“Smart Decline”

For all the talk around BR about growth and planning, what does a community do when it’s in decline?

A new piece in Governing takes a look at Youngstown, Ohio, a city that’s lost over half its population in the last 30 years. How have city leaders responded?

Unlike the industrialists who bolted from Youngstown 30 years ago, the mayor can’t simply shut off sewers or stop plowing snow just because those services aren’t economical. What he can do is target city investments where they will pay the greatest return to Youngstown’s quality of life. Williams hopes to entice residents to relocate out of neighborhoods that are too far gone to save. At the same time, he wants to focus on stabilizing transitional neighborhoods and keeping healthy middle-class neighborhoods from wilting. “What it means is in many instances you have to start saying no,” Williams says. “That’s not easy as a public official, when it comes to people with all sorts of ideas that are well intended but not necessarily realistic.”

You may not agree with everything they are doing, but it’s an interesting read.


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9 responses to ““Smart Decline””

  1. E M Risse Avatar

    Interesting but largely misleading.

    Youngstown – Warren MSA is now about 3.5 times larger than Youngstown was in its 1950s hay day.

    The MSA is not booming but it is nothing like the basket case that Youngstown is protayed to be.

    The whole idea that a “city” is a relevant component of human settlement pattern makes discussion pointless.

    EMR

  2. Norman Leahy Avatar
    Norman Leahy

    Well, that was enlightening.

    The piece interesting to me, and perhaps a couple of others, in that it shows how a city in decline is trying to rethink its future. Rather than grab at the obvious — new convention centers, a ball park, a mall — they are trying something different that has nothing to do with Richard Florida and that mythological “creative class.”

  3. E M Risse Avatar

    We both found the article “interesting” but I take it from your opening line you do not understand why is is misleading.

    It is misleading because there is little a “city” can do to change the course of economic, social and physical change.

    The basic building block of contemorary society is the Region. I have not worked in Youngstown – Warren but from experience in similar sized MSAs in the Rust Belt I would assume there has been little attempt to create a Regional strategy. I saw no mention of one in a quick review of the story.

    From a “this is a way forward” perspective this has all the enlightened insight of a debate of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

    “Governing” has some good material from time to time but it is written by and for municipal governance practitioners. They are threatened by anything that smacks of Regionalism because they lose power.

    That is one of the reasons nation-states like Italy are light years ahead of the US of A in Fundamental Change in governance.

    EMR

  4. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Norm, Fortunately, Virginia doesn’t have many declining cities (or even declining New Urban Regions). Danville, Martinsville and perhaps Petersburg, most would agree, are three. I don’t think either of them have given up the dream of jump-starting growth, so city fathers may not be psychologically prepared to take the measures they need to take.

    I would agree with Ed in noting that any Virginia city is part of a larger metropolitan area that includes one or more urbanizing counties. Cities cannot solve metro-wide challenges by themselves.

    Mayor Williams of Youngstown argued that citizens should relocate out of neighborhoods that are too far gone to save. I would put the problem a tad differently: I would suggest that citizens should move out of neighborhood that cannot be provided public infrastructure and services on a cost-effective basis.

    Some neighborhoods that might, from a socio-economic perspective, be considered “too far gone” to save, might in fact be well served with grid streets, existing utilities and existing public safety facilities. Declining communities would be better served to figure out how to recycle such neighborhoods than continuing to dribble population and resources into the greenfields of the countryside — a trend that can be noticed even in places like Danville and Martinsville. Not only is population shrinking, it is spreading over larger geographic areas, making it more expensive to provide with public amenities.

  5. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    Since 2000 Norfolk has been declining in population.

  6. “Not only is population shrinking, it is spreading over larger geographic areas, making it more expensive to provide with public amenities.”

    Population is not shrinking, it is growing. It is only shrinking in certain areas: areas the market has decided to abandon.

    To the extenst that poplualtion is spreading over larger gegraphic areas it is also buying and owning larger geographic areas. Could it be that people are buying and paying for exactly the amenities they want, and that they are not “public” amenities, but private ones?

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “Not only is population shrinking, it is spreading over larger geographic areas, making it more expensive to provide with public amenities.”

    To put this in perspective.

    LessENED DENSITY in an area/region that has lost substantial jobs.

    Two points:

    Smart Growth is about the NEW costs of EXTENDING infrastructure beyond where it already is for Greenfield development.

    I’m not sure what it means if there is “shrinkage” after the fact – after the infrastructure has already been put in place.

    As long as the user fees cover the maintenance – which if you think about it… less intensive useage means lower maintenance costs… perhaps proportional to reduction.

