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Thread: Planning for decline

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Planning for decline

    So Canada's 2016 census population data came out today. While most medium and large population centres are growing, a consistent trend is that small towns and rural areas are declining. This isn't necessarily a new trend, but it's definitely worsening.

    I am working on new Planning Strategies for some of these areas. Think towns with sub-5,000 populations and straight up rural areas. In many of these areas I would say decline is inevitable, and is not necessarily a bad thing. Industries are gone and aren't coming back, and these places are just not attractive to young people (no matter how many murals the Chamber of Commerce commissions...). When I do up population "pyramids" they're actually population "lolly-pops". Over the next 20-30 years the population numbers for these places are going to fall off a cliff.

    There are lots of news articles about "smart decline" and accepting smaller populations, but very little I've found on the HOW DO WE ACTUALLY PLAN FOR THIS!? There seems to be some precedence in larger communities that decline (Detroit, Youngstown, etc.), but these are happening with resources and coordinated efforts to acquire depressed properties and demolish or repurpose them. This just isn't feasible for these small communities.

    Yes, we could do nothing an these communities will die out on their own. But that is really hard on the people and governments (infrastructure costs!) that remain as the community dies around them. So how do we do this gracefully, particularly through the tools available to us planners (plans, zoning)? I'd appreciate any experiences or insight, especially in the Canadian context (though certainly welcome outside perspectives).

  2. #2
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Hmm....

    Make it easier for young people to live within 75KM of a major employment center/city. Provide tax breaks for owning electric cars and buying places in dying little towns. Make it trendy to live in the country again. Marketing Marketing Marketing....rural schools, wide open space, more for the Loonie.
    “The way of acquiescence leads to moral and spiritual suicide. The way of violence leads to bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. But, the way of non-violence leads to redemption and the creation of the beloved community.”
    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
    - See more at: http://www.thekingcenter.org/king-ph....r7W02j3S.dpuf

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Thing is, I'm not looking for ways to "save" some of these communities. Some of them are beyond saving. Their reason for existing (employer) has long since left town and their population has cratered. They have no natural advantages. Real estate may be cheap, but it's crappy and requires investment, so it's not actually cheap. Taxes tend to be high because these communities are stuck with legacy infrastructure. They have roads and pipes built for 2,000 people, and now are paying for them with 1,000 people. And there's no real commercial tax base to subsidize residential property taxes. If you were not born and raised in these communities, you literally have no reason why you'd want to be there.

    The fact is, short of WWIII and massive population resettlements, these places are dying and will cease to exist over the next 20 to 30 years. No amount of marketing or tax breaks will fix that. So we can let these places die a slow, painful death on their own. Or we can face these realities and plan for it. I feel like there has to be a way that planning tools can make this process a little more graceful, and provide some quality of life for those who stick around. I just don't know what that approach looks like.

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