Hello and Happy New Year. I hope everyone who finds this blog has had a wonderful holiday season.
As this blog moves into its first new year (just ten months in the making), it’s time for me to reflect on where it’s been and consider where it’s going. In recent weeks my posting on this blog has been a bit sporadic. Part of the problem has been a lack of a consistent and coherent theme, which is something I’ve been striving to develop. I may have mentioned it here before, but I heard an author once say that there are two types of writers: those who want to say something and those who have something to say. I’ve always wanted to be someone with something to say.
What has been pretty successful here has been writings on my hometown, Detroit. I’ve been fortunate enough to have pieces about Detroit published in newspapers and other websites. In retrospect I think it’s been successful because I think I bring a combination of knowledge, authenticity and passion when writing about the Motor City, with a different perspective.
What has been less successful has been my writings on midsize Midwestern cities. I initially wanted it to be a primary focus of the blog, but after starting on it it seemed to be a narrow focus that would never generate a sustained following. And after writing about Detroit, it too seemed to be constraining me to an audience more limited than I desire.
Throughout 2013, I’m going to broaden my research and writings to “shrinking cities”, a category to which Detroit and many midsize Midwest cities are firmly members.
In many respects I feel this is the great lost opportunity in urban planning. Detroit has garnered the lion’s share of attention because of its decline, but it is hardly alone. Cleveland, St. Louis, Newark, Baltimore, New Orleans, Birmingham all have had similar declines. In fact, there are 38 cities in America that achieved a population of at least 100,000 prior to 1970, but have subsequently lost at least 20 percent of their population since. Some have developed robust economies that have brought them back to growth (Washington, DC, Boston). Some have vastly improved their economic prospects while still experiencing population loss (Pittsburgh, Rochester). But most continue to deteriorate, with few prospects for revitalization, or even a clear understanding of how to turn the tide.
As a profession I believe we have failed these cities. Maybe fifteen years ago a nascent movement led by European (and later American) planners, architects and urban designers started to seriously look at shrinking cities around the world. But once they started to apply shrinkage principles to cities, trying to get them to accept a different physical paradigm, it began to lose momentum. In America, once we found simple answers don’t work, we planners looked to what appeared to be successful in the Portlands of the world. We’ve still never successfully figured out how to attract growth to cities that have been in decline for so long.
I don’t want to know simply what can bring Detroit back from the brink. I want to know what can bring Gary, Dayton, Baltimore, Buffalo and Providence back as well. Why? Because I remain firm in my belief that whatever plague affects these cities will ultimately affect others – Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Phoenix and Las Vegas could all share a similar fate.
Lastly, I want to encourage more interaction on the blog. I would welcome more comments from readers, and promise to respond as promptly as I can. You think I’m way off-base on something? Let me know. You think I’m on-target? By all means, let me know. You have a totally different perspective on something, or new information that sheds new light on a subject? Please, please let me know. I want to make this more of a community that develops ideas and possible solutions, and that only happens with your involvement.
I have much more planned for the blog in 2013 as well. Stay tuned and see what else springs forth.