Obama Embraces Demolition?

June 13, 2009 – 11:31 am

by Rolfe Winkler, CFA

OA has long argued that the only real solution to the economic crisis is for America to get smaller.  Our lifestyles need to be downsized, our debts paid off, our government shrunk.  With that in mind, a must-read from the Telegraph—U.S. Cities May Have to be Bulldozed to Survive

The government is 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….

Mr Kildee, who has lived [in Flint] nearly all his life, said he had first to overcome a deeply ingrained American cultural mindset that “big is good” and that cities should sprawl – Flint covers 34 square miles.

He said: “The obsession with growth is sadly a very American thing. Across the US, there’s an assumption that all development is good, that if communities are growing they are successful. If they’re shrinking, they’re failing.”

But some Flint dustcarts are collecting just one rubbish bag a week, roads are decaying, police are very understaffed and there were simply too few people to pay for services, he said.

If the city didn’t downsize it will eventually go bankrupt, he added….

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”.

  1. 7 Responses to “Obama Embraces Demolition?”

  2. Rolfe,

    Once again, your thoughts on this subject seem quite unclear. Are you advocating for the demolishing of specific properties in situations where the costs to the owners in maintaining them are greater than the costs TO THE OWNERS of demolishing them, and there are no willing buyers at any price?

    Or are you after some “social costs and benefits” type logic whereby you’ve determined (with no specific knowledge and no care for ownership) that a bunch of homes need to get bulldozed to satisfy your ideal of what American communities should be like now?

    In other words, do you believe that we, as human beings, can achieve more prosperity by destroying the wealth that we have? Do you also believe in paying people to build pyramids?

    By Taylor on Jun 13, 2009

  3. Taylor,

    I can’t speak for Rolfe, but I think this is less a matter of bulldozing “wealth” than building pyramids. It is more like bulldozing pyramids.

    Specifically, the sprawling infrastructure is now proving more expensive to maintain (in a socialized manner) than its yield. Economic sanity dictates it should be folded up.

    More generally, if gas prices stay high and bonanza financing does not come back, then the US will probably have to configure to consist of more dense mega-cities and townships, as opposed to vast sprawling megalopolises.

    Just like the rest of the world — where they don’t do it for “social planning”. It’s just common sense.

    By Aaron Krowne on Jun 13, 2009

  4. Flint, Michigan is hardly a typical American city.Fortunately! Depopulation and economic decay are one thing, accomodating the desires of social engineers or city planners another.

    People are not averse to living in high density
    cities where those cities have a good quality of life. Unfortunately housing in such cities tends to be very expensive and even then the public schools are usually substandard or worse.

    That is the problem with most urban core areas. The proximity to a large underclass whose social
    problems destroy the schools, create high tax rates and make large areas ‘no go zones’.

    Gentrification can only go sofar in such cities unless some provision is made to de-annex the gentrified areas from the existing municipal governments or unless the gentrification is so extensive as to drive the urban underclass out altogether.

    By sangellone on Jun 13, 2009

  5. In other words, do you believe that we, as human beings, can achieve more prosperity by destroying the wealth that we have?

    It’s only wealth if someone is willing to pay for it.

    By K T Cat on Jun 14, 2009

  6. On a deeper level it represents another move away from a laissez-faire system motivated largely by the cost of money, versus a resource-centric long-term national and regional planning approach.

    By Gregman2 on Jun 14, 2009

  7. This is really shortsighted.

    These periods have happened before and people will go back to populating these areas–but only when the prices go down to where the average person would find it very affordable.

    To put it another way–Imagine if you only spent 25% of what you now do on housing. How would that free up your finances? Would you spend more on other things? Would you save more? Invest?

    Property values are just too high. They need to stop being artificially inflated and be allowed to drop to an affordable level. Creating scarcity isn’t the answer.

    By Lisa on Jun 15, 2009

  8. Lisa, that’s just not true. Flint has been in decline for 30 years. Detroit houses can be had for a median price of $6,000. Still, no one wants to live in these places. They’ve become crime-infested poverty-stricken disaster areas.

    These blighted areas are the civil engineering equivalent of rotting corpses.

    What little living tissue actually remains can only be rescued by amputating gangrenous extremities.

    By RolfeWinkler on Jun 15, 2009

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