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Thread: The Northeast Corridor and Urban Decay

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    The Northeast Corridor and Urban Decay

    A few weekends ago I rode the train from Washington to New York City. Along the way, I noticed that many cities (mainly Philadelphia and Baltimore, but parts of New Jersey too), basically looked like war zones: abandoned, half torn down factories, row houses with trash in the street, and couches thrown down into the culvert near the tracks.

    In some respects, I think that the cause of this is similar to what happened in Detroit and other rust belt cities during the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, the outsourcing of labor combined with the white flight created lots of urban decay and cities that were primarily industrial had to change. This also begs the question of "why did this not happen in Pittsburgh?", but that's a different topic.

    One thing I also noticed was that as the industrial brownfield was being re-developed, housing projects were being built, not mixed use development, but housing projects. I'm beginning to wonder if it would be possible for the housing market to outgrow the job market if this development style continued, what would be some of the consequences of this happening if it were to occur? In my personal and un-professional opinion, I think that severe urban decay is best combated with mixed use development, as it provides housing and the commercial space serves as both a source of goods and services and a source of jobs. What say you? Granted, I have never been able to get my hands on any real literature surrounding this topic, so I don't know what is actually happening, I'm just discussing what I perceive to be happening.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by bsteckler View post
    One thing I also noticed was that as the industrial brownfield was being re-developed, housing projects were being built, not mixed use development, but housing projects. I'm beginning to wonder if it would be possible for the housing market to outgrow the job market if this development style continued, what would be some of the consequences of this happening if it were to occur?
    You mentioned Detroit. The key thing to remember about Detroit is that jobs were lost for two factors that are beyond the control of any government. Detroit grew due to manufacturing. At one time the big factories needed tens of thousands of workers to work a shift and would keep four shifts going to meet demand. While many factories remain, the technology has shifted to better and more automated processes. An auto factory can now produce a very sophisticated car using a few thousand people total. Other factors also came into play including increased competition from outside the North American market for the same jobs as well as many of those companies opening up manufacturing facilities in the market in places where labor costs are much less and are closer to the markets that they serve.

    Your best bet for combating this is not changing the land use. With less jobs, who will be in the market for the new housing on top of the existing housing? The best that can happen is to repurpose those areas for emerging sectors, be that developing manufacturing or the ever popular medical support.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Remember also that the view from the tracks often presents the worst of what a place has to offer. This is especially true of the corridor you mentioned. I grew up in Philly and traveled regularly to New York (via Trenton) and also to Baltimore and DC on the train while growing up and was also struck by the view of bleak post-industrial decay even back then. In fact, just this weekend I compared a bike ride that goes through a heavily post-industrial area as reminding me of the view from the train on the way to Trenton.

    I agree that Pittsburgh has had a different trajectory and, in deference to DetroitPlanner, can't say much about Detroit not having been there myself.

    I would be curious about what these cities would seem like had you experienced them through a different lens. Thee large cities are always in the process of both falling down and being built up but in my experience, the train seems to offer excellent views of the worst of it all.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    I would be curious about what these cities would seem like had you experienced them through a different lens. Thee large cities are always in the process of both falling down and being built up but in my experience, the train seems to offer excellent views of the worst of it all.
    I would support this having taken trains in United States, Canada, and Europe. The land use around trains in cities is usually very industrial, unless it is set-up as a commuter only line.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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