Embracing the Shrink Paradigm

— by

Detroit. Image via Sustainable Cities Collective

In 1972 the Club of Rome published The Limits to Growth in which they explored the scenario of what would happen in a world driven by limitless growth using finite resources. About 40 years later we are experiencing the clash of these colliding vectors. The bigger the boom the worst the bust, and there is no place on the globe were the spatial implications of the unfolding scenario of The Club of Rome is more evident: Detroit, Michigan.

Detroitification is the fear of every American city. But Detroit is also giving birth to the ideas that will perhaps transform it from a symbol of despair into a beacon of hope. Detroit and other cities in the Rust Belt area have abandonned the idle hope for another boom. In the Detroit areaa a new paradigm is emerging that can help to break the negative spiral. This new spark that has entered the Detroit mind is the shrink paradigm. The spatial implications of this paradigm will be such that the urban landscape will become less urban, a hybrid between a rural landscape and the metropolis, a type of ’21st century countryside’.

“You have high-density development on one side of the street and cows on the other, quite literally.” The team’s recommendations, contained in a draft report by a committee of the American Institute of Architects, are the latest in a flurry of ideas for dealing with Detroit’s growing vacancy. Detroit’s population is less than half of its 1950s peak, and an estimated 40 square miles of the 139-square-mile city are empty. The committee suggests that Detroit could recreate itself as a 21st-Century version of the English countryside. “Isn’t that basically what’s happening? Even without any plans or strategies?” Mallach asked.” But he added, “It’s happening in a sloppy, destructive fashion where you get areas that are essentially abandoned, but they’re not useable open space, they’re not environmentally sound, so they’re basically wasteland.”
– Alan Mallach
(via Landscape + Urbanism / source Detroit Free Press)

0522_landImage via Detroit Free Press

In Flint, Michigan they’re already putting the shrink strategies into practice. You can read about it here:

US cities may have to be bulldozed in order to survive (Telegraph)
Dozens of US cities may have entire neighbourhoods bulldozed as part of drastic “shrink to survive” proposals being considered by the Obama administration to tackle economic decline.

An Effort to Save Flint, Mich., by Shrinking It (NY Times)
Dozens of proposals have been floated over the years to slow this city’s endless decline. Now another idea is gaining support: speed it up.

And as a bonus: from the Archis/Volume Archive:

Shrink, cramp, narrow-mindedness – Ole Bouman (Archis #1, 2004 on Shrink)
People can’t stand shrinkage. Our thoughts and bodies have been focused on growth, expansion, renewal, innovation. But shrinkage is no longer deniable and seen as an overpowering reality. Shrinkage becomes a cramp. Unless one can find a new perspective in it.