If You Bulldoze It, Will They Come? Detroit, Buffalo, and Other Cities Think About Razing Vacant Buildings
Via Alan Vanneman comes a link to this NY Times story about cities bulldozing blight rather than trying to rehab it. A snippet:
Large-scale destruction is well known in Detroit, but it is also underway in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Buffalo and others at a total cost of more than $250 million. Officials are tearing down tens of thousands of vacant buildings, many habitable, as they seek to stimulate economic growth, reduce crime and blight, and increase environmental sustainability….
[M]ore than half of the nation's 20 largest cities in 1950 have lost at least one-third of their populations. And since 2000, a number of cities, including Baltimore, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Buffalo, have lost around 10 percent; Cleveland has lost more than 17 percent; and more than 25 percent of residents have left Detroit, whose bankruptcy declaration this summer has heightened anxiety in other postindustrial cities….
At least one city that has taken a pioneering approach to confronting diminution has found that accepting shrinkage does not mean problems go away. Youngstown, Ohio, once a bustling steel city of 170,000 but now with only 66,000 people, has sought to head off collapse by tearing down thousands of vacant houses — 3,000 so far and 10 more each week.
As someone who has lived in and spent time in shrinking cities such as Buffalo and Cleveland, I understand the appeal - and quite possibly the effectiveness - of clearing out huge swaths of vacated land (that assumes, of course, that eminent domain powers are not abused).
But if working on Reason Saves Cleveland taught me one thing, it's that there's no simple solution to urban decline. Some of it is simply historical - the Northeast is not going to dominate American business and culture that way it did 100 years ago and cities such as Cleveland or Buffalo or Detroit will never regain their earlier populations or the density at which they lived. Read more on that topic here.
But it's also clear that private and public sector boosters are always more interested in laying big bets on giant development deals that won't transform a city or region even if they happen to work out perfectly. What makes and keeps places livable and attractive are the smaller-ticket items, such as quality of basic services such as roads, law enforcement, business climate, schools, taxes, and regulations. These aren't sexy items but they are the things that actually keep cities thriving.
Watch Reason TV's #AnarchyinDetroit playlist to learn how residents are taking their bankrupt city back, block by block: