Raising Up Cities, Smartly

Urban planners should have a field day with new census data showing big cities have grown almost twice as fast in the past 10 years as in the previous decade. Indeed, the trend since the '60s, away from manufacturing cities and toward "consumer" cities (with urban malls), appears to be paying off. But more such "smart growth" is needed.

While New York, Denver, and Atlanta (among others) saw population gains, the story of one rust-belt city, Detroit (see story, page 3), shows both the possibilities and hazards of attempts at revitalization. Mayor Dennis Archer wisely removed some of the rust by bringing businesses back with tax incentives and enticing suburbanites with downtown dining, sports, and entertainment. He's had a tougher time keeping residents in town.

Detroit lost 7.5 percent of its population in the last count. A lack of services, failing schools, and mixed-income housing probably helped drive 53 percent of remaining whites and part of an emerging black middle class out to suburbia, which has better schools and services and lower crime rates. Racial tensions in Detroit, and many other cities, also lead to white and black "flight."

Some cities are challenged by geography or lack of economic diversity. But when housing, employment, and services (1) cater to a broader economic spectrum, (2) are appealing and in closer proximity to one another, and (3) are accessible through a variety of transit modes, cities tend to upswing, and racism might ease.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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