Land Use

Question: What Do Cleveland, Detroit, Scranton, Springfield (Mass.), Buffalo, and Five Other Cities Have in Common?

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Answer: They are among the most rapidly dying cities in the country, according to Forbes. Using economic and demographic data, the business mag charted where people were fleeing the most and where GDP growth was weakest from 2001 through 2005.

Nearly every city in the country grew during this period (New Orleans, devastated from Hurricane Katrina, was the notable exception), but the struggling cities on our list grew more sluggishly. None of them grew more than 1.9% a year, versus a nationwide average of 2.7%. Canton, Ohio, managed to grow its economy just 0.7% annually. Flint was worse still at 0.4%.

None of these cities now face the huge declines in real estate prices seen by Phoenix, Miami or Las Vegas, where the Case-Shiller Home Price Index shows nearly 30% declines from a year ago. Detroit is off only about 15%, Cleveland only 8%. Don't call it a bright spot. Prices never went up in the first place.

For the full list, depressing pictures, and more, go here.

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  1. Question: What Do Cleveland, Detroit, Scranton, Springfield (Mass.), Buffalo, and Five Other Cities Have in Common?

    Rust Belt cities?

    Heavily unionized? With local governments in hock to the unions?

    Effing cold?

  2. I was slightly surprised to see that this includes metro areas, not just cities. From what I can tell, the Cleveland suburbs are thriving even though the city is a decaying shithole. The city is so desperate for new residents that you don’t have to pay property tax for 15 years if you build a new house there.

    So what solves this? Would simply reducing taxes, especially business taxes, solve this, or is it more complicated? And is this even really a problem that need to be solved, or is it just a natural part of the life cycle of cities?

  3. After living in quickly growing cities for many years I moved to a dying city (Syracuse, NY). As far as its long decline goes, it now has fewer people than in 1910.

    Can I just say — it is SO GREAT. The old buildings are falling apart, but they are still beautiful to look at. Cheap housing. Sidewalks (crumbling, but still there). Light traffic everywhere and always. Elbow room.

    If you can get a decent job in one, dying cities rule.

  4. The article tries to draw a connection between the housing spike and economic growth, but Houston’s unzoned stable housing market easily debunks this.

  5. previous populations dependent on mostly a single industry for work?

  6. I hope they keep that branch of Dunder-Mifflin open.

  7. If you can get a decent job in one

    And there’s the rub.

    You can always telecommute like Nick.

  8. Well, the first two cities made me think “Rock” was the answer. Not sure if it fits well with any of the others.

    I suspect the true culprit in all of this is overly intrusive government.

  9. I’m surprised Hartford didn’t make the list, but it is mentioned in the picture of Springfield. Once the insurance capital of the world, Hartford is doing shittier and shittier.

  10. Canton, Cleveland and Springfield all have Hall of Fames.

  11. The problem with Scranton is that the small paper companies there can not compete.

  12. Beat your fat ass to it, PFJ.

  13. Question: What Do Cleveland, Detroit, Scranton, Springfield (Mass.), Buffalo, and Five Other Cities Have in Common?

    They haven’t sunk to the level of Gary, IN … yet?

  14. Don’t talk down to the fatty, Jamie.

  15. RC,

    Rust Belt cities? There you go.

    Heavily unionized? With local governments in hock to the unions?

    Effing cold?

    That describes Boston, New York City, Philadelplhia, Lowell, and Chicago, and they’re all doing quite well.

    It’s the underlying economic situation, the movement of manufacturing from the industrial north to the south, and overseas. Cities in these area that have been able to develop other business sectors have overcome the rust-belt era, while cities that have not, have not.

    Warty,

    There has never been a declining city like this that was revitalized by lowering taxes, because for a metro area to lose population like that, there needs to be some underlying economic problem. You can set taxes at zero in Springfield, it still won’t make economic sense to locate a modern business there.

    And is this even really a problem that need to be solved, or is it just a natural part of the life cycle of cities? When you’re talking about something of such magnitude as the migration of the metals and instruments industry out of western Massachusetts, it’s not something that can be solved, in terms of stopping the loss from happening. You can try to build up other business sectors, but unless the industrial city happens to also be, or be near, a city/region with a strong presence in a growing economic sector, that’s not going to turn around a trend like this. The smartest strategy is to aim for a soft landing – a smaller city that is a nice place to live, with an economy that supports that smaller population.

