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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Razing a city to save it

Flint Michigan is a perfect example of a dilapidated rust belt city whose population has dropped from about 200,000 to 110,000 according to recent estimates. This decrease has brought Flint to the point that some neighbourhoods are too sparsely populated to be supported by the tax base. Empty, burnt out or vandalized homes are everywhere leaving garbage trucks, postmen snow ploughs and road crews to service streets that only have a few inhabitants. Neighbourhoods in Flint are dysfunctional and retail businesses struggle because of the low density levels created by 110,000 people spread over 34 square miles in 75 distinct neighbourhoods

A partial solution being considered for Flint’s problem is to tear down part of the city. The city would demolish the worst neighborhoods offering displaced people an equivalent or better homes in more stable parts of the city in an attempt to revitalize communities, make businesses in those areas sustainable and allow the city to curtail costly services in the almost dead zones. The ability to consolidate social services and policing would also go a long way to making Flint a liveable and safe city again. I think this is quite a rational idea and a model that should be used in other dying rust belt cities but I don’t think it goes far enough.

Razing these communities should be part of a greater plan for the eventual rebirth and growth of these cities in a decade or two as Midwestern droughts, increasing population, peak oil and rising sea levels push people back into the great lake regions. A city like Flint should try to divide itself into a series of population hubs surrounded by new mixed use urban agriculture zones. These urban farms would create local food, jobs, pride and independence. Some of the dead zones could be made into parks and recreation areas or even just left to naturalize while others could be used as huge community sized geothermal heat sources for the waves of high density high efficiency homes needed to prepare for peak oil and climate based migration. As new open spaces are created, zoning changes and city acquisitions can assure that the land for an efficient transit system is set aside for future need.

If governments want to pour money into stimulus projects let them do so by rebuilding a city as test bed for the myriad of design and attitude changes needed to make post carbon cities work. It makes more sense than what they are doing now.Recommend this Post


ChristyACB said...

While the concept has much to admire, the reality is simply more limitation on what the citizen can realistically expect from their constitional rights.

If the city really wants to do that, and is offering up the better house on a fair trade basis and the person agrees, that is great and wonderful.

It is when any government decides something is a "blight" and therefore, okay to take by force that there is a problem. Should vacant and empty homes get razed or left to rot. Not in an ideal world, but it isn't up to government to decide what any person can do with their property.

After all, those people on the New Jersey shore who had a home in their family for generations found out how wrong that can go. Beautiful, old fashioned homes with amazing views these were. But a big contractor let the city council know how much money he could get them in taxes if only they would condem the property as a blight, take it by eminent domain and give it to him, allowing him to build high density upscale condos. So they did.

And in Crystal City...and infinitum. Eminent domain might make this city function more smoothly, but at what cost?

gab said...

I agree that property rights are very important, Unfortunately we in Canada did not put these rights in our constitution.

While I don't agree that homes should be siezed for a mall or a mine if in this situation they are giving willing people a better city I'm all for it. Im sure there will old curmugeons who will simply refuse and will end up in a unserviced semi wild ghetto but that is their choice.

Forced evacuations I would not be in favour of.

AMIT said...

You are right Government cannot do like this.Thanks for sharing this with us.

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