Friday, June 26, 2009

Tear Down this Slum

The plan to demolish up to 40 percent of the housing stock in Flint, Mich. looks canny and forward-thinking, in light of the obvious decline of that city. The Kildee plan could have Flint vibrant again as a scaled-down version of itself, and newly enriched by "nature" where old brick mansions used to be.

Shrinking cities is a bold enterprise that has not been pioneered overseas, in spite of European population decline. In this study, Emmanuele Cunningham-Sabot calls for strategic shrinking of cities in France and Great Britain. This goes against the cultural prejudice, existent on both sides of the Atlantic, that supports incessant growth.

On the last page she points to fallacy of rebranding urban areas as opportunities for chic lifestyles. This marketing push distracts from the urban decline and dearth of services that so many cities endure. Cunningham-Sabot calls urban economics "post-Fordist," but it would be more insightful to note that the British public sector has been looted in the wake of Thatcher.

Although creative solutions to urban decline are welcome here at OWH, it behooves government to bulldoze carefully. The century-old brick homes of Steel Age scions may seem draughty and a poor investment, but with hordes of recently foreclosed-upon families, existing housing should be considered an asset before a liability.

Monday, June 22, 2009


The results of the European Parliamentary Elections are in, and as predicted, 736 people will occupy positions of no clear importance. Voter turnout dropped two percentage points from 2004's elections to an overall 45 percent.

Since the Lisbon Treaty has not been ratified (owing in large part to the failure of Ireland's referendum), the largest trans-national election in history will seat into Strasbourg's comfy chairs a crop of parliamentarians of a still-theoretical supergovernment. Amazingly, Europe's social democrats took a beating, in spite of the collapse of the economic system they have consistently criticized. This could mean that the crisis is still viewed in national terms, freeing voters to elect xenophobes and hatemongers.

Still up for debate is the usefulness of the legislative body itself. Here's a Tory bloke with nothing but bad things to say about Parliament (and mind you, he himself was elected to that body). The British-led "anti-federalism" recalls the birth pains of the United States of America.

Those indefatigable Esperantists have their own transnational party that advocates the EU's adoption of Dr. Zamenhof's invented language. They have been labeled wingnuts and monomaniacs, exploiters of the parochialist tendencies that the EP encourages. But if a legislative body is just "a chamber of notables," then why not let a thousand flowers bloom?