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Thursday, May 12, 2011


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Indianapolis and Columbus, on an apples to apples basis, are both shrinking. The only reason the "city" is growing in both cases is by annexing large suburban areas. Indy had a city-county merger in 1970. The areas in the old city limits of Indianapolis have fallen by 50% or more. The true urban core (Center Township) lost almost 25,000 people last decade. Similarly, Columbus went on an annexation orgy, and now sprawl across parts of four counties, but its core has emptied out too.

Indianapolis is approaching the limits of its model. I don't expect Columbus to be that far behind.

Please, Mr. Longworth, there are no Indianans, just Hoosiers.

With the growth of the government sector of course Indianapolis and Columbus are growing right along with it. For the formerly productive centers like Cleveland, Chicago and St. Louis which built America into an Industrial Empire and global power, Im sure continued pushes to increase unionization, taxes and regulations while lowering trade barriers to every third world slum will solve everything. It's done wonders thus far. In fact some day, we to can aspire to be a third world slum. Wont that be nice. At least we will all be equal.

This comparison is indeed apples and oranges. The columbus and indianapolis metros grew by 13 and 15 percent respectively while Cincinnati and St. Louis grew by 6 and 4 percent respectively. Detroit, Cleveland and even Pittsburgh's metros actually declined by more that 3 percent. The municipal population numbers you use give a false picture of the true metro economies you describe. A more accurate description would place these cities in distinct demographic categories. Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Columbus are actually very distinct from each other if viewed in this way.

The trick is how to get ahead of the population decline so that large segments of the city aren't plagued by vacant housing (see Baltimore) while the city still spends money servicing these abandoned areas.

There are many interesting points and trends here! Thank you.

With regard to the functions, roles, and performance of central cities (and Chicago), I wonder whether the experience of the past decade will be repeated in coming years, or whether it was an aberration.

The especially poor performance of core municipalities during the previous decade may have not have been typical. In particular, the decade's dominant phenomenon, namely the housing bubble, distorted settlement patterns within large metropolitan areas, pushing undue development toward the fringe. There are two reasons why the fringe experienced the greatest over-building. For one, growth on the fringe is always a bet on expectations of further or accelerated growth; that is, it is a bet that the MSA will grow into this housing. Second, because land prices are cheap on the fringe, the relative price of housing on the fringe looks very attractive during a binge; that is, you can
acquire even more for your leveraged bet on a house. Now that this is over, we may see a more normal pattern of decentralization. There are scattered reports that farm owners are re-purchasing undeveloped land at the fringe of some metropolitan areas with the intent to farm.

The suburbanization of the Chicago’s black population during the decade may also have been part of this overall push to the fringe. As previously-established middle belt suburban households bought “McMansions” on the fringe, what-looked-to-be bargains and opportunities may have opened up in older suburbs or on the fringe itself for other middle income central city households. Census statistics show significant gains in black population in many south and southwest suburbs over the recent decade, as well as gains in the far northwest and southeast parts of the City.

There are some interesting sub-trends or counter-trends to suburbanization that Bill Sander and I have found for African-American living patterns on Chicago's north and especially south lakefront communities. Many of those communities display the same tendencies as do near north neighborhoods in terms of college-educated African-Americans settling there. See Table 2, for example, here:

So, we have much more to learn from recent Census data. I would not write off central city prospects just yet.

Bill Testa

Hmm, my town, Fort Wayne, Indiana grew by 25% in the past 10 years from 200k to 250k. Granted, part of that was a couple different annexations, but I know that 7 of those people moved here from the Washington D.C. area. I know this because its me, my family, and my in-laws.

To me, Fort Wayne is growing nicely - and we've recently moved into the downtown area which is starting to wake up finally. (Though there is a lot of work left to do.) The cost of living is a LOT cheaper than living in the Washington D.C. metro area, not to mention the quality of life, less traffic, less crime, etc.

Thanks to the Internet, I work from home and run my company completely on-line. I do custom software development and consulting and the world is my market. I get the best of both worlds: I have the entire world to market to and I get to have a high quality of life to boot.

I think as the economy continues to change and more and more of the population becomes independent from a 9 to 5 style job, some of the better small cities are going to see a reversal in population change. But it will take a lot of hard work to draw young professionals and their families.

I have yet to see an actual "Plan" for Shrinking a City. Does anyone know of such a plan?

Cincinnati's municipality has lost a lot, but its small area and the presence of areas directly across the river from downtown mean this is less significant than it might appear. The average income of cincinnati residents has continued to increase and the metro has had 6% growth. Many other midwest cities would welcome these developments.

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