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Bulldoze the 'burbs?

By Blogger for The Christian Science Monitor / June 19, 2009

A screenshot of a YouTube video of new homes in Victorville, Calif., being demolished. The bank that acquired the development in a foreclosure decided that the homes were cheaper to demolish than to sell.

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A story last week in the Telegraph, a British paper, describes how the city of Flint, Mich., a former industrial powerhouse now facing depopulation and plummeting home values, is dealing with vacant housing.

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The solution? Bulldoze entire districts, returning the land to nature, and concentrate the population in the urban core.

The Telegraph's Tom Leonard reports that the idea is the brainchild of Dan Kildee, treasurer of Genesee County, which includes Flint.

He said: "The obsession with growth is sadly a very American thing. Across the US, there's an assumption that all development is good, that if communities are growing they are successful. If they're shrinking, they're failing."
But some Flint dustcarts are collecting just one rubbish bag a week, roads are decaying, police are very understaffed and there were simply too few people to pay for services, he said.
If the city didn't downsize it will eventually go bankrupt, he added.

The article reports that the city has already demolished 1,100 abandoned homes, and that Mr. Kildee estimates that another 3,000 will need to come down. Overall, local officials believe that the city will need to contract its area

Additionally, the city is buying up homes in upscale neighborhoods, which it will offer to people living in areas that it wants to demolish. But nobody will be forced to move, according to Kildee.

Kildee met with Barack Obama during his presidential campaign, and has been approached by the government to look into applying his strategy to other Rust Belt cities (prompting the Drudge Report to link to the story with the headline, "OBAMA ERA: BULLDOZE SHRINKING CITIES?")

Razing declining neighborhoods doesn't seem to be a priority right now for the Obama administration, but Harvard urban economist Edward Glaeser thinks it should be. Writing in the New York Times's Economix blog, Professor Glaeser argues that some cities just aren't going to come back.

These cities, he writes, would do well to focus their investment on people, not on infrastructure:

After all, the job of government is to enrich and empower the lives of its citizens, not to chase the chimera of population growth targets. Just once, I want to hear a Rust Belt mayor say with pride “my city lost 200,000 people during my term, but we’ve given them the education they need to find a better life elsewhere.”

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