Plumb Lines

April 22, 2009

Strategic Demolition of Urban Neighborhoods

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 10:31 am


Flint, Michigan, is thinking of demolishing whole blocks to contain some of the ill effects of urban decline. While I’d be opposed to this if it meant destroying beautiful buildings or coercively relocating residents, strategically demolishing certain parts of a city to increase density in the other parts could be effective in reviving urban life. Flint probably cannot recover its old and exalted position in the American economy. It cannot be a successful big city. Maybe it can be a successful medium-sized town. The particular neighborhoods selected for demolition, however, and the pattern in which they are demolished, will significantly affect the character of the city. Flint ought to target for preservation those neighborhoods that have a good mix of buildings that can serve as single-family homes, apartments, and retail locations. More importantly, the city should preserve whole corridors of neighborhoods and intensify transit service through these corridors. Maybe preserve everything within a half-mile of existing rail lines? If this pattern of demolition were followed, Flint would eventually become a city oriented around a central core with neighborhoods built out radially from the center. This is an ideal geography for a transit-, bike-, and pedestiran-oriented city. The city could buy some second-hand commuter railcars to run over the rail lines and use the green swaths between the radial neighborhoods for bike paths into and out of downtown.

David Schaengold



  1. […] values” as it were, but I believe that they are best preserved by building pro-family communities; by maintaining such antiquated things as aesthetic beauty, walkability, and the environment.  I […]

    Pingback by left conservatism revisited | The League of Ordinary Gentlemen — April 22, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

  2. I meant to mention in my earlier comment to Michael’s post that there has been some degree of this gentrification-by-force model in Baltimore, too. I don’t know too much about this, but in the process of trying to make the surrounding area “nicer,” apparently Hopkins has attempted to move some of the locals to other parts of the city. It is terribly received. For many people who have lived in the same urban row house their entire lives, who don’t have access to a car, whose main social outlet is sitting out on their stoop and hanging out with neighbors, getting moved anywhere, even if it’s technically “nicer,” is a huge, unwelcome shock. The Flint plan could probably make the city as a whole friendlier and more appealing to professionals, suburbanites, and new business, but would certainly cause casualties along the way. Such dramatic actions may be required to turn a city around that has gone so far downhill, but it also risks the abandonment of parts of the city’s population.

    Comment by Suzanne W — April 22, 2009 @ 8:45 pm

  3. Suzanne, you’re certainly right. Generally speaking, gentrification is spearheaded or at least smiled upon by city governments who would love nothing more than to see their existing, high-need populations displaced by adventurous suburbanites. An urbanist vision that promotes sidewalk cafes doesn’t have to be pro-Yuppie or dismissive of the needs of current residents. Though I didn’t mention it in the post on the topic — only for lack of space — resisting the Yuppies both for social reasons, but also for aesthetic reasons, should be a core tactic of Pomocon Urbanism.

    Comment by David Schaengold — April 23, 2009 @ 11:06 am

  4. […] recent conversations on Plumb Lines on urban decline, and more specifically on the demolition of entire city blocks, I have been considering the future role of greens and parks in reorienting urban communities. […]

    Pingback by Spatial Institutions: New England Town Greens, Part II « Plumb Lines — May 16, 2009 @ 12:12 am

  5. Well there now, Obama has done it – but what of historic preservation, adaptive reuse & recylcing old building materials.

    What of the historic quality of a place as related to its platted land ?

    Comment by Craig Purcell — June 13, 2009 @ 6:57 am

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