Shrinking Cities

Readjust the Built Environment

Many efforts to deal with large-scale abandonment in shrinking cities involve moving existing populations and uses to create dense nodes of activity in existing or new neighborhoods. The resulting vacancies create contiguous “empty” areas where services can be eliminated or scaled back; land can be used for green infrastructure projects; or land can be held for future development. These efforts are referred to as “Re-Adjusting the Built Footprint.”

These strategies are closely linked to strategic demolitions, and may be used in concert with demolitions to create potential development areas on shrinking cities. As with strategic demolitions, readjustments that involve moving people can sever community bonds that have been built up over lifetimes. Relocated people may be moved to stable, vibrant communities but lack a sense of connection to or understanding of the new community. Understanding the “rhythm” of a neighborhood is essential to taking part in its social patterns.

There are concrete goods that can be accomplished with these methods as well. Decommissioning grey infrastructure on a permanent or temporary basis or reducing city services (trash removal, police patrols) in unoccupied areas can help cities that are losing tax revenues balance budgets. Arguably, if a community that has lost enough residents to be considered for decommissioning, the network of connections between neighbors is already irrevocably damaged. For relocated individuals, there are clear benefits to living in a dense community with neighbors, retail services and city services, even if it is an unfamiliar neighborhood. Careful consideration of outcomes for individuals, as well as more generic “communities,” is essential to making re-adjustments work.

Reajusting the built environment can sometimes involve relocating people.


When moving a physical structure and the residents therein proves significantly less costly and less stressful than building a new home, relocation may be an appropriate choice. In this case, the physical structure is moved to an empty lot in a different neighborhood. This approach may facilitate neighborhood clustering. Because many cities already have an oversupply of housing stock, such a strategy should be treated with some caution.