What is the right size for a city?

Greater Ohio attended the 2009 New Partners for Smart Growth Conference last week which focused on Building Safe, Healthy and Livable Communities. The conference addressed issues many states are facing today as they try to revitalize their economy and become internationally competitive. One breakout session particularly relevant to Ohio and the Restoring Prosperity Initiative was Best Practices: Downsizing Cities to Right Size Sustainable Growth.

The breakout session proposed that "Since vital communities are critical to sustainable growth, a number of older industrial cities are developing innovative planning strategies that downsize communities as the route to long-term economic sustainability and better quality of life." The panel, which included Hunter Morrison from Youngstown State University, discussed downsizing as a land use tool, implementation options, and best practices that are occurring in cities across the country.

Comment from speakers included:

Dan Kildee (speaker):  "Population is not a true measure of quality." Qualitative and not quantitative measures are what matter.

Hunter Morrison:  Cities that need to right-size are "weak-market cities" with a declining population. It's a regional issue, primarily in Great Lakes states and old industrial core cities. -AND- We need to look to assets and create civic engagement (i.e. accept that we are a smaller city, define our role in a new regional economy, improve communities' image of city, and make a call for action)

Although some cities, such as Youngstown, are embracing the idea of right sizing, it proves to be a controversial issue that requires deliberation and delicate handling. First we need to address the question,

Is it OK to aspire to be smaller?

If so, how can we communicate the concept? Is it effective to use terms such as “right sizing” and “resizing”?