I want to punch climate change in the face. A blog about the interactions between the built environment, people, and nature. - FAQs - Follow - Face - Ask - Donations - Climate Book Store - Submissions

Recent Tweets @climatecote
Posts tagged "shrinking cities"

Reading now

PHOTO: Detroit’s abandoned Central Station (Melanie Stetson Freeman/ The Christian Science Monitor)

The July 25th cover story tackles the tricky restructuring of Detroit, a former industrial gem struggling to regain its footing after nearly five decades of economic decline. Writer Mark Gaurino describes the latest plans from Mayor Dave Bing and others to help revitalize a city in which the overabundance of vacant land is currently its biggest resource.  

Part of the Mayor’s plan includes connecting and consolidating neighborhoods separated by abandoned land to create a smaller, more efficient city. This is a lot for a city currently large enough to fit Manhattan, San Francisco and Boston within the 139 square miles inside its borders.

Large swaths of this city look like a ghost town. Blight, resulting from abandoned homes and shuttered factories, is everywhere. Dead zones detach rather than connect neighborhoods from each other, creating a patchwork that the city says makes it too expensive to service. So the mayor has an idea: Draw residents out of marginally populated areas through direct and indirect incentives into a close-knit population core. By razing and repurposing what is left behind, the city might reduce its geographic size and save money by not having to service such far-flung neighborhoods.

One of the challenges to his plan - the city’s 48 unions, which last year cost the city nearly $400 million in healthcare and pension payouts, a figure which remains unsustainable for the struggling city. That amount also leaves Detroit susceptible to being taken over by an emergency financial manager, appointed by the Governor, who is enabled to hire and fire employees, void union contracts, and make changes without the approval of the mayor or city council.

READ: Retooling the Motor City: Can Detroit save itself?

A related business story shares more details of the Mayor’s restructuring plan, which includes demolishing 10,000 vacant and deteriorated homes. That’s nearly one-tenth of the overall 100,718 vacant addresses in the city, which represents 12 percent of the overall city size.

READ: Detroit has radical plan: Raze the dead in Motor City


The share of the population under age 18 dropped in 95% of U.S. counties since 2000, according to a USA TODAY analysis of the 2010 Census.

The number of households that have children under age 18 has stayed at 38 million since 2000, despite a 9.7% growth in the U.S. population. As a result, the share of households with children dropped from 36% in 2000 to 33.5%.

•Children make up 24% of the nation’s population, down from 25.7% in 2000. The kid population declined more precipitously in 58.6% of the country’ 3,143 counties.

•The number of counties that had a greater share of kids than the national average fell from 1,378 to 1,247.

•Even in counties where the percentage of children grew, only 49 gained more than 1 percentage point — many of them suburbs on the outer edge of metropolitan areas such as Forsyth, Whitfield and Newton outside Atlanta and Cabarrus and Union outside Charlotte.

A University of Southern California analysis of the state’s shrinking child population found that Los Angeles County is at the center of the decline because of difficult living conditions for families facing high housing costs during economic hard times.

"The image of the white family living in the suburb is becoming extinct," says William Frey, demographer at the Brookings Institution. “It’s an endangered species.”

"When there are fewer kids in a market area, you’re going to have a variety of supporting services go away and essentially die," Silverman says. "When you have a variety of retailers going out of business and people getting older, pricing gets depressed … The way to keep a community going is to keep it young."

Housing needs will change as a result of fewer kids, says Armando Carbonell, chair of the department of planning and urban form at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

"Lots of singles, lots of elderly, fewer kids … What this does really is free people in their location decisions to a certain extent if they’re not bound by school and safety aspects," he says. "It can mean growth in the central city where schools might have been a concern. More households will be able to locate to places without the attributes of the suburbs."

Click the above map to see population decrease/increases in US counties. Bottom line from this is that an aging population is very bad for prospects for job growth and that economic growth is either stabilized or trending downward. 

Want to know why so many northern cities are dying and shrinking? Ever shake your head in agreement with Richard Florida’s notion that great communities start with attracting the creative classes? Well, the above video is one reason why no one stays in Rochester, NY, which has lost 34% of its population since 1950, making it one of the fastest and highest rates of decline in the country.

These corrupt cops are not incentivising residents to stay, or move there. What a sad shame… 

Update: Context here. Basically, last week, a woman filmed the cops arresting her neighbor. She filmed from her front yard. She was then arrested on trumped up charges and is now suing the city. So, the cars the cops are ticketing in the above video are people meeting at the woman’s home to support her. And the cops are ticketing all of their cars. It’s blatant intimidation, and, really, the act of pansies. 

