Lemonade from lemons: downtown growth in declining cities

Update:  I adjusted the title of this post after I re-read it and realized I’d nonsensically reversed a couple of words.  Somebody needed a bit more caffeine that day.

Like Detroit, although not to such a dramatic extent, Cleveland and Cincinnati continued to lose significant percentages of their population between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. Indianapolis (and fellow gay urbanist) blogger Greg Meckstroth at urbanOut makes some tasty lemonade out this particular lemon.  He points out that, also like Detroit,

the downtowns of Ohio’s three major cities, Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland, all saw significant population growth between 2000 and 2010.  As shown in the image below, the varying census tracts in each city’s downtown grew anywhere from 30-35% in Cincinnati, 20-45% in Columbus and as high as 88% in one census tract in downtown Cleveland.

He shares some great census tract-level maps for each of these cities as well.

Yonah Freemark at the Transport Politic provides further great commentary on this surprising downtown growth;   if you are time-pressed, Angie Schmitt summarizes Freemark’s article using essentially all of the same excerpts I had highlighted when I’d read it! They note that the same trend of downtown population growth holds across other cities losing overall population like Baltimore, St. Louis and Chicago.  In cities that did see their overall population increase, including LA, Philadelphia and Seattle, the growth rate in  or close to their downtowns outstripped that of the city as a whole.

If you haven’t yet seen the Metro Detroit map of 2000-2010 population trends, you can check it out here.  The much-discussed doughnut pattern, with Detroit as the empty “doughnut hole,” is immediately apparent, though the poorly chosen color scheme makes it harder to perceive than it should be.  But if you zoom in to the city, you can actually see a sturdy little nugget of stability and even growth (those blue patches) forming around downtown.  It extends southwest into Mexicantown, north as far as the New Center, and northeast into and through Hamtramck.  It’s swamped by the endless miles of necrosis that encircle it, still too small to counterweigh the city’s net loss of people and dollars.  But it’s definitely there, a scrappy little village, closer to Windsor than it is to any of the city’s own suburbs in Michigan

Perhaps we should consider abandoning the doughnut hole metaphor in favor of the bull’s eye.


One response to “Lemonade from lemons: downtown growth in declining cities

  1. Pingback: The Detroiter.com – Race, poverty & public schools | Motown To Tree Town

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