  16. joe, what’s your take on Hartford’s woes? Have you followed it at all?

  17. I don’t know much about Hartford. I imagine that the collapse of the manufacturing sector along the Connecticut River, inlcuding that in Massachusetts, has done a job on it, though.

    Has it actually lost financial industry jobs?

  18. Duh… what they have in common are successful comedy TV shows set there.

    Detroit: Martin
    Cleveland: Drew Carey Show
    Buffalo: Mork and Mindy
    Scranton: The Office
    Springfield: The Simpsons

  19. Can anyone tell me why this is a bad thing?

    It seems that what we’re dealing with here is the continuing decrease in migration costs, combined with “best of breed” effect that causes certain urban areas to have a higher gravitational pull than others.

    Why live in Springfield when you can live in Boston? Why live in Hartford when you can live in NY? Why live in Detroit when you can live in Chicago? The larger areas offer more opportunities, both in terms of jobs and recreation. They’ll continue to have a larger pull over smaller areas.

    Smaller areas will remain because they will retain a cost of living advantage. Thus, the occasional enterprising entrepreneur will continue to develop in “dying” areas.

    Populations will shift. Life will go on.

  20. Actually from what I’ve read there are plenty of people packing out of Chicago, partly due to douchebag Daley and his cronies. I’m not sure what the actual numbers are but I do remember reading that the growth numbers have been decreasing over the last few years, not sure if they’ve actually hit negative net growth.

  21. Has it actually lost financial industry jobs?

    A lot of the insurance companies have left. Crime is bad. There is only one really cool Japanese restaurant.

  22. Dave W –

    You forgot to mention Dinosaur BBQ.

  23. MP,

    Well, in the sense that crappy government policies, be them protectionist or whatever, are probably to blame. Some folks got to make their retirement and more from corrupt government actions and the people left behind are screwed with a loss in wealth.

    In the macro sense, it is a benefit to the places that gaind the productive people who fled these towns.

  24. Reinmoose | August 7, 2008, 12:47pm | #

    previous populations dependent on mostly a single industry for work?

    Ding ding ding!

    Cities like NY, Boston, and Chicago all had pre-existing alternate industries to take up the slack. Notably, those were all major commercial centers prior to the industrial revolution, while the cities singled out here grew up as industrial cities.

  25. When Houston begins its decline, hoo boy, watch out, it ain’t gonna be as graceful as some of those northern cities. All sorts of things are going to come out of the ground when those refineries shut their doors.

  26. Why live in Hartford when you can live in NY?

    But this doesn’t fly. Why live in Stamford, CT, which is even closer to NYC, when you can live in NYC? Well, a lot of people prefer to, since Stamford has been one of the fastest growing cities in the US for a while now. Stamford has made significant efforts to attract businesses, and it has worked (I do not know if this includes subsidies such as partly paying for headquarters, etc), partly because of the proximity to NYC. If you need to go to Gotham, it only takes 40 minutes, but you don’t have to deal with the traffic, taxes, and extreme expense otherwise.

    Look, if Vince McMahon decides your city is good enough for WWE headquarters, you have to be doing well.

  27. MP,

    Can anyone tell me why this is a bad thing?

    Because there are still going to be many thousands of people left behind.

    Why live in Springfield when you can live in Boston? Because you can’t afford Boston, if you’re looking for the Rational Economic Man answer. Those “lowered” migration costs can still be quite a barrier for a lot of people. Also, because your family and life are there.

    It’s not, in an overall sense, a bad thing for some cities to grow and others to shrink, but the devil is in the details.

  28. Well, in the sense that crappy government policies, be them protectionist or whatever, are probably to blame.

    You see this answer from people who are, let’s say, have read a lot more about political theory than urban and economic history.

    When faced with the strong economic growth of other cities in the region with very similar economic policies, such people generally don’t have an answer.

    Cities decline because historical changes cause them to lose their competitive advantage. It’s the market at work.

