Is real-estate development always good? Is a community succeeding only if it’s growing? That was the post-war assumption in this country as skylines inched upward and suburbs sprawled. But like so many economic presumptions, the growth-is-good model may now be collapsing on itself.
Flint, Michigan, for, example, was once a thriving factory town with 79,000 locals employed by General Motors. Today it’s one of the poorest cities in the country with 20% unemployment and block after block of abandoned closed homes. The possibility of shrinking the city was raised some months ago at a Rotary Club talk by acting mayor Michael Brown. It has since become a volatile issue in the mayoral campaign.
The plan has been backed by Dan Kildee (above), the treasurer of Genesee County, which includes Flint. The goal would be to create a smaller, more manageable city with improved services. If the plan is adopted the city would bulldoze entire neighborhoods–as much as 40 percent of its area–and return the land to nature.
The Obama administration has asked Kildee to study how the shrinking city approach might benefit other rust belt cities, according a political Web site called The Washington Independent.
“The real question is not whether these cities shrink–we’re all shrinking–but whether we let it happen in a destructive or sustainable way,” Kildee said.
Kildee is in a position to reshape the city because of a state law that allows local governments to buy up unused properties. As county treasurer, Kildee heads the county bank which as of March owned 3,678 properties.
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