Bulldozing American Cities: Eminent Domain Warning: Flint Michigan Must Shrink

Flint, Michigan is said to be one of the poorest city in the United States. The Treasurer of Michigan’s Genesee County, Dan Kildee, says Flint must shrink by 40 percent to survive. See 6-16-09 update below.

Flint, Michigan

Barack Obama likes that idea of Shrink to Survive, and would like to apply it to other distressed cities around the U.S. Obama is not the only one interested. For some reason, “charities” have “approached” Kildee as well.

Using a study by the Brookings Institution, Kildee says he will “concentrate” on fifty cities that need shrinking, as designated by Brookings.

Did you know that there is a university program already established to identify shrinking cities? I didn’t know that, and I bet you didn’t either. The University of California, Berkeley’s Karina Pallagst is the director of the Shrinking Cities in a Global Perspective program. UC Berkeley is evidentally looking globally for such cities. Can that be the case?

Big Brother abides in Flint:

Flint’s recovery efforts have been helped by a new state law passed a few years ago which allowed local governments to buy up empty properties very cheaply.
They could then knock them down or sell them on to owners who will occupy them. The city wants to specialise in health and education services, both areas which cannot easily be relocated abroad.

Maybe the owners of these properties welcomed government intervention, but then again, maybe they didn’t. Some 1,100 properties have been pulled down in Flint. They are described as “abandoned homes.” Another 3,000 need to be razzed.

Already, some streets peter out into woods or meadows, no trace remaining of the homes that once stood there.
Choosing which areas to knock down will be delicate but many of them were already obvious, he said.
The city is buying up houses in more affluent areas to offer people in neighbourhoods it wants to demolish. Nobody will be forced to move, said Mr Kildee.
“Much of the land will be given back to nature. People will enjoy living near a forest or meadow,” he said.
Mr Kildee acknowledged that some fellow Americans considered his solution “defeatist” but he insisted it was “no more defeatist than pruning an overgrown tree so it can bear fruit again”.

There are many blighted cities and towns around. They probably need to go, but I see this working only when the property owner wants to take the offer from the government. I’d like to know how many property owners objected to the big brother grab.

You can read the comments of some Flint residents faced with abandoned homes and high crimes from The Flint Journal.

Anyone have an idea why charities would be interested in this program, or why this has anything to do with Barack Obama? Did I mention that Michael Moore calls Dan Kildee his “friend.”

Update 6-16-09
A commenter referred me to additional information on the Shrinking Cities program. See Shrinking Flint. This initiative is out of Kent State University, The Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (CUDC):

The Urban Design Center is a community service organization with a professional staff of designers committed to improving the quality of urban places through technical design assistance, research and advocacy.

This group seems to be directly involved in the City of Cleveland, but responded to a New York Times article about shrinking Flint, Michigan:

The idea is that speeding up the process of decline in certain sections of the city will consolidate any housing demand that remains into a few viable areas.

Housing demolition as a reaction to vacancy is occurring in Cleveland as well. The City is currently planning to remove 2,000 homes this year. Not only will most of the embodied energy of these structures be lost in a landfill, but the fabric of the neighborhoods will also be forever changed. Can the abandoned structures still be used as urban greenhouses or biocellars? What sort of neighborhoods are we creating if we add 2,000 new voids a year? Could these new acres of land be put to productive use?