Again I feel like I am floating on a puffy, white blanket of blissful isolation here in Salt Lake City after reading a recent New York Times piece about shrinking Flint, Michigan.
Despite the devastation that I know this process has been and will continue to wreak on the people of Flint and other cities like it, I can’t help but to hope for the future.
Maybe these desperate times will engage us Americans with the dynamic process of creating cities that are sustainable through thin times as well as thick. I take a short look around at the carnage that was our economic system and it is evident to all the effects of planning only for success. “My home will only continue to rise in value.” “The markets will certainly trend ever upward.” “Food and oil will always be cheep.” “We must certainly continue to get stupider!” Out of all of these, only the last one has been true.
City planning has seemed to be based on similar thinking — continual growth and gain. Most of our waistlines tell us this is not sustainable. Yet we believe it from the lips of mayors and builders and venture capitalists alike. Now I am not against growth. It is as inevitable as its counterpart, shrinkage. The rub seams to be figuring out how to plan on both.
Can Flint remake itself as a leaner and more meaningful community through the brutal process of bulldozing abandoned homes and asking the owners of not yet abandoned ones to step aside? Can the land bank that is claiming ownership of an ever increasing number of lots find the quickest and best path toward a sustainable city footprint that can expand and shrink with need? Or will they just knock crap down now and build new crap up later?
I couldn’t help checking out Alan Weisman’s book, “The World Without Us” from the Salt Lake Library. It’s just such an eery thought. In the book Alan posits many questions about how long it would take the earth to recover from us. It seems in some ways, that Flint is now asking the same question. Shrink a city and how long does it take for nature to expand? And can we bargain a new, more sustainable balance for both?