London’s Telegraph had an interesting story over the weekend about an innovative program that Flint, Michigan is using to combat its huge drop in population. The article, titled US Cities May Have to be Bulldozed to Survive, explains that the program’s goal is to demolish tracts of vacant housing and return the land to nature, while moving the residents of non-vacant housing closer to the city center.
Flint, sixty miles north of Detroit, was the original home of General Motors. The car giant once employed 79,000 local people but that figure has shrunk to around 8,000. Unemployment is now approaching 20 per cent and the total population has almost halved to 110,000. The exodus – particularly of young people – coupled with the consequent collapse in property prices, has left street after street in sections of the city almost entirely abandoned.
Dan Kildee, the creator of the program, has received support from the Obama administration and a group of charities that want to expand the program to other cities, mostly in the Midwest and Rust Belt. I was recently in Detroit and saw block after block of abandoned buildings, which created huge, rundown holes in the city. It would be interesting to see this program in action there as well.
I think that this is a great idea and will have a decent chance of working. The program should appeal to both Republicans and Democrats, as shrinking cities should lower costs and make cities more environmentally friendly. Lately, we have not seen many new, innovative ideas coming out of our government. Instead, politicians have mostly tried to push any big decisions toward the future and government has not gotten much done.
The American model worked so well in the past because local governments and states acted as labs of democracy, creating new, innovative policies and programs. Some failed and others succeded. The successful ones often spread nationwide. Hopefully, ideas like this that start on the local level and have a chance to spread will reinvigorate both our shrinking cities and our political process.