Alexia Fernández Campbell: Smart decline is not a popular concept in the U.S. Why do you think that is?
Galen Newman: I think mainly it's due to the fact that you have to accept the fact that perhaps your city isn't going to economically grow that fast. You've heard of smart growth—we're kind of thinking the opposite way. The intent is you have to begin to accept the fact that maybe your city needs to be smaller, and it can't necessarily chase hefty growth incentives, and you have to try to utilize what you have, and manage what you have left in a proper manner. Hopefully, in the future, maybe in 25, 50 years, you set yourself up to grow again. That's the intent. It's not like, "let's build a bunch of stuff and hope people come to it." It's more like, "alright, we understand that we are in a tough spot right now, and we're depopulating a lot." Really the idea is, you concentrate in nodal growth, so there are parts of the city that still do merit some growth. You concentrate on those. Typically you start in the downtown area, and then those become kind of anchor nodes for tangential development through time, in the future. And so I think a lot of it is just accepting this fate of your city. You may not be the next New York City in the next 10 years.
Campbell: Why do you think that it's so hard for cities to accept that?
Newman: Well, many of these cities, especially in the Midwest, in the '60s, '70s, they were kind of in their heyday. So, they were growing, their population was growing, their industry was growing, their economies were growing because of all that. And once they begin to deindustrialize, the fallout began. Once you've