Galen Newman, an assistant professor of urban planning at Texas A&M, is developing planning solutions for once-vibrant cities such as Detroit, Buffalo, N.Y., and Youngstown, Ohio, now plagued by growing vacant areas caused by shrinking populations.
“Instead of chasing industry with hefty incentives and other standard economic development tools to revive these areas, caused by the transition from an industrial economy to a service economy, economic difficulties, suburbanization and globalization-related job outsourcing, it might be prudent for some cities to focus on improving the quality of the built and natural environments in these vacant parcels,” said Newman, who is investigating solutions in a study, “Smart Shrinkage: Design for the Un-developing Landscape.”
He is performing the study with a $15,000 grant from the Texas A&M Humanities & Arts Fellows Program, a collaboration of the university’s Division of Research and the College of Architecture, and a $25,000 grant from the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture.
What kind of planning initiatives will help cities with falling populations to shrink appropriately or smartly, he said, is unclear.
“What should the qualities of these new, empty spaces be, and what can planners and designers learn from these spaces as they develop smart shrinkage policies?” Newman asked in his research proposal.
To formulate a planning strategy for these spaces, Newman, aided by graduate and undergraduate planning students, will explore the unique urban designs and landscape characteristics of heavily depopulated urban neighborhoods and predict future vacancies with a geographic information systems-based model.
He will also conduct case studies in several cities of shrinking cities, among them Cleveland, Baltimore, and Flint, Mich. to determine best-practice planning strategies in depopulating areas.
Newman and the research team, which includes Justin Hollander, assistant professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University, will recommend planning solutions based on their research findings.
He will present his team's recommendations to officials at the city of Dayton, Ohio, one of the project’s case studies, landscape architecture and planning conferences, peer-reviewed academic journals, and additional venues.