From Walker Evans, Columbus, OH – Thanks, Walker!
Last month I was pointed toward an interesting article on CNNMoney.com about Youngstown’s plan for shrinkage. I recall discussing the idea with Kyle Ezell last summer as it was making the news rounds under the name of “planned decline,” and I think was being directed at a different North-East Ohio City (I can’t recall if it was Akron or Canton or Cleveland). Needless to say, Kyle did not like the idea.
Personally, I’m kind of torn on this topic.
I hate to see historic structures destroyed, but at the same time there’s no sense in letting buildings rot beyond repair when there’s no one to move back into them. It’s sort of like keeping junk in your basement. It could be worth something some day if you wait long enough, but until then it’s just material taking up space and collecting mold and dust.
I do think some cities such as Youngstown are going to have to wait a long time before their urban cores start to grow again no matter what they do. And I’m not sure in the long-term how much a concept like this will help or hurt. Young Professionals are a hot commodity that every city in the great lakes region are fighting for, but YPs alone cannot fix the problems that Youngstown is facing.
It’s definitely going to be one of those “wait-and-see” scenarios. In Columbus we thankfully don’t have the same type of decline problem (our downtown has actually had residential growth in the past decade) but we’re all still cursing and moaning over the fact that we’ve lost a lot of buildings to parking lots and highways over the past half century. It had to have been a good idea to someone during a certain point in history though. I don’t think 50 years ago most people could have imagined it would be a problem for today’s citizens as urban renewal swings back into style and highways have become less of a technological marvel and more of an eyesore.
Same goes for replacing the railed Streetcar system with buses. We used to have a fully functional passenger rail system throughout our city (map here) but it was ripped up (you can still find some old tracks left on a few streets). It made perfect sense at the time to rip it out. Gas cost a fraction of what it does today and the autobus was an amazing piece of technology (when was the last time you heard a city bus called that?). There was really no way to foresee how things would shape up decades down the road. Hindsight is always 20/20.
Anyway, I guess the unanswerable question here is whether or not this urban planned decline will be a move that Youngstown and other shrinking cities will be thankful for taking, or regret taking in the mid-to-late 21st century.