for landscapers and bus-boys. They so completely forget about people who exist outside their circle that they don't even bother to discuss them.

    We, as a society have a horrible record of leaving people behind. Look at the maps of poverty in the US. It's basically Indian Reservations, the lower Mississippi valley, Appalachia, and Northeast/Midwest urban cores. We only pay some attention to the latter group because they occupy some desirable parts of some cities, and they cramp the creative class lifestyle.

    What I wish everyone would be thinking about is how to create a place for all Americans in our economy.

  49. Anonymous says:

    The things about a given place that appeal to the so-called "creative class" generally appeal to all people. A key difference is that the creative class has the financial resources to to hang tough when a neighborhood or city faces challenges, or move on to locations with better economic and quality of life opportunities.

    Creating places that appeal to the creative class is a bellwether benchmark, the same as creating places that are considered "family friendly."

    Chasing talent is not wrong, per se. These days, talent attracts employers with the good jobs. Good jobs that pay the best salaries provide a number of benefits, not the least of which are families that can afford to let one parent stay at home and help raise a family. Stay-at-home parents also have the resources to become to become activists in a variety of local initiatives that enhance community life. This is an advantage that has not been sufficiently analyzed in contemporary research.

    The danger is that only the creative class constitutes only about 1/3 of the population. In other words, there's only so much talent to be had. Cities in the Midwest that lack appealing urban amenities, which is just about every city that Urbanophile follows except Chicago, are already behind the curve when it comes to competing with places that have superior amenities, especially if they are compelling natural amenities (oceans, mountains, better weather).

    What we are seeing right now is a Darwinian marketplace for talent. The larger Midwestern cities will continue to attract talent from the rural countryside, but will, in turn, lose talent to locations with more attractive amenities and economic opportunities. It is not yet clear to me that strategies focussed on recruiting virgin talent or Midwestern ex-patriots based on the current status quo is a truly winning approach (and I speak as a native Midwesterner who has remained).

    The bottom line is that it's best not to get hung up on trendy terms like "creative class." It's better to focus on how Midwestern cities functions as entities in a global marketplace.

    What does the marketplace want? What is our city's current marketplace position? What are our city's marketplace strengths and aspirations? What do we have to do become more attractive to an increasingly global marketplace?

    As I've said in previous posts, the global marketplace doesn't give a rat's behind about personal opinions. It has its own logic and demands. Good things are happening in various Midwestern cities, but there is clearly not yet a critical mass of change that has thwarted the transfer of talent and resources to the big "Smiley Belt" that follows the coasts, from Boston to Seattle.

    Transformation will have to occur at the community level, it will have to be highly visible and it will have to happen quickly to sustain momentum.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

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