A new way of thinking about development needed

Population decline in cities such as Detroit will challenge planners to create unconventional redevelopment strategies.

Local decision makers and hired local planning and zoning professionals are charged with the incredible responsibility of creating viable, sustainable places to live. Historically, many such communities have had the luxury of planning for managed growth. However, the new economic realities will require some to plan for declining populations, underutilized and incomplete residential developments, as well as very limited commercial and industrial uses.

During the past 10 years, Detroit lost more than 237,000 residents. For cities like Detroit, any effort to create a sustainable community will be based on the city’s ability to slow and/or reverse the significant population losses. Detroit will need to develop an effective redevelopment strategy for the tremendous amount of vacant property in the city. It will need to create sustainable revenue sources in order to provide the public services that will be needed to maintain current residents and to attract new ones.

As cities like Detroit work through the challenges of planning for fewer residents, more vacant, abandoned, and underutilized properties, planners will need to create new strategies and approaches. One such strategy is large-scale urban farming. Urban farms have the potential to help stabilize neighborhoods by reducing illegal dumping and returning vacant properties to the tax roles. Also, such farms could be redeveloped in the future for more intensive uses if and/or when the redevelopment demand occurs.

Some may see such strategies as an unconventional business attraction. However, the financial and land use challenges faced by Detroit and cities like it will require unconventional thinking, unconventional planning and unconventional sustainability efforts.

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