  29. I’m used to being in dying cities, and while I acknowledge it means not so many people my age, they really aren’t that bad of places either. In some ways it’s like living in a hybrid big place/small place, where a lot of major chains (whole foods, trader joes) won’t touch you, but that means that entrepreneurs will (and do) fill in those gaps – sometimes you get more character out of it.

  30. The picture of Springfield, Mass. was hardly depressing, and an unemployment rate of 5.9% doesn’t strike me as a ball-buster. Prior to the Clinton years, 5% was considered “full employment.” If Springfield is considered a “rapidly dying city,” the U.S. must be in pretty good shape.

    Until the “Greater Southwest” (Southern California through Texas) starts to run out of water, I think the population drain from the old Great Lakes industrial complex will continue indefinitely. GM, Ford, and Chrysler are all in big trouble; manufacturing continues to become more efficient; and, thanks to air conditioning, people seem to mind the cold more than the heat.

  31. I’m actually interested in living for a while in a medium sized or dying city. I’ve only lived in huge cities (NYC, Baltimore) or small towns. I did live in Stamford for a while but that was just as it was beginning its rise and it was still pretty damn small.

  32. Stamford needs some basic drainage. A recent thunderstorm resulted in over a foot of floodwater effectively cutting the city in half. There were wooden planks literally floating and tying up traffic.
    Stamford also has the largest contingent of day laborers I’ve ever seen outside LA.

  33. When Houston begins its decline, hoo boy, watch out, it ain’t gonna be as graceful as some of those northern cities. All sorts of things are going to come out of the ground when those refineries shut their doors.

    Actually, my job is getting rid of those things before they happen.

  34. Where’s J sub D on this?

    Detroit’s mayor was taken to county jail this afternoon.

  35. Episiarch –
    If you live in a medium-sized dying or struggling city, be wary of the crazy insecurities of the city. Some marketing attempts and announcements of a few measly jobs from some company that the city/state has paid millions of dollars to produce are just plain depressing.
    I had to go to Louisville on business once. In the airport, you know what their slogan is? “America’s 16th Largest City.” Now, anybody who actually believes that is either foreign or really just in denial. What they did was consolidate their inner suburbs to create a higher “city” population. It’s just so sad…

  36. We’d all like to drop everything and flee to the Cleve…

  37. I’m not saying it’s too sad, but it’s like the people who REALLY THINK their loser of a sports team is going to do well this year.

  38. You forgot to mention Dinosaur BBQ.

    This is about the only restaurant in Syracuse that it is difficult to park near. Fun place and you can get Boylan’s there (but not the cola flavour for reasons that you can probably guess).

    I like Ambrosia’s, too.

  39. Cities decline because historical changes cause them to lose their competitive advantage. It’s the market at work.

    Yep. As they decline costs go down that slows the decline and eventually a new equilibium is reached. If we can ever get competent government* (honest is way too much to ask) in Detroit, we should stabilze at 700 – 800K.

    * Kwame Kilpatrick** has often shown flashes of competence but he’s an arragant ass who is infected with the incompetent cover-up virus. He’ll be gone before Bush is.

    ** His mommy just squeeked out a primary win, largely due the negatives of being Kwame’s mother.

  40. Moose, I’m not sure about the dying part, it’s more the medium-sized part. It would be interesting living in a city that isn’t so huge that it takes 2 hours to go from one edge to another. Even Boston, which is big, seems small to me after NYC. I went from Back Bay to Harvard one time and my NYC-scaled brain assumed the bus ride would take 30-40 minutes and it took 10.

    I’m thinking something like Miami.

  41. You forgot to mention Dinosaur BBQ.

    And Dave, they sell their sauce in stores…and it’s made with sugar and not HFCS!

  42. Where’s J sub D on this?

    Detroit’s mayor was taken to county jail this afternoon.

    Thank’s for the heads up. I was unaware of that when I posted my previous. Like I said, he’s an arrogant ass. It is good to be right once in awhile.

  43. Off topic:

    Interesting article in the NYT that references dear ol’ Reason.

    And, amazingly, their Seattle correspondant doesn’t have his head up his ass.

  44. If I ever have my dream hobby as a muscle car builder I would prefer living in one of the smaller towns.

    Problem is finding an acceptable one without much protectionist crap, lots of junk yards in the area and being able to build a large private airport would not be met with even more local resistance.

