Shrinking Cities

Public and Political Engagement

It is clear that for many of the strategies for shrinking cities to work, public and political engagement is vital. This requires two-way communication between academics, politicians, ordinary citizens, and other key stakeholders such as businesses and community development corporations (CDCs). 

On a macro level, politicians need to understand that pro-growth strategies are not always in the best interests of the places they are representing, so that they may attempt to sell the idea of right-sizing to the electorate. To achieve this, though, they simultaneously need to gain an understanding of the thoughts and concerns of local people, as this will enable them to create a compelling vision for the future (e.g. ‘we might not be the biggest city any more, but we can still be the most livable city’).

Once the election has been one, or the incumbent political leadership has received sufficient support for its new strategy, then the micro-level planning can begin. Engagement remains of paramount importance throughout this process. On the one hand, this is to maintain the requisite levels of trust between all parties, especially as it is likely that policies will have to be amended from time to time. On the other hand, it is likely that the city council (or relevant political organization) will have empowered CDCs or residents’ groups to enact some of the policies, typically on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. This is a sensible strategy, as it gives ownership of a part of the plan to local communities, and it helps overcome the resourcing issue that is common in shrinking cities due to a declining tax base. However, these groups are likely to require ongoing guidance from city officials; the relationships are best thought of as partnerships.