Deborah and Frank Popper on Shrinking Cities in Shelterforce

The dialogue on shrinking cities and triumphing cities has me interested, if a bit flummoxed, about how you capture such phenomena–a bit like our decades old discussion on sprawl, which often bewildered me; there is clearly a definitional and subjective element to it that does really work: you recognize it when you see it, but it’s hard to define in words or numbers.

The Census numbers give us something to hold onto, but like population density, it’s hard to understand what densities mean, or, in this case, what percentage losses mean. Often, there are neighborhoods within a population-losing region that are economically viable; not all parts of Detroit are the same. Similarly, there imminently walkable subareas of Los Angeles, and sprawl-y parts of New York and San Francisco.

Deborah and Frank Popper describe the less quantifiable ideas around shrinking places in this piece in Shelterforce. The overall tone captures the zeitgeist of shrinking: that people have moved on from this place, and it’s not just deserted: it’s left behind, abandoned. And the people are not coming back.

The Poppers argue that places must plan to shrink rather than let the process go, suggesting (among other things) that places use ecological restoration to build up the quality of life for those residents remaining and to keep the place from sliding further.