    Guess this one is staying a dream for a while longer.

  45. Why live in Stamford, CT, which is even closer to NYC, when you can live in NYC?

    Stamford is an extension of NYC. Just like White Plains and Jersey City. It’s all part of the same metro area.

    Hartford, OTOH, is nowhere.

    Because you can’t afford Boston, if you’re looking for the Rational Economic Man answer.

    But you can afford Lowell. You may want to take credit for your awesome urban planning at resuscitating Lowell, but the entire 495 loop is an extension of the Boston metro area. Lawrence is alive and kicking due to the same gravitational pull.

  46. My house sits on a one acre lot, just 15 minutes outside the gargantuan, 200,000-person, megacity that I work in.

    We don’t got no whole foods or trader joes or whatever. But we don’t got no traffic jams, violent crime, air pollution, or corrupt governments either. The unions guys are pretty well behaved and mostly easy to get along with.

    No skin off my nose when those old rust belt cities go under.

  47. J sub D,

    As they decline costs go down that slows the decline and eventually a new equilibium is reached. If we can ever get competent government* (honest is way too much to ask) in Detroit, we should stabilze at 700 – 800K. Well, there’s a big “if” there – if the decline doesn’t happen in a way that creates a new condition (blight) which itself, and apart from the underlying loss of competitive advantage, drives away investment. This is why I’m big on quality-of-life investments, rather than economic development per se, as a strategy for such cities.

  48. After having the pleasure of being a law student in Springfield for the past 2 years, I’m happy that only one is left. The city that brought us basketball, Monopoly, S&W, and green eggs is a shell with no answers. Same demonrats gain power and the only new influx is either those on assistance or college kids from the countryside.

    While the picture of Springfield isn’t depressing, walking a few of the city streets is. There isn’t any real “safe” area inside the city proper.

  49. [Warty:]I was slightly surprised to see that this includes metro areas, not just cities.

    I get the impression that the list is only about metro areas, not literal cities; I think that “Forbes” is, unfortunately, conflating the terms.

    [SugarFree:] Duh… what they have in common are successful comedy TV shows set there.

    Detroit: Martin
    Cleveland: Drew Carey Show
    Buffalo: Mork and Mindy
    Scranton: The Office
    Springfield: The Simpsons

    “Mork and Mindy” was set in Boulder, Colo. If you want to include cult-classic sitcoms, “Buffalo Bill” was indeed set in Buffalo.

  50. MP,

    But you can afford Lowell. Depends – are we talking about middle class people or poor people? Poor people in Springfield and Holyoke can’t afford even Worcester.

    You may want to take credit for your awesome urban planning at resuscitating Lowell, but the entire 495 loop is an extension of the Boston metro area. Lawrence is alive and kicking due to the same gravitational pull. Half true. The expansion of the Boston metro area was a necessary condition for Lowell’s renewal (rather than denying this, it’s the reason I mentioned being “near a city/region with a strong presence in a growing economic sector”), but not a sufficient one. Lawrence is way behind Lowell, and is just now showing signs of life. The major difference between the two is that Lowell had a much more effective public-sector effort to promote revitalization.

  51. “Mork and Mindy” was set in Boulder, Colo.

    Stupid mixed-up “B” cities. Grr.

  52. A metro area losing population is quite a different beast than a city losing population.

    Boston lost population so far this decade, even as it’s undergone and economic boom, mainly because housing units that used to be rented to a working class family with kids have now been converted to condos and sold to yuppies without kids.

    You can also see cities that declined in population from the 40s-90s, even as their metro area boomed in population and economic growth, owing to suburbanization.

    When a whole metro area is losing population, there’s something serious going on. It’s not just a lateral shift, it’s a real decline.

  53. Maybe you need another Rockstar, NutraSweet.

  54. SugarFree,

    Mork made the Buffalo joke himself. He mentioned Boulder, CO and a large boulder almost fell on him. His response was “Sure glad I didnt land in Buffalo”.

    Why is that stuck in my brain? 30 years, its been there.

  55. Had to get off the Rockstars. They were interfering with what little sleep I actually get.

    robc, uh, maybe because Mork and Mindy was AWESOME? Although it should have gone off the air before they had the old-baby.

