“De-Development” Underway in Flint, MI

April 23, 2009


In Chapter 12 of Five Short Blasts, I offered two opposing visions of the year 2050 in America – one a grim future  in which our population has exploded to 455 million people, and the second its polar opposite, in which our population has been slowly and carefully managed downward to 260 million. 

I’ll admit that I considered omitting this chapter from the book out of concern that such visions could seem a bit “kooky” to the majority of people, hurting the credibility of what was otherwise a serious treatise on the topic of overpopulation.  But I felt it was important to give people a sense of how things could be, as opposed to what they’re likely to become if nothing is done. 

As a nation, I can already see certain elements of the first vision unfolding as we continue to grow our population by three million people per year.  Frankly, I never expected to see any elements of the second vision come to pass.  So it was with great surprise that I came across this above-linked article this morning, detailing efforts underway in the city of Flint to begin razing entire sections of the city and returning it to forest.

Dozens of proposals have been floated over the years to slow this city’s endless decline. Now another idea is gaining support: speed it up.

Instead of waiting for houses to become abandoned and then pulling them down, local leaders are talking about demolishing entire blocks and even whole neighborhoods.

The population would be condensed into a few viable areas. So would stores and services. A city built to manufacture cars would be returned in large measure to the forest primeval.

Part of the 2nd vision in Chapter 12 was a federal agency to manage the orderly “de-development” as our population slowly declined.

In searching for a way out, Flint is becoming a model for a different era.


Planned shrinkage became a workable concept in Michigan a few years ago, when the state changed its laws regarding properties foreclosed for delinquent taxes. Before, these buildings and land tended to become mired in legal limbo, contributing to blight. Now they quickly become the domain of county land banks, giving communities a powerful tool for change.

Indianapolis and Little Rock, Ark., have recently set up land banks, and other cities are in the process of doing so. “Shrinkage is moving from an idea to a fact,” said Karina Pallagst, director of the Shrinking Cities in a Global Perspective Program at the University of California, Berkeley. “There’s finally the insight that some cities just don’t have a choice.”

Of course, all of this is taking place in reaction to economic realities, as opposed to being part of a plan for an orderly down-sizing of our population in order to improve our standard of living and quality of life.    But, once completed, the net effect will be the same.  It won’t be pretty to watch it unfold but, relieved of excess labor capacity, Michiganders who remain will be better off.