There are perhaps dozens of small towns and failing neighborhoods beginning to resemble ghost towns. We've all seen them if we get off the Interstate and drive down state or county roads, once-thriving Main streets or into blighted neighborhoods.
The Obama administration reportedly is considering whether to broaden an experimental "shrink to survive" program in Flint, Mich., -- one of the nation's poorest cities -- that proposes to raze districts within some cities and towns while bulldozing others in their entirety. Land would be returned to its pre-construction state. Local politicians in Flint believe the city must contract by as much as 40 percent. They want to focus on the population that remains and cut services to save money.
The man behind the plan is Dan Kildee, the treasurer of Genesee County, Mich., which includes Flint. Kildee told President Obama about his vision during last year's campaign. The government and a group of charities are now asking Kildee to apply what he has learned in Flint to the rest of the country. According to a recent Daily Telegraph story, Kildee says he is looking at 50 cities that were recently identified by the Brookings Institution as potential candidates for shrinking because of their economic and population decline. "Most are former industrial cities in the 'rust belt...' They include Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Memphis."
"The obsession with growth," Kildee says, "is sadly a very American thing. Across the U.S. there's an assumption that all development is good, that if communities are growing they are successful. If they're shrinking, they're failing."
In reporting on this story Tom Leonard, the Daily Telegraph's American correspondent, says that Detroit, whose economic struggles have been exacerbated by the turmoil in the automobile industry, might be "split into a collection of smaller urban centers separated from each other by countryside." Kildee is quoted as saying, "The real question is not whether these cities shrink -- we're all shrinking -- but whether we let it happen in a destructive or sustainable way. Decline is a fact of life in Flint. Resisting it is like resisting gravity."
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