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.