Tough cities and economic development on my mind today.


“Flint is where the American automaker General Motors was founded in 1908. The city grew as a company town, with several generations of workers and families benefitting from the coast to coast appetite for automobiles that followed both World Wars. Forty years ago, Flint was still home to 190,000 people, with 80,000 locals employed in GM plants. When community leaders imagined the future, they did so with confidence, envisioniong a Flint, their “Vehicle City,” with 250,000 residents. This was, this would be, a place that mattered…

…Flint is fading. With the loss of so much of its industrial base, the economic picture for post-industrial Michigan is pitch-dark. There is less and less governmental support for schools, public transportation, family assistance. “We can no longer afford to live outside our means,” said the new mayor in early 2010, and soon enough there were layoffs in the police and fire departments, the closing of fire stations, and a drop-off in garbage pick-up from weekly to biweekly. People are at the brink, ready to act out. On March 25, 2010, the day before the latest rounds of police and firefighter lay-offs were to be announced, nine houses were set on fire. According to a report by WEYI-TV, the fire battallon chief said: “All the fires seem to have been set intentionally. … It also seems very suspicious, since the fires are happening the day before firefighter layoffs. I think they’re trying to make a point and I think they’re going about it in all the wrong ways…

…On my first trip to Flint, in 2006, I spoke with a community activist on a summer day. She said, “Sorry the building is so hot. Our air conditioner was stolen this week. When I called the cops, they said, ‘If we find yours, we’ll probably find ours.’” The police department’s air conditioner had been lifted that same night.”

The entire article is a fantastic case-study of a declining Rust Belt city and some of the people who call it home.  It’s a compelling read written from the view point of a professor of architecture after spending some time getting to know a once thriving city.

(via suchisthecity-deactivated201303)

Some have argued that we should stop using Detroit as groundzero for disasterbation. I disagree. The situation in Detroit has inspired more young people to get involved with city planning, economic development, and local politics. Artists, entrepreneurs, builders, farmers, VC’s, city planners, etc., are flocking to Detroit to try to save it. Shrinking cities phenomenon has an upside and a positive outcome, and that is more civic involvement, and a better quality of life. 


Anyone who has poked around Detroit or even just seen the now ubiquitous images of its sprawling desolation is bound to have conflicting reactions. The city is a staggering spectacle, but the question of what exactly it is you’re looking at—or, more precisely, seeing—is something of an ethical and aesthetic litmus test in an age of so many artfully composed portraits of devastation. Detroit’s photographers manage to turn suffering into a still-life. Read more …

Above: Newsweek reports, “Grand Rapids, Michigan is a dying city.” Grand Rapids replies: “TSS! You betta check yourself!!” Brilliant response, Grand Rapids!

‘Dying’ Michigan City to Newsweek: Drop Dead

Back in January, Newsweek placed Grand Rapids, Michigan on a list of America’s “Dying Cities.” Naturally, many Grand Rapids natives (like yours truly!) were outraged by the grievous attack on the office furniture capital of the world. (It’s true.)

Four months later, we have it, in the form of a record-setting lip dub to Don McLean’s “American Pie” that involved 5,000 people and “marching bands, parades, weddings, motorcades, bridges on fire, and helicopter take offs.” Take that, Newsweek! [YouTube]

Update: Newsweek has responded to the video on Facebook. Turns out the magazine doesn’t hate Grand Rapids after all:

To the Grand Rapids crowd:

First off, we LOVE your YouTube LipDub. We’re big fans, and are inspired by your love of the city you call home.

But so you know what was up with the list you’re responding to, we want you to know it was done by a website called—not by Newsweek (it was unfortunately picked up on the Newsweek web site as part of a content sharing deal)—and it uses a methodology that our current editorial team doesn’t endorse and wouldn’t have employed. It certainly doesn’t reflect our view of Grand Rapids.

Nice quote. Detroit will get better climate, too.


Urban visionary Tony Goldman tells Model D what he sees in the D: “I’ll tell you first what I wouldn’t do. I wouldn’t tear down a single building. I wouldn’t build a single new parking lot. I would use every piece of the city’s 140-square miles to create the country’s best urban parks system. I would create a thoughtful urban homesteading program and give properties away. Vacant land, farms, buildings, houses, everything. Fix up the properties, stick it out and own them after 10 years. It’ll take balls, perseverance and an almost stupid commitment to changing not only Detroit, but the course of urban America. It can start here, because nowhere else is in a better position to do it. This is our best chance to do it the right way.”

