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Commentary By Aaron M. Renn

What Do We Do with Shrinking Cities?

Shrinking Cities: Understanding Urban Decline in the United States, by Russell Weaver, Sharmistha Bagchi-Sen, Jason Knight, and Amy E. Frazier

Cities like Detroit, St. Louis, and Cleveland have lost stunning percentages of their peak population since 1950. Yet these are all in metro areas whose regional populations are much higher than in 1950, even if not at their all time peak high in all of them.

Some cities like Youngstown have gone so far as to try to plan for shrinkage and a permanently reduced population future. Detroit did something similar with its Detroit Future City plan, though that has subsequently been scrapped.

How do we think about shrinkage? How do we define a shrinking city? What should shrinking cities do? These are questions that have been swirling around for the decade I’ve been writing about cities here.

The new academic book Shrinking Cities aims to put some rigor around those questions. The first half of the book is devoted to an examination of shrinkage in the United States. The authors note that any measure designed to identify shrinking cities has a note of the arbitrary about it. The measure they select is population decline of 25% or more over the 40 year period from 1970 to 2010. They look at both census tracts and cities. Surprisingly, they find the shrinking census tracts are very widespread in America, and are on the rise in the Sun Belt. Shrinkage in terms of population loss is not a Rust Belt only phenomenon, though shrinking municipalities as a whole are concentrated in that region.

The authors look at economic decline separately, examining census tracts....

Read the entire piece here at NewGeography


Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor at City Journal. Follow him on Twitter here.

This piece originally appeared in NewGeography