Should We Bulldoze the 'Burbs?

Reply Tue 30 Jun, 2009 09:08 pm

Should We Bulldoze the 'Burbs?

By Eoin O'Carroll, Christian Science Monitor
Posted on June 30, 2009, Printed on June 30, 2009
Should We Bulldoze the 'Burbs? | | AlterNet

A story last week in the Telegraph, a British paper, describes how the city of Flint, Mich., a former industrial powerhouse now facing depopulation and plummeting home values, is dealing with vacant housing.

The solution? Bulldoze entire districts, returning the land to nature, and concentrate the population in the urban core.

The Telegraph's Tom Leonard reports that the idea is the brainchild of Dan Kildee, treasurer of Genesee County, which includes Flint.[INDENT]He said: "The obsession with growth is sadly a very American thing. Across the US, there's an assumption that all development is good, that if communities are growing they are successful. If they're shrinking, they're failing."

But some Flint dustcarts are collecting just one rubbish bag a week, roads are decaying, police are very understaffed and there were simply too few people to pay for services, he said.
If the city didn't downsize it will eventually go bankrupt, he added.
[/INDENT]The article reports that the city has already demolished 1,100 abandoned homes, and that Mr. Kildee estimates that another 3,000 will need to come down. Overall, local officials believe that the city will need to contract its area.

Additionally, the city is buying up homes in upscale neighborhoods, which it will offer to people living in areas that it wants to demolish. But nobody will be forced to move, according to Kildee.

Kildee met with Barack Obama during his presidential campaign, and has been approached by the government to look into applying his strategy to other Rust Belt cities (prompting the Drudge Report to link to the story with the headline, "OBAMA ERA: BULLDOZE SHRINKING CITIES?")

Razing declining neighborhoods doesn't seem to be a priority right now for the Obama administration, but Harvard urban economist Edward Glaeser thinks it should be. Writing in the New York Times's Economix blog, Professor Glaeser argues that some cities just aren't going to come back.
These cities, he writes, would do well to focus their investment on people, not on infrastructure:[INDENT]After all, the job of government is to enrich and empower the lives of its citizens, not to chase the chimera of population growth targets. Just once, I want to hear a Rust Belt mayor say with pride "my city lost 200,000 people during my term, but we've given them the education they need to find a better life elsewhere."
[/INDENT]Glaeser points out that the distribution of America's population was very different a century ago. In 1900, the 20 largest US cities were on waterways. But the advent of the automobile made it possible to travel over land cheaply, and people migrated in droves to the wide open of the Sun Belt. (The rise of air conditioning probably helped, too.)

But now there's another shift underway, as migration to America's southern tier is slowing and as more Americans are moving back into city centers, a trend that predates, but was accelerated by, the subprime mortgage crisis. As urban strategist Christopher B. Leinberger wrote in the Atlantic in March 2008, the growing number of vacant and abandoned malls, office parks, and McMansions threaten to turn suburbia into the next slum.

Many sustainability experts have noted that urbanites use far less energy than their suburban counterparts. New Yorker writer David Owen observed in 2004 that, if New York City were granted statehood it would rank 51st in per-capita energy use, thanks in part to public transit and other shared resources, but mostly because its compactness forces people to be energy efficient. No matter what your politics are, when you don't need to get in a car just to go pick up a quart of milk, you're living a greener lifestyle.

In the meantime, at least one perfectly good suburban housing development has already been demolished, not by the government, but by a profit-seeking enterprise.

In May, a video surfaced on YouTube of new houses in Victorville, Calif., being knocked down by a backhoe. Apparently, Guaranty Bank of Austin, Texas, which acquired the 16 properties through a foreclosure sale, believed it was cheaper to destroy the homes than to sell them.

Maura Judkis, the eco-blogger at US News, reported that the appliances were removed from the homes before they were wrecked, and some of the wood was sent to be reused for construction projects in Mexico, while the rest to be ground up for mulch.

Still, it all seems such a waste. Given how hard it is to predict future migration patterns, perhaps we should build new homes -- such as prefabricated houses -- that can be easily disassembled and rebuilt elsewhere.

Eoin O'Carroll is a blogger for The Christian Science Monitor.

I found this to be an interesting article. For the last century we have been repeating the mantra that growth is good, but it has come at costs--most of which are found in the cities of America. Now the idea of building cheap housing in the suburbs is starting to catch up to bite people in the ass, because the houses were just not meant to last for a long period of time. Should we return what was once prime farm land and abandoned lots back to nature in order to reap the rewards of local land tracks that can be used to grow food for inner cities, while improving the beauty of neighborhoods?
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Didymos Thomas
Reply Wed 1 Jul, 2009 02:51 pm
We need a complete overhaul of how modern, technologically advanced society lives.

When the industrial revolution hit, we had no idea what the result would be. We gave no thought to the best way to house the massive populations converging on industrial centers.
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Reply Fri 3 Jul, 2009 08:46 am
I agree that it is time for an overhaul on modern society. With the infrastructures of our cities crumbling, and not having the money to keep propping up the automobile industry (e.g. roads crumbling, congested traffic), it is time to invest in public transportation like we have never done before.

Another thing that must be done, is that more food production must take place in the city. We need community gardens that are sustained through selling products grown at farmers markets. This will open up access to good food to many in the inner city that generally do not have the means to purchase things like fresh fruits and vegetables. Looking around my city, I see many abandoned lots, and decrepit houses and buildings that could come down, and be replaced by gardens that make use of the property in a way that helps a community rather than diminish it. This would also offer jobs to community members, in which the fruits of their labors stay within the community. It is not rocket science, but it requires a new way of thinking about food production and land use.
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Reply Sat 4 Jul, 2009 07:35 am
You are forgetting that the land within the inner city you talk about, is owned by somebody waiting for this situation. You would have to pass derriliction laws that could easily be used against a populace rather than for it and the end result would be a monopoly either way. The other option is a complete reformation in the political system of America. I will keep it in brackets, kind of on the hush, (Communism), or a sparkling new form of Socialism, whereby the government in service of the people would take the property and hence have the might of its own law and or military services, blah blah, it just wouldn't work in America.

I kept trying to find a break through and only ended up having to cover my behind at each new suggestion. I can think of only two things that will let you do all this and they are huge natural disasters and alien invasion, because nothing else will make a true American by a 2 litre engine, for a car.
Didymos Thomas
Reply Sun 5 Jul, 2009 06:59 pm
I don't care what we call it, but a complete overhaul sounds great. I also think a complete overhaul of American society is patriotic. Jefferson suggested revolution, violent if necessary, to occur every ten years. We are a bit overdue.
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