That Can’t-Do Spirit

A plan is being bruited to knock down portions of cities in the Rust Belt:

The government looking at expanding a pioneering scheme in Flint, one of the poorest US cities, which involves razing entire districts and returning the land to nature.

Local politicians believe the city must contract by as much as 40 per cent, concentrating the dwindling population and local services into a more viable area.

The radical experiment is the brainchild of Dan Kildee, treasurer of Genesee County, which includes Flint.

Having outlined his strategy to Barack Obama during the election campaign, Mr Kildee has now been approached by the US government and a group of charities who want him to apply what he has learnt to the rest of the country.

Mr Kildee said he will concentrate on 50 cities, identified in a recent study by the Brookings Institution, an influential Washington think-tank, as potentially needing to shrink substantially to cope with their declining fortunes.

Most are former industrial cities in the “rust belt” of America’s Mid-West and North East. They include Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Memphis.

In Detroit, shattered by the woes of the US car industry, there are already plans to split it into a collection of small urban centres separated from each other by countryside.

“The real question is not whether these cities shrink – we’re all shrinking – but whether we let it happen in a destructive or sustainable way,” said Mr Kildee. “Decline is a fact of life in Flint. Resisting it is like resisting gravity.”

I lived in Houston in the mid-1980’s when it was devastated by the collapse in oil prices with all the attendant ecomonic problems: high unemployment, negative equity in housing, migration to other cities. Yet the political leadership of the city didn’t give up then and hasn’t given up now. Even with the present recession, driving around I see construction projects, new businesses, commericial vehicles on the roads, trains carrying goods to and fro. The region didn’t give up then and isn’t surrendering now.

Really, if Mr. Kildee wants to raze dilapidated portions of these cities, he could always start with the political classes whose policies have led to their continuing depressed estate.

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