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Old Posted May 23, 2019, 5:16 PM
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Can A City Shrink And Thrive? It’s Complicated

Can A City Shrink And Thrive? It’s Complicated

May 21, 2019

By Justin Fox

Read More: https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/ar...oom-for-cities


There is a growing academic literature on the topic of shrinking cities that is aimed at least partly at answering this question and the emerging answer seems to be that no, shrinking isn’t always bad. Dutch researcher Ellis Delken, for example, compared happiness-survey scores in German cities and rural districts that had shrunk, grown or remained stable in population from 1990 through 2005, and found that residents of shrinking areas were on average happier than those in growing ones.

- In the U.S., Tufts University professor of urban and environmental policy and planning Justin Hollander looked at “neighborhood quality” scores in 38 big U.S. cities in the 1990s and 2000s from the Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey, and found that while growing cities scored higher than shrinking ones on average, there was a lot of heterogeneity, with residents of several cities that lost population over the study period (Atlanta, Boston, Minneapolis, New Orleans) giving high and rising neighborhood ratings. — Such surveys suffer from the limitation that, as Delken put it near the end of her paper, “the people that have left the shrinking cities did not take part in this study,” but they do indicate that life for those that stay behind can be perfectly pleasant (in the German shrinking cities, people reported being especially happy about public transportation and the standard of living).

- There are also lots of shrinking cities where those who stay behind are quite affluent: A brand-new article by Maxwell Hartt, a lecturer in spatial planning at Cardiff University in Wales, looks at the 886 U.S. cities with 10,000 residents or more as of 2010 where population had peaked before that year, and finds that 27 percent of them had average incomes higher than those of their surrounding regions. Most of these 238 “prosperous shrinking cities,” as Hartt calls them, are wealthy suburbs. — I grew up in one of them: Lafayette, California. It is in a metropolitan area San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward that saw a 33% population increase from 1980 to 2010, and in a county that grew 60%. But Lafayette effectively chose to shrink as residents resisted denser new development and stayed in their big houses long after the kids moved away, behavior encouraged by California’s Proposition 13-imposed property tax rules.

- Another way to sift out “prosperous” shrinking metropolitan areas might be to look at those where 2017 per capita income exceeded the national average. Along with Pittsfield and Pittsburgh, which are both on the above chart (and both named for 18th-century British statesman William Pitt, for whatever that’s worth), the only other shrinking metro area to make that cut is Cleveland-Elyria, Ohio, with a per capita income of $51,755. Use the BEA’s real per capita personal income estimates for 2017, which were just released and account for differences in purchasing power among metropolitan areas, and seven more areas (including Wheeling and Niles-Benton Harbor from the above chart) make the cut. — To get another view, I looked at the metropolitan areas that have lost population since 2000. Interestingly, given that overall U.S. population growth has been much slower since 2000, there are also 45 of those. Nineteen of them, or 42%, saw per capita personal income rise at a faster pace than the nation.

- I somewhat arbitrarily divided these into the 13 with 2017 per capita incomes of less than 90% of the national average and the relatively richer remainder. The members of the first group are all on the small side, and all but three can be found in a narrow, hilly 500-mile-long swath of territory from southern West Virginia to upstate New York: Beckley, West Virginia; Cumberland, Maryland-West Virginia; Huntington-Ashland, West Virginia-Kentucky-Ohio; Weirton-Steubenville and Wheeling, West Virginia-Ohio; Altoona, Johnstown and Williamsport, Pennsylvania; Elmira and Utica-Rome, New York; Danville, Illinois; Niles-Benton Harbor, Michigan; and Pine Bluff, Arkansas. — What’s going on with most of these areas is, I imagine, a combination of being down so long that it looks like up, and largely missing out on the two phenomena that threw so many regional economies for a loop in the 2000s: the “China shock” that hammered until-then-still-chugging manufacturing industries in parts of the South and Midwest, and the real estate bubble and bust that hit hardest in parts of the Sun Belt.

- Pittsburgh and Buffalo, on the other hand, would seem to offer at least a little hope for other shrinking cities in the Rust Belt and elsewhere. The cities themselves more or less stopped growing in the 1930s, and started shrinking outright in the 1950s. For the metropolitan areas, the population declines started in the early 1970s and have continued, with occasional pauses, ever since. Both areas have populations that skew old, but that’s due not to a recent influx of oldsters but a decades-long lack of influx of anybody else. Now, though, both regions can boast reasonably healthy shares of people early in their working years. If you look at those young people’s educational backgrounds, metro Pittsburgh and Buffalo really stand out. — The equivalent percentages for metropolitan San Francisco and San Jose are 11.6% and 12.2%, so Pittsburgh and Buffalo aren’t exactly global magnets for young talent just yet. But they do seem to have become regional magnets — in a region that, some recent research has shown, has been experiencing a “brain gain” relative to the large cities of the Sun Belt.


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Old Posted May 23, 2019, 6:01 PM
Obadno Obadno is offline
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I think I city can survive shrinking, Chicago has done so. The issue is to the degree.

At some point if the population doesn't at least stabilize and continues to fall it begins to collapse on itself Detroit style.

I think a city wit a healthy demographic of people being born/inbound vs aging/move out can thrive as generally stagnant size indefinitely.
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Old Posted May 23, 2019, 6:27 PM
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Antares41 Antares41 is offline
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Given that Buffalo and Pittsburgh have a fair amount of 15 to 24 year olds due to a large number of college students in, and in direct vicinity, of these cities; it more a question of retention. Can Buffalo and Pittsburgh retain the youngest and brightest and halt the population decline thus facilitated growth?
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