In Chapter 10 of Five Short Blasts I pondered a future with a declining population – declining as the result of a conscious effort to reduce the U.S. population (in an ethical manner over a long period of time) in order to improve our standard of living and quality of life. What infrastructure should be supported and which should be eliminated? I’m sure that such a vision struck a lot of people as crazy.
It’s an idea that seems to be catching on. Last year I commented on a plan in Flint, Michigan to do exactly that. (See https://petemurphy.wordpress.com/2009/04/23/de-development-underway-in-flint-mi/) Now comes a similar plan for the much larger city of Detroit. (See the above-linked article.)
Have you ever wondered what will become of Detroit?
Well, Detroit’s mayor has an idea: Bulldoze it.
Mayor Dave Bing is apparently working on a radical plan that would bulldoze a quarter of the city — some of the most desolate areas — and return it to farmland, the way it was before the automobile. Any residents still there would be relocated to stronger neighborhoods.
Unfortunately, instead of being the result of a conscious effort to reduce the population, it’s the result of people fleeing the sky-high unemployment of the city (currently somewhere in the range of 30%). Vast tracts of the city are abandoned. It’s a blight on the city and a drain on its resources. Mayor Bing is simply facing reality.
But what I find fascinating and encouraging is that the idea that smaller, less densely populated communities can still have viable economies is actually gaining accpetance among economists:
Kildee (treasurer of Genesee County, which includes Flint) told London’s Telegraph that we need to get over the American mindset that “big is good.”
“The obsession with growth is sadly a very American thing. Across the US, there’s an assumption that all development is good, that if communities are growing they are successful. If they’re shrinking, they’re failing,” he said.
When this talk of bulldozing cities resurfaced last summer, some people said there was no evidence that the government had such plans were in the works.
But with Detroit taking the idea seriously, one professor says it may be time that we dared to dream — in a way we’ve never dared before.
“Things that were unthinkable are now becoming thinkable,” James W. Hughes, dean of the School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, told the AP. “There is now a realization that past glories are never going to be recaptured. Some people probably don’t accept that but that is the reality,” he said.
What the professor forgets is that the “past glories” he speaks of occurred in a world that was much less densely populated and at a time when the U.S. enjoyed a trade surplus. Perhaps this process of back-pedaling is exactly the route we need to travel to recapture those “past glories.” We don’t need bigger and bigger cities and more and more growth. Where has it all gotten us?
It’s a fascinating time to be living in Michigan where one can watch the transition from failed theories about economic growth to a stable, sustainable, prosperous – and much less crowded – future.