Shrinking Cities

Potential Strategies

Once policy-makers have accepted that a city, or part of a city, requires a degree of intervention to give it the best chance of success, they need to determine the best potential strategy with which to proceed. All of this needs to be viewed through the prism of sustainability. This strategy is essentially a road map for getting from point A (the current situation) to point B (the best-case scenario within a given timeframe).

The determination of the correct strategy cannot be carried out in a vacuum, however qualified the participants may be. To a degree, public opinion may be swayed by a well-informed campaign, but it is wise to consult local people at an early stage. Such an approach is likely to improve the strategy, and will help gauge the level of support for bolder policy initiatives.

Other key aspects of the strategy-forming process revolve around the following three questions:

  • What resources (financial, institutional, human capital) are likely to be available?
  • To what extent is it realistic to assume that the trend of population decline may be arrested and subsequently reversed?
  • Should the available resources be targeted at a specific category of neighborhoods, typically either the most distressed or those that are most likely to be saved?

The first of these questions is vital because it simultaneously helps to structure efforts to maximize the resources available – for example by tapping into all appropriate federal funding streams - and informs opinion on what it realistically achievable.

The second question is perhaps the most difficult for local policy-makers to incorporate into the strategy debate, as elected politicians in America have tended to be reluctant to contemplate the possibility of prolonged population decline.

The final question can also be problematic. Historically, resources have been targeted at the most distressed neighborhoods on the understanding that they can be saved, but there is some a feeling among some commentators that this strategy is ill-advised. For example, Charles Buki documents past failures of neighborhood stabilization models that have directed funding at the poorest neighborhoods, arguing that the next tier up – those that have declined but can still be saved – should receive a greater share of the available funding. Such a strategy fits well with the objective of sustainability, and if successful, it would help to improve inter-generational equity. Politicians have to find a way to combine this long-term agenda with social responsibility today.