Urban Decline and the Future of American Cities

Urban Decline and the Future of American Cities

Urban Decline and the Future of American Cities

Urban Decline and the Future of American Cities

Synopsis

During the past two decades, most large American cities have lost population, yet some have continued to grow. Does this trend foreshadow the 'death' of our largest cities? Or is urban decline a temporary phenomenon likely to be reversed by high energy costs?

Excerpt

Most large cities in the United States have been losing population for at least two decades, some for much longer. Losses have occurred at precipitous rates in a few severely declining cities, where employment and local tax bases are also shrinking. Some of these cities contain large areas of abandoned buildings and neighborhood decay. Yet many other large U. S. cities are still gaining population, and the 1970s witnessed huge capital investments in downtown office buildings and neighborhood housing rehabilitation in nearly all big cities, including those whose populations are falling sharply.

This confusing combination of conditions and trends has caused urban observers to reach widely varying conclusions about the causes and nature of urban decline and what--if anything--should be done about it. Some, believing that large cities are obsolete in an age of automobiles and electronic communications, argue that public policies should help big cities decline gracefully and should not encourage their revitalization. Other observers claim large cities have already begun a renaissance that will reinforce their traditional roles as centers of cultural and economic dynamism. They think this is especially likely because of high energy costs and demographic shifts to smaller households. They want to encourage urban revival through public policies that bestow financial and other aid upon large cities. Still others favor federal aid to big cities to help them cope with disproportionate numbers of low-income households.

The myriad facts cited by proponents of these contrasting views have not been systematically related to explicit theories about the causes of urban decline. Hence urban policy debates usually revolve around frag-

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