chapter  1
7 Pages

Introduction

When faced with problems related to depopulation, urban planners globally have turned to growth as a panacea (Portney 2002; Pinderhughes 2004). Under the guise of “development,” these planners try to grow their cities and towns to be bigger and better. Defined by Webster’s dictionary as “a step or stage in growth, advancement, etc” (Guralnik 1986, p. 386), development means advancing in a conceptually indeterminate manner. For a city to develop, does that mean healthier children? Does it mean more jobs? Does it mean less crime? Does it simply mean more people? Without a clear answer, planners have pursued development-have manipulated policies and regulations-to advance without public consensus about where they are advancing to. The results have more often than not been dismal. In trying to “advance” or “grow,” the City of Buffalo built a billion dollar light rail to nowhere, while its public schools are woefully underfunded. In its attempts to develop, the City of Youngstown heavily subsidized the construction of several prisons throughout the city, while less money is available for crime fighting. Part of Bridgeport, Connecticut’s strategy to grow involved the construction of several sports stadiums using public resources-facilities that remain vacant most of the year while public housing facilities next door need roof repairs. Critics of development are common, with big thinkers such as David Harvey, Susan Fainstein, and Neil Smith at the front of the intellectual fight against city policies that oppress the poor, enrich real estate interests, and advance the political ambitions of elected officials. Embedded in these critiques of development is an inherent concern over both how growth impacts on quality of life for residents (particularly those most disenfranchised) and concern over the process by which local government decisions are made. If development does not work, it may be because the concept is so fatally flawed that it should be entirely discarded. Growth, on the other hand, is more conceptually tight, indicating an increase in population, jobs, and perhaps even income levels. But is growing the only way to advance? Do more people mean that a city can move forward in the next stage in providing fair and equitable education to its children? Do more jobs mean that a city can advance in its provision of parks and recreational amenities? In some cases, the answer is yes, but for some cities there may be another way to develop: by shrinking. There may be a way for planners to develop their cities without growing them, to enhance the quality of life of residents without adding jobs, people, or even increasing income levels. While professional planners might scoff at this idea, there is growing evidence (to which this book contributes) that suggests that development can be achieved through shrinkage. An emerging group of practitioners and scholars has embraced this kind of thinking into a new way to talk about population and economic decline-they are literally changing the discourse around decline. Proponents of “shrinking cities” reject the growth-based paradigm that feeds much of urban planning in North America. Rather than trying to grow every declining city, the shrinking cities approach argues that not all cities are going to grow back to their former glory.