Visiting Scholar Maxwell Hartt on Shrinking Cities

Last week’s UEP colloquium welcomed Maxwell Hartt, a visiting Fulbright Scholar from the University of Waterloo’s School of Planning. Hartt’s research looks at shrinking cities and urban decline, drawing examples from Detroit and East St. Louis in the United States and Cape Breton and Chatham-Kent in Canada.

For Hartt’s purposes, a shrinking city(Pallagst, 2009, Wiechmann, 2008) is a densely populated urban area with at least 10,000 residents that has faced widespread population loss for more than two years, and is undergoing economic transformations with some symptoms of a structural crisis.

The talk began with an exercise to brainstorm possible causes for the shrinking of a city. The audience was split into groups and told to brainstorm and categorize their ideas. Common responses included de-industrialization, increased mobility of labor, globalization, white flight, aging populations, emigration of youth, low immigration, political collapse, and privatization. These drivers of shrinking cities, external and internal, lead to effects feedback and compound the issues.

Drivers of Shrinking Cities

Drivers of Shrinking Cities

Hartt’s research looks at 15 variables in Chatham-Kent and Cape Breton, Canada:

  1. Dependency Ratio (roughly the proportion of population not in labor force)
  2. Proportion aged 65+
  3. Birth Rate
  4. Death Rate
  5. Immigration Rate
  6. Emigration Rate
  7. Interprovincial Migration Rate
  8. Intraprovincial Migration Rate
  9. Non Permanent Resident Rate
  10. Unemployment Rate
  11. Employment Rate
  12. Labor Participation Rate
  13. Building Permit Rate
  14. Housing Start Rate
  15. Housing completion Rate

The diagram below shows the complex relationship between these variables leading to the shrinking of Chatham-Kent:

Some trends from this analysis show a strong connection between unemployment and decreased immigration, as well as unemployment and decreased housing construction.

In an effort to find solutions, the end of the talk focused on what planners, academics and citizens, especially those not living in shrinking cities, can do to support them. There needs to be a rethinking of how the media tends to shame declining cities, an end to shutting off services to outlying or poor communities, and a renewed preservation of cultural assets. Hartt also brought up a need to consider how new immigrants tend to move to a few major cities, and how they can be incentivized toward shrinking cities.

This was the final colloquium of the fall semester. The schedule for spring colloquia will be released in the coming weeks.