Eco-Living Magazine

The Wrong Side of the Tracks: Thinking About Struggling Neighborhoods

Posted on the 20 February 2013 by 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev

The City After Abandonment by Margaret Dewar and June Manning Thomas represents important thinking for cities and neighborhoods where change means decline, not growth. Post industrial cities and low investment neighborhoods are more than just ruin porn. When land has virtually no value, what policies and decisions can bring stability and opportunity for those residents that remain?
HBO’s show “The Wire” set in Baltimore, MD illuminates the kinds of cycles under invested neighborhoods experience. The 2011 Baltimore Sustainability Report highlights what can be done in a city with limited economic growth. These type of cities make plans that look to build on change that has been happening despite economic decline. The potential for success is framed around the the topics of cleanliness, pollution prevention, resource conservation, greening, transportation, green economy, and education & awareness. Things like neighborhood organizations, community gardens, school partnerships, and river rehabilitation are examples of conduits for positive change in cities in decline with limited economic growth.

In contrast, the basic premise of planning in growth oriented neighborhoods is that “change is coming” and plans can only hope to shape and guide that change. Strong economic areas like Arlington County, VA can make neighborhood plans that complement the construction of one of the only new streetcars in the country. This kind of planning incentivizes development only if it provides commensurate affordable housing preservation and production, things that are usually in plentiful supply in cities like Baltimore.

The Detroit Future City: Detroit Strategic Framework Plan 2012 takes these ideas even further. The large amount of vacant land combined with sparsely populated neighborhoods and city budget constraints limit the government’s ability to provide basic services. In the plan, open areas are revisioned as potential blue or green infrastructure. Blue infrastructure are ponds and reservoirs that can treat runoff and rain water while saving the city from having to expand the water system. Green infrastructure are community and large scale gardens and forests that can provide food, employment, and cleaner air. Some of these ideas may seem a bit far fetched at first blush, but if they are mixed with new thinking about governing and community development, like in the book Reimaginng Detroit, maybe that future isn’t so crazy.

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