Monday, March 9

A case for small cities

From: Flickr user Smaku
An essay in the Boston Review by Catherine Tumber presents hopeful take on the future of small cities, particularly former industrial centers in the northeast and midwest - places like Syracuse, New York, or Youngstown, Ohio. Rural small towns have always enjoyed a cherished place in American's hearts, and the big city represents cosmopolitan culture, the creative economy, and global interconnectivity. But small cities, fitting neither of these models completely, have often fallen between the cracks.

She describes the troubling recent history of American small cities. While major cities were hit hard by urban renewal and the dispersal of development, these forces have been almost fatal blows to smaller cities.
"Large cities survived the changes and the resulting onslaught of suburban shopping malls—itself a reaction to extended supply–chains—in the late ’70s. In smaller cities, malls decimated what was left of retail districts already damaged by massive downtown highway systems that choked off commercial centers from surrounding urban neighborhoods. "
Furthermore, the shift away from an industrial and into an information economy has drained small cities of capital and job opportunities, while major cities were able to refashion themselves as hubs of global finance and technology. Cultural creatives were drawn to the global cities, but most smaller cities have never acquired the cache or critical mass to draw significant numbers of people in.

However, with a growing emphasis on green jobs and sustainable agriculture, Tumber sees a new niche for small cities. She showcases some of the advantages small cities may have over major metropolitan areas in our transitioning economy. Renewable energy and sustainable agriculture both benefit from decentralization, which allows transmission costs to be minimized and sufficient land to be available.
"An inversion is at work here: placing smaller cities at the center of analysis leads to an imaginative template that is decentralized, deconcentrated, relocalized. One of the Obama campaign’s strokes of genius was bypassing big–city power centers, where self–appointed national leaders claim to speak for minorities, and working directly with the decentralized grid of smaller–city community organizations across the land. As policymakers rethink the American agricultural economy and invest in renewable energy, they, too, should be looking at smaller cities."


Dan Lorentz said...

Thanks for pointing me to this article.

Excellent blog, by the way.

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