Shifting Government for Shrinking Cities


The November issue of Governing has a very interesting article by Christopher Swope–and I note it not because of the libertarian bonafides of either the magazine, which has none, or of the article in and of itself–about how governments like that of Youngstown, Ohio, are coping with the fact that everyone with any sense is running like hell out of town.

It involves giving up on some traditional government programs like low-income housing tax credits and subsidies–as Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams said, "A brand-new house constructed between two houses that need to be demolished — we're not doing anybody a favor"–in favor of some new ones, like spending lots of local government bucks on demolishing abandoned properties. Also, some taking advantage of federal mandates such as those that require developers to create new wetlands for old wetlands their development destroys–Youngstown is full of land just begging to be turned back into swamp, and thanks to government mandates, that can be worth gold to developers.

The summation of the problem that many governments of smaller (and getting even smaller) industrial cities in the midwest are facing:

Instead of accepting decline and trying to manage it in a deliberate way, mayors tend to gravitate toward revitalization plans that involve building convention centers and sports arenas and subsidizing hotels and shopping malls. They also get into desperate fights with the Census Bureau over population estimates and counting methodology. "How many politicians in America will stand on a soapbox and say, 'I'm going to lead this city and we're going to shrink it?' " asks Joseph Schilling, a professor at Virginia Tech's Metropolitan Institute.

The point of the story is: a lot of them are going to have to. As a study of how bureaucrats try to adjust to changing circumstances, well worth a read.