Government Looking To Downsize Cities

By Justin Gardner | Related entries in Ideas, United States

It started in Flint, Michigan, but it could be extended to other blighted communities across the nation.

From Telegraph:

The radical experiment is the brainchild of Dan Kildee, treasurer of Genesee County, which includes Flint.

Having outlined his strategy to Barack Obama during the election campaign, Mr Kildee has now been approached by the US government and a group of charities who want him to apply what he has learnt to the rest of the country.

Mr Kildee said he will concentrate on 50 cities, identified in a recent study by the Brookings Institution, an influential Washington think-tank, as potentially needing to shrink substantially to cope with their declining fortunes.

Most are former industrial cities in the “rust belt” of America’s Mid-West and North East. They include Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Memphis.

In Detroit, shattered by the woes of the US car industry, there are already plans to split it into a collection of small urban centres separated from each other by countryside.

“The real question is not whether these cities shrink – we’re all shrinking – but whether we let it happen in a destructive or sustainable way,” said Mr Kildee. “Decline is a fact of life in Flint. Resisting it is like resisting gravity.”

I like the idea. It makes no sense to keep communities around that are abandoned. And if these cities eventually do come back they can build back up if need be.

What do you think?


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8 Responses to “Government Looking To Downsize Cities”

  1. Simon Says:

    Obviously there are almost no truly abandoned neighborhoods, so the people living in the areas proposed to be demolished would have to be induced to move and turn their property over to the government (or to a third party “undeveloper” at the government’s demand). I say “induced,” a broad term, because while many will go willingly once offered a sufficient bribe, others will be coerced. The claim that “[n]obody will be forced to move” is not to be taken seriously — no one can seriously believe that the last holdout, à la Suzette Kelo, will be allowed to veto the project. That will raise some tricky questions about eminent domain, already a hot button after Kelo v. New London. Setting aside state constitutional limitations, and assuming that the government can or will pay just compensation, is this a public use? Presumably one can wrap a “public purpose” around the measure (the demolition of neighborhoods previously requiring city services reduces demand on the public fisc), but is this within the class of public purposes already blessed by Kelo? Or will this, too, require more development of the doctrine?

  2. michael reynolds Says:

    Simon:

    I wonder if cities are required to provide roads and water. Say you’re a hold-out. Can the city or county leave you where you are but tear up the roads, pull out the pipes and leave you isolated within the greenbelt?

  3. Alistair Says:

    This should really please Conservative because by doing this from a moral stand point you get rid of the street gangs and drug dealers that have used this abandon buildings to terrorize its citizens. I should know, because I lived in Philadelphia only to have my car vandalized. On the flip side some from the African-American Community would see this as a form of racial genefication, meaning displacing them and forcing them to move somewhere else and could use this as eminent domain but for too long many of the community leaders has sit on their behinds and done nothing about these abandon building, letting these drug dealers and gangs run them.

  4. Simon Says:

    Michael, that’s an intriguing question, and I frankly don’t know what the answer is. Fort Worth v. United States, 188 F.2d 217 (5th Cir. 1951), refers offhandedly in dicta to “the obligation of a municipality to provide necessary traffic facilities,” but that appears to have been an unexamined assumption, and the court didn’t elaborate.

    Perhaps the way to look at it is in terms of the potential sources of such an obligation on the city. There could certainly be state law or a municipal ordinance obliging the city to provide or maintain such services. That seems to have been the situation in United States v. Fifty Acres of Land, 706 F.2d 1356 (5th Cir. 1983), aff’d, 469 U.S. 24 (1984), where a municipality argued it was obliged to replace a landfill it provided after the United States took the property, although neither the Fifth Circuit nor the Supreme Court addressed the question of whether such an obligation existed (they both assumed for sake of argument that it was so obliged).

    Let’s also note that we’re not talking about whether there’s an obligation to provide new municipal services, but the removal of an existing municipal service. Even if there isn’t a substantive state law entitlement, if state law provides Mr. and Mrs. Holdout with a property interest in utilities and roads, that might be enough to trigger the Fourteenth Amendment’s requirement of due process before termination of the service. In Memphis Light, Gas & Water Div. v. Craft, 436 U.S. 1 (1978), for example, a public utility attempted to cut off the plaintiff’s gas service (for present purposes, one could as easily read “water”). Since Tennessee law didn’t allow public utilities to terminate service “at will” when there were bona fide disputes about charges, however, the supreme Court
    the plaintiffs had a state-recognized property interest in receiving electricity, which in turn entitled them to due process before termination of service. Id., at 11-12; see also Myers v. City of Alcoa, 752 F.2d 196 (6th Cir. 1985). Of course, due process only obliges the state to provide Mr. Holdout with notice and a hearing – it isn’t a substantive entitlement, and I can fairly guess which way the decision will go.

    If the answer to your question is “no,” then in this unique kind of taking, I suppose that the government doing the taking doesn’t ultimately need to force the person out – it can simply give them a hobson’s choice!

  5. Simon Says:

    Apologies for a couple of typos in my previous comment, I have one eye on the Mythbusters trying to kill themselves.

  6. Lanley Says:

    Where are they moving the people who are forced to relocate? Are they renters with a landlord or homeowners? Strange the media isn’t doing a more in depth story.

  7. michael reynolds Says:

    Simon:

    Thanks, I figured if anyone knew you would.

  8. Tully Says:

    Gee, in the old days such places were just left to rot. (Hey you urban renewalists, get off my lawn!) Like East St. Louis.

    Safe bet that there are plenty of nice empty houses in the areas they’ve decided to keep. Many of them already owned by the government on tax foreclosures. Shouldn’t be any trouble providing housing (even much better housing) for the displaced. Cheaper to rehab some houses for the displaced than to maintain services to the few homes still occupied in the areas due for bulldozing.

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