Should we shrink Chicago?

From the Boston Globe, a story that dovetails with a recent discussion about Chicago’s population trends:

Frankly admitting that these cities are not going to return to their former population size anytime soon, planners and activists and officials are starting to talk about what it might mean to shrink well. After decades of worrying about smart growth, they’re starting to think about smart shrinking, about how to create cities that are healthier because they are smaller. Losing size, in this line of thought, isn’t just a byproduct of economic malaise, but a strategy.

The resulting cities may need to look and feel very different — different, perhaps, from the common understanding of what a modern American city is. Rather than trying to lure back residents or entice businesses to build on vacant lots, cities may be better off finding totally new uses for land: large-scale urban farms, or wind turbines or geothermal wells, or letting large patches revert to nature. Instead of merely tolerating the artist communities that often spring up in marginal neighborhoods, cities might actively encourage them to colonize and reshape whole swaths of the urban landscape. Or they might consider selling off portions to private companies to manage.

…To the proponents of the idea, it’s a recognition of reality, and, more than that, an opportunity to free struggling cities from a paralyzing preoccupation with past glories. At its most ambitious, smart shrinking offers an opportunity to rethink what makes a city a city: Some planners envision a landscape that isn’t recognizably urban, suburban, or rural, but some combination of the three, with multistory apartment buildings next to working farms, and public transit lines extending through neighborhoods where most households have ample space to park their cars.

“This is an area where five years ago basically nobody except a couple of academics and oddball planners were talking about it, and now it’s pretty widely accepted. You’ve got just a lot of land and a lot of buildings for which there is no quote redevelopment potential,” says Alan Mallach, an urban planning expert at the Brookings Institution. “Part of what you have to do is think about ways to use land that help improve the quality of life but don’t involve actual building.”

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