(via sheuer-deactivated20130201)

No wonder Penn and West Virginia are going all in on fracking, they’re shrinking and desperately need jobs. What a horrible dilemma.


This is not really about demographics of birth and death in the US. This is about urbanization, and migration. The people that used to live in these former manufacturing and rural areas have moved to the cities, and the Sunbelt. Meanwhile, young immigrants to the US do not move to rural Appalachia or northern Maine.

(via Mapping Birth Rates -

(via underpaidgenius)

At 222 days, it’s the longest drought on record, worse than the Dust Bowl. Though the Dust Bowl won’t, it seems, be repeated.

Boise (rhymes with voice) City has gone 222 consecutive days through Tuesday with less than a quarter-inch of rainfall in any single day, said Gary McManus, a state climatologist. That is the longest such dry spell here since note-keeping began in 1908.

Source: NYTimes

What’s this crazy b’nz in Detroit? Is it that corrupt right now? I’m clueless as to what’s happening there. A city planner friend of mine wants to work there. I think she’s off her rocker. Airs May 10, 8pm.


From Dan Rather’s upcoming special on the Detroit Public School System: A National Disgrace

(via soupsoup)

This is from one of my top favorite tumblr-ers, MinnPost. Their local coverage is incredibly strong and passionate. These folks could teach the aging Boston Globe a thing or three. Here, they cover (surprise!) actual goings on in their neighborhoods. Flight from the suburbs creates inequality for local folks, and in turn becomes a looming shadowy problem for cities and politicians. Those very politicians are way behind the curve with respect to understanding constituent’s needs. For instance, I’m Gen-X, and there’s no way in hell I’m buying a home anytime soon. Anyway, MinnPost covers two local movies about local suburban problems (pssst, MinnPost, can I watch? Send me a link, please?).

Didn’t get to that see the movies or join in the community discussion about waning inner-ring suburbs here at home as well as across the nation, or learn how they’re handling their problems?

Well, here’s the reel replay: both “The New Metropolis” and its sibling, “New Metropolis Minnesota,” will be aired on Twin Cities Public Television, tpt, starting at 8 p.m. Sunday May 1. 

For a sense of the issues and the mood, this is what “New Metropolis” filmmaker Andrea Torrice told me in a phone interview last month: 

“I’m very concerned about all the communities in America, the way we are growing and the way we are becoming more unequal, both economically and in terms of racial segregation,” Torrice said.  

(via minnpost)

How does Venice work? A must see video showing how Venice was built, is maintained, and it’s infamous interactions with water. High quality production, and very educational. Electric, gas, and fiber optics are buried beneath the sidewalks. The place is always under restoration. It even describes in detail how the sewers work and where the gunk goes (if you’ve been to Venice, you probably know it’s nasty at low-tide, this shows why).

Still, the place is sinking, and I’ve raised the question if it should be abandoned or saved. It’s primarily a tourist attraction, having little cultural significance beyond architecture. It will cost billions to save Venice from sea level rise. It’s difficult for me to advocate saving a place where barely anyone lives.

The video was produced by a company called Insula. Insula was created by the City of Venice for the purpose of restoration and planning:

Insula is responsible for the process of implementing public works and infrastructure: it plans, designs, tenders and coordinates the execution of works and services for the urban and building maintenance vital to the preservation of the city.

  • ordinary and extraordinary maintenance
  • restoration, regeneration, renovation, new construction
  • management of real-estate assets
  • canal maintenance
  • preservation of the building heritage along the canals
  • restoration of the sewer system
  • upgrade and reorganization of the underground utilities systems
  • execution of the works and actions involved in the physical and environmental preservation of Venice and its lagoon as required by law 171/1973, art. 12 of Dpr 791/73.
  • Source: Brochure

Insula’s website is beautiful and well designed. There are sections for photos, restoration, videos, and education. There are also brochures explaining what Insula does, including the processes and materials it uses for Venice, here.

Thanks to the wonderful CondeNastTraveler Tumblr!

What we’re watching right now—thanks, @kressie42, for the link.

(via condenasttraveler)

An aging, shrinking Massachusetts takes another big hit.

"Our goal was to find a location where we could build efficiently, make an impact on the community and develop relationships with local government and community organizations," wrote Milo Medin, Google’s vice president of access services, in a posting on the company’s blog. "We’ve found this in Kansas City."

Kansas City, Kansas, is a suburb of the better-known Kansas City, Missouri, and is home to about 145,000 people.

The news will come as a disappointment to civic leaders in the 1,100 communities across America that applied for the chance to host the new network starting last February, when Google announced its plan to build it.