Community Progress Blog

Statement by Dan Kildee on Recent Census Data

Written by on April 12, 2011

Recently released census data confirmed what many of us long have felt to be true: that the last decade has been one of steep population decline in cities like Detroit, Flint and across the industrial Midwest.

The numbers are stark: Detroit’s population fell to 713,777, a loss of 237,493 people, a 25 percent decline. Flint lost 22,509 people, a 10.7 percent decline.

The question we face now is not “how many?” or even “how many more?” but “what next?”

There are those who would say that we must let some cities fade away in order to let the centers of the new economy thrive.

Such thinking is flawed. Our future relies on America’s cities – large and small, old and new – to be the centers of the next economy. Cities, by their very nature, are the drivers of ingenuity and innovation: it is the nature of urban life to bring together diverse perspectives and resources in a concentrated area. To allow a city to die, its population to dissipate into sprawl, is to abandon the next new industry start-up or the next great leap forward in creative thought.

Our laws – at the local, state and federal levels – must recognize this with comprehensive plans to sustain our metropolitan areas and the cities that anchor them. And our cities themselves must do the hard work of assessing their strengths and how best to leverage them for future success.
But, until those policies lead to sustained reinvestment, more homes and buildings are being abandoned as population numbers decline, leading to an over-supply of housing, as well as commercial and industrial sites. Cities must develop more effective policy to deal with the forgotten land left behind in the wake of population loss.
Legal mechanisms, like county and regional land banks, which can acquire vacant properties across wide geographies, offer a way to aggregate the economics of multiple parcels of land, selling properties from higher-priced areas and using the proceeds to finance re-development in the worse-off areas, eventually raising property values across the region.

Systemic reforms in the ways we handle property tax delinquencies and foreclosures can also make a huge difference, as can improved efforts at code enforcement and vacant property registration.

No single one of these techniques will meet every challenge faced by cities with dramatically lower populations. But, in combination, they can help marshal the resources needed to reinvent American cities for the decades to come.

The Center for Community Progress stands ready to help with finding a way forward.

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