Shrinking Communities

The shrinking of some of our towns and cities has been an ongoing topic in the Shaping our Towns & Cities discussions. Here’s an interesting piece by the AP’s Hope Yen about how “Census estimates show 1 in 4 US counties are dying.” Our discussions have circled now and then back to concerns about communities that are being left behind–especially rural and small town communities–as highlighted in Yen’s article. As Yen points out, this decline is not just about rural areas–there is also an emerging phenomenon of metro areas that overbuilt during the run-up of the housing market:

James Follain, senior fellow and economist at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government at the University of Albany, said a new kind of declining city may be emerging in the wake of the housing bust — metropolitan areas that rapidly overbuilt earlier in the decade and then suffered massive foreclosures.

He cited as examples Las Vegas, Miami, parts of Arizona, and Stockton, Modesto, Fresno and Riverside in California. Like traditional ghost towns, Follain says, portions of these areas could spiral down from persistent loss of jobs and population and lose their reason for being.

Of course, as some areas decline, others grow:

Not all U.S. areas are declining. Most places with the fastest growth since 2000 were able to retain or attract college graduates and young professionals who came for jobs and later started families. Metro areas with diversified economies such as Austin, Texas, Raleigh, N.C., and Portland, Ore., all saw gains in college graduates; other places seeing gains or reduced losses in young adults, such as Washington, D.C., Boston and San Francisco, have burgeoning biotech industries.

What policy lessons might we draw from this?

–Jeff Prudhomme

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