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Dealing with the Incredible Shrinking City at the New York Times

Samuel Staley
March 29, 2011, 10:45am

The New York Times' opinion forum, Room for Debate, takes on the problem fo "shrinking cities." My contribution notes that while the issue has taken off as the problem de jour in urban policy circles the truth is the problem of urban decline has been around a long time. The solution is focusing on framework that gets these cities back to basics, a strategy I outlined last year for the City of Cleveland as part of the "Reason Saves Cleveland" initiative.

Of particular interest, and perhaps surprising to some, is the contribution by Richard Florida of The Creative Class and other books fame. Florida takes an organic, Jane Jacobsian approach to revitalizing these cities. in his essay "How Not to Save A City," Florida writes:

"The most successful efforts of renewing old urban neighborhoods don’t come from top-down reclamation schemes but from organic, bottom-up, community-based efforts to strengthen and build on neighborhood assets. Many of today’s great urban neighborhoods from New York’s Greenwich Village to Boston’s North End to Columbus’s German Village were those where residents successfully blocked top-down renewal schemes.

"Instead of handing over neighborhoods or even whole sections of cities to city hall or private developers, we’d be much better off enabling residents to take control of and build on community assets, engaging them in community-based organizations that can spearhead revitalization and build real quality of place.

"This is the kind of approach Jane Jacobs long ago laid out: It generates revitalization by empowering and harnessing the creativity of people who live and work in the neighborhood. It does not cost an arm and a leg, and it works.

"In the wake of the 9-11 attack on Lower Manhattan’s Financial District, I asked Jacobs how she would rebuild the area. “You’re asking the wrong question,” she replied. “It’s not what I would do or anyone else would do for that matter,” she told me. “The key is to engage the residents of the area, the business owners, the shopkeepers, the workers and the commuters. They’re the ones that can show the way to rebuild.”


Samuel Staley is Research Fellow


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