Two interesting models of urban redevelopment

April 29, 2009

by Sandy Ikeda

From the New York Times, “An Effort to Save Flint, Mich., by Shrinking It”:

Instead of waiting for houses to become abandoned and then pulling them down, local leaders are talking about demolishing entire blocks and even whole neighborhoods. The population would be condensed into a few viable areas. So would stores and services. A city built to manufacture cars would be returned in large measure to the forest primeval.

After Katrina, some urbanists urged New Orleans authorities to adopt something like this policy of “planed shrinkage,” but largely for political reasons it was summarily rejected.

Given New Orleans’s cultural heritage, perhaps they might also find Cleveland’s approach useful, as reported in The Wall Street Journal, “Artists v. Blight”:

Drawn by available spaces and cheap rents, artists are filling in some of the neighborhoods being emptied by foreclosures. City officials and community groups seeking ways to stop the rash of vacancies are offering them incentives to move in, from low rents and mortgages to creative control over renovation projects.

Of course, irresponsible housing and Fed policies created the current foreclosure problem (about which TM has blogged previously). But this form of what looks like mostly spontaneous “urban renewal” has happened elsewhere before (e.g., New York’s Soho and more recently, Williamsburg in Brooklyn) and seems consistent with the natural “death and life” cycle of cities.

The sense I get from the article is that many of the early artists’ projects were grass-roots before government money entered the picture.  Ceteris paribus, it’s better to fund people on this scale than to finance grand visions.

3 Responses to “Two interesting models of urban redevelopment”

  1. koppl Says:

    Could you say more about the Flint plan, Sandy? It sure sounds like the broken window fallacy meets Robert Moses.


  2. Flint might be the worst city in the worst state in the country. This side of Saginaw, at least.

  3. Sandy Ikeda Says:

    (Sorry for the delay in responding, Roger, but I’ve been having internet problems for a couple of days.)

    I really don’t know more about the Flint plan than is in the article. To state the obvious, of the two contrasting models of redevelopment, I naturally favor Cleveland’s, and should have said that not only New Orleans but Flint ought to strongly consider it (although Cleveland, as jeremy suggests, has a lot more going for it as a potential artists haven than Flint).

    I don’t endorse eminent domain, although I’m a little more tolerant of local-government condemnations when the property in question is truly abandoned. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be what’s happening in Flint.


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