    Ray’s point…

    The country is not only increasing in population but it is going to the urban areas – as well as existing population moving to urban areas – essentially “de-populating” many towns and cities that no longer have anchor jobs… no future for the kids… so if they got a good education… will move to the urban areas for jobs.

    I don’t see larger single-owner tracts of land being the trend but rather the opposite.

    Land will continue to be subdivided into housing in the urbanizing areas that continue to grow.

    The issue of whether that subdivision will be more dense near the urban cores or continued exurban subdivision of raw land – greenfields… is still an ongoing process with the same tradeoff dynamics between more densification of close-in land vs more densification of exurban lands.

  8. I didn’t make that point at all. Please don’t put words in my mouth.

    The Youngstown area is growing in population, and is doing better in terms of commerce and wages than Youngstown itself. It is an example of the exact opposite of what you say I said.

    However, I agree with the last part. IF there are no anchor jobs, and IF the urban areas will not support the rural areas that support them, THEN people will be required to go to the urban areas for jobs. SOME of them will chose to move there.

    Whether they move there or travel there the result will be more congestion, higher costs, and, eventually, more pressure on the exurban areas. It is, a matter of tradeoff dynamics.

    So what causes subdivision? It is when you can no longer AFFORD to keep the entire property yourself. And it is the same in urban ares and exurban areas.

    I don’t see the point here. If it is to allow those trade-off dynamics to be what they are, then what is the problem? If it is to promote Urban living, fine, promote away, but I suspect the dynamics will cause people to make their own decision.

    If it is to deliberately upset those dynamics in favor of one proposition or another, well, good luck. Just don’t propose that and say free market in the same paragraph.

    That brings us down to the real business at hand: that of saving greenfields without having to pay for them. Once again, good luck. The thing that makes them valuable is profit, and that usually means someone is going to have to pay.

    People living in a 1500 sq ft apartment are willing to pay, and, generally, conservationists are not. (OK, there is Ted Turner and others who are out buying land willy nilly, for conservation.) But for most of the rest of us the tradeoff dynamics are still in force.

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “So what causes subdivision? It is when you can no longer AFFORD to keep the entire property yourself. And it is the same in urban ares and exurban areas.”

    OR … you are an entreprenur/speculator in parcels of land – even urban ones that can increase in value substantially if higher density can be obtained.

    Ditto with Greenfields.

    right?

    “I don’t see the point here. If it is to allow those trade-off dynamics to be what they are, then what is the problem? If it is to promote Urban living, fine, promote away, but I suspect the dynamics will cause people to make their own decision.”

    I don’t know that we substantially differ on the dynamics… we mostly differ on who should be paying for infrastructure required to keep up with growth.. right?

    The “conservation” angle you keep asserting.. I really don’t get.

    If you are a landowner who wants to convert your land to dollars – get the best deal you can in whatever circumstances you happen to be in.

    People who are professionals are making money off of land development don’t buy land that is problematical with regard to development potential.

    They usually go looking for land – any land – anywhere that has legitimate potential and then go from there.

    I think it boils down to why one bought the land the start with.

    I didn’t buy my land to develop it and so.. my concern with regard to development “rights” is along the lines of being lucky enough to hit the jackpot.. or more likely – not. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    But if I were to take my savings and decide that instead of investing it in stocks, bonds or interest bearing accounts to go buy land with the idea of making money off of it – I’d be – in a word – DUMB – because I don’t have adequate knowledge or experience to do that – no more than I have in picking specific stocks rather than mutual funds.

    I think most folks in my circumstance know and understand folks who happen to own parcels through family ties… and for myself – I don’t expect them to keep those parcels “green” for my benefit and if their land is significant in terms of history or natural assets then I certainly support willing seller/willing buyer approaches.

    Conversely if someone owns a parcel of land.. and decides they want to trade it for money.. then their ability to do that or not is determined by county policies and especially that county’s experience with growth, and the impacts and costs of growth.

    If they have restrictive policies, it almost always is in response to the majority of their constituents.

    If they are 180 degress for their constituents then .. at some pont they won’t me.. any longer.

    You happen to live in an area where the constituents don’t want the larger parcels subdividied AND you happen to NOT be in the land development business by choice .. and have made a terrible decision to speculate on land in an area where that is not smart.

    So your circumstances are, while not unique, not typical either for most land development and the dynamics of conservation.

    I just don’t see how it really applies on a wider scale….

    I don’t see folks in my county and many other counties making that point…

    but then.. I admit ignorance.. on many subjets. .my only consolation that .. I’m often not alone..

    ๐Ÿ˜‰

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