Rightsizing Shrinking Cities

Rightsizing Shrinking Cities
The Urban Design Dimension

Built for a population in some cases over twice as large as that currently within the city limits, shrinking cities have found themselves, particularly since 2007’s fiscal crisis, with an unmanageably large array of streets, utilities, public buildings, parks and housing. ‘Rightsizing’ has emerged as a word for the yet-unproved process of somehow bringing cities down to a ‘right’ size; in other words, to a size proportionate to city government’s ability to pay for itself. Even Detroit, the United States’s largest shrinking city, is discussing rightsizing. On the surface, ‘rightsizing’ would appear a difficult if not impossible proposition for shrinking cities, at least in the United States with its tradition of decentralized, market-driven planning. What physical form and size should the city take after abandonment? What decisions should city officials make, concerning which aspects of the city, in which areas of the city, about who should live where? How much is rightsizing to cost, and who will pay? Is there an ultimate vision of the city guiding rightsizing, or will policymakers guide rightsizing by following immediate imperatives? This book chapter from The City After Abandonment (2012) argues that scholars and policymakers should at least in part consider rightsizing, a nascent and as yet unfulfilled urban policy with political, social, and economic dimensions, as an urban design vision for the shrinking city. Given that many consider the visual landscape of shrinking cities to be their most striking and disturbing feature, urban design seems an obvious means by which planners and designers might reshape these cities for their lives after decline and by extension, explore new forms of the ideal urban neighborhood and, perhaps, the ideal city. I examine existing urban design paradigms for the shrinking city, including New Urbanism, landscape urbanism, and everyday urbanism, before recommending a fourth paradigm based in part on Kevin Lynch's 1961 idea of the polycentered net. I conclude with policy directions that might begin to enact such a strategy.



Title Rightsizing Shrinking Cities
Authors Brent D. Ryan
Type of Publication
Book Title
The City After Abandonment (Thomas and Dewar, eds.)
Date of Publication
Dec 1, 2012
University of Pennsylvania Press
Philadelphia, PA