  56. joe,

    How do you determine if an MSA is shrinking or growing when they keep adding new counties to it?

    1980 census – Louisville had 5 counties
    1990 census – Louisville had 7 counties, it had grown in population from the 1980 census, but the 5 counties from 1980 had shrunk (and the growth in the other 2, if you include them in 1980 numbers arent enough to make up the difference).
    2000 census – Louisville had 14 counties, up over 200k in population but about 140k was from the 7 new counties. So, the city was growing again anyway, but not as fast as the raw numbers indicate. But the question was, was it shrinking in the 80s or growing, because 2 more counties fit the standard for part of the MSA?

    Also, 1 of the counties added in 2000 isnt considered to be part of the MSA anymore, we are down to 13. Weird.

  57. SugarFree,

    You dissin’ Jonathan Winters?

  58. The Harry Chapin Memorial Choir reminds us, “Yes, we have no bananas, bananas in Scranton, P. A.”

  59. You dissin’ Jonathan Winters?

    Dunno ’bout SugarFree, but I would never dis Jonathon Winters. He is just not relevant enough to bother.

  60. Fixed my handle.
    [palm to forehead] Dumbass.

  61. robc, see both this Wikipedia entry and this one; the “lost” county is the result of how the Census Bureau redefined its metro areas a few years ago (resulting in the new category of Micropolitan Statistical Areas). Of course, there’s also the issue of just how big the city of Louisville itself is.

  62. As they decline costs go down that slows the decline and eventually a new equilibium is reached. If we can ever get competent government* (honest is way too much to ask) in Detroit, we should stabilze at 700 – 800K.

    Well, there’s a big “if” there – if the decline doesn’t happen in a way that creates a new condition (blight) which itself, and apart from the underlying loss of competitive advantage, drives away investment. This is why I’m big on quality-of-life investments, rather than economic development per se, as a strategy for such cities.

    I can safely assert that libertarian and republican minded folk have not exactly had much sway in Motown politics for the last 50 or so years. It is extremely hard to believe that what actually has been accomplished by the forward thinking urban planning embraced by the local pols has been better than, or even as good as, doing nothing at all.

    That said, honest and competency would be an improvement, even keeping that misguided mindset about government shepherded developement.

  63. * Kwame Kilpatrick** has often shown flashes of competence but he’s an arragant ass who is infected with the incompetent cover-up virus. He’ll be gone before Bush is.

    http://www.clickondetroit.com/news/17120142/detail.html

    “Judge Ronald Giles sent Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to Wayne County Jail for failing to notify the court of his trip to Canada and violating the terms of his bond.

    Despite Kilpatrick’s humble apologies to the court beforehand, Giles said he needed to treat Kilpatrick as an ordinary citizen and sent him immediately to jail.

    Giles revoked Kilpatrick’s bond and suspended all travel.”

  64. Whoops, I see this has already been mentioned…

  65. You dissin’ Jonathan Winters?

    The show didn’t jump the shark at that point, it raped the shark and then didn’t get convicted because a lab mix-up at that point.

    But I have nothing against Mr. Winters personally.

  66. When Houston begins its decline, hoo boy, watch out, it ain’t gonna be as graceful as some of those northern cities. All sorts of things are going to come out of the ground when those refineries shut their doors.

    Already happened. Look at what happened in Houston after the oil crash in the 80s. Houston’s economy is much less of a one trick pony than it used to be.

    Of course, I’ll still be screwed when oil goes under.

  67. Chicago proper has lost population recently due to CHA high-rises being torn down. Half of the residents were resettled into (mostly southern) suburban section 8 apartments. The apartments were available partly because so many apartment dwellers suddenly qualified for home loans when the underwriting standards went to shit.

    So we essentially replaced the Robert Taylor Homes with a Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac bailout.

  68. but unless the industrial city happens to also be, or be near, a city/region with a strong presence in a growing economic sector, that’s not going to turn around a trend like this.

    The converse is sort of true as well; you can be a little too close to growing metro area so that you have no competetative advantage as a regional center, but too far for synergistic growth.

    I am thinking of the case of Macon, GA, a city that has been in steady decline for 4 decades. It is 90 miles south of Atl, so it’s too far to be part of the metro area. But it’s close enough to Atl, that if your putting a business in Georgia, you might has well just locate in the Atl so your close enough to Hartfield. If your flying to/from Macon, the mid-ga regional airport is 15 miles south of town, and you wind up flying through Hartsfield anyway – so you might as well just drive the hour to go to Hartsfeld anyway, or more likely set up in Griffin or Mcdonough so you’re only 1/2 hour away.

    The only thing keeping the region alive with the tobacco industry (brown&willimson) decimation is the Warner Robbins base, which has made the adjacent epononymous town nearly half the size of Macon proper.

  69. Despite Kilpatrick’s humble apologies to the court beforehand, Giles said he needed to treat Kilpatrick as an ordinary citizen and sent him immediately to jail.

    Giles revoked Kilpatrick’s bond and suspended all travel.

    Two thoughts:

    (1) Doesn’t being in jail sort of automatically suspend all travel?

    (2) ROFLMAO.

  70. Non-urban New England has been declining since before the turn of the 20th Century, hasn’t it?

    Joe’s right–places rise and decline, and the actions of government are mostly an incidental part of it. I would add that governments are much more like to accelerate the decline than contribute to the rise, however. The best thing the city and state govts. in Michigan could do would be to deregulate and allow the accumulated knowledge and industrial base there to compete on an even playing field. The auto industry isn’t moving to Tennessee for the high culture, after all.

  71. I lived and worked in Charleston, West Virgina twice and I can tell you firsthand it’s the saddest, most godawful place I’ve ever seen: the smell of battery acid permeates everything (it’s home to Union Carbide), and (please don’t think I’m making some sick joke here – I’m serious) I have never seen such a high number of people with obvious birth defects.
    Aside from one very good barbeque restaurant (Joey’s), some scenic views nearby and a handful of wonderful friends I made while living there, I can’t say much for the town. Sad.

  72. Joe’s right–places rise and decline, and the actions of government are mostly an incidental part of it.

    Incidental? Hardly. Look at Philadelphia, for example. It has its own business income tax & wage income tax (on top of the state’s), and its real estate transfer tax is triple what other cities charge. Not surprisingly, most everybody who can choose not to live, work, or start a business in Philadelphia does, and the associated decay is highly visible. Its corrupt government and obnoxious bureaucracy is a bonus reason to exit. The decline in Philly’s fortunes are not incidental to its policies, they’re a direct result of them. Detroit’s bureaucracy is even worse I’m told. These cities are no mere bystanders to economic events outside their control, they are active participants in their own demise.

  73. What Do Cleveland, Detroit, Scranton, Springfield (Mass.), Buffalo, and Five Other Cities Have in Common?

    They each have more fresh water within a 50-mile radius than Los Angeles and Phoenix combined?

    Probably not for long though, once the sun belt states accumulate enough power in Congress to demand their “fair share” of Great Lakes water to be siphoned and pumped to the southwest…

  74. Perhaps the national police force can build walls around some of these cities, and we can drop convicted criminals inside instead of sending them to prison?

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082340/

  75. Weather is a huge reason that the rust belt is rusting. It absolutely sucks for 6 months out of the year in the midwest. Since we now have AC there is no excuse for living north of the mas-dix line. You can always drink more water in the summer and get used to being outside in the heat, but in the winter up here there are things you simply can’t do- like golf, BBQ, or taking walks and keeping dry on the sidewalks. It fucking snows for half the year were I live. Unless you have a sweat job there is no reason to put up with yankee weather or taxes to live in the rust belt. Plus the food sucks.

  76. saharvey,

    Things you can’t do in the Sun Belt:

    skiing
    snowboarding
    snowball fights
    snowmobiling
    donuts on icy parking lots
    street ice hockey
    etc.

    Things you don’t have to put up with in the Rust Belt:

    mudslides
    wildfires
    year-round cockroaches
    scorpions
    water shortages
    hurricanes

  77. Chris O,

    Non-urban New England has been declining since before the turn of the 20th Century, hasn’t it?

    Yes, it has – as it turns out, there is better soil in Iowa than in New Hampshire – but that’s not really the issue here.

    Springfield is a real, urban city. It used to be a major manufacturing center for firearms – Colt, Springfield, the Springfield Armory.

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