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To shrink or not to shrink? Your comments on urban renewal

On our show last week, we featured a look at the “shrinking city” of Youngstown, Ohio, where the municipal government is trying to manage the city on a smaller scale by diverting resources away from blighted areas and focusing on thriving ones. Our segment featured Youngstown’s efforts to demolish abandoned houses, close off unused roadways and allow the wilderness to grow over the land. But is shrinking the best way to help revitalize a city? Viewers shared an array of critiques and thoughts. On Facebook, Mark suggested selling abandoned lots instead of demolishing them:

As much as I love green space, I hate to see assets destroyed. If there are -any- potential users, I would favor selling the house intact for $25 instead of spending $10k(???) to tear it down and clean the lot, -then- selling that to the neighbor for $25.

On our website, commenter Lessik offered a more artist-friendly alternative:

Instead of tearing them down? Create a program for artists and musicians to buy them. We struggle, and are always looking for a friendly place. When I can’t sell my jewelry, I work construction. I’ll do it. A couple of years and you’ll have a revitalized town. You’re giving up …

But several others thought shrinking was necessary for a city like Youngstown. Facebook commenter and former Youngstown resident Bradley wrote:

I grew up in Youngstown and it’s kind of sad. My grandparents emigrated from the U.K. to work in the steel mills. Once they started to shut down many of the people I graduated high school with had to leave to find jobs.

The problem is that there are more houses there than people. You cannot even give them away and no one wants to move back because there aren’t any jobs. A family member just sold his parents’ 50-year-old house in a working class neighborhood for $14,000, less than the price of a car. It took two years to sell it!

If they didn’t tear down the houses they would become death traps and places for nefarious activities.

Commenter Kathleen agreed:

Sad to see the old houses go, but the fact is that the old industrial economy was dirty and unsustainable. I hope to see more and more local leaders step up to the plate like this, opening up more green space, setting people to work on community projects, and making communities greener, more pedestrian friendly, i.e. cheaper to live in, and building more public transport, fostering local agriculture, and densely managed amenities to attract new kinds of industry.

And Youngstown resident Gina supported the shrinking plan as well:

As a resident of the city, I applaud Mayor Williams for doing what should have been done years ago. Yes, it’s painful to watch so many resources wasted … but they went to waste long ago, and have been rotting and deteriorating for years. The longer the rot is left, the harder it is to clean it all up and not kill the city.

Others had thoughts on ways that shrinking might work outside of Youngstown. On Facebook, commenter Andrew suggested reusing existing infrastructure rather than expanding outward:

Though not a solution for single family plots, old high density residence/commercial properties could benefit from this same idea, though sell it to a partnership of businesses who can invest in combined high density housing, industrial and retail space. The solution must be to reinvent/reuse infrastructure that is already in place, and lessen the burden of having to expand infrastructure to new suburbs.

And David warned of how other cities might use less noble means to downsize:

While Youngstown, Ohio, might be letting remaining residents in blighted neighborhoods remain, other cities trying something similar will use eminent domain to clean up blighted neighborhoods. That’s the scary part for someone in poverty (a lot of us heading in that direction).

To shrink or not to shrink? Do you think cities hosting abandoned buildings and blighted neighborhoods are better off downsizing or focusing on reinventing that unused space? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, on our Facebook page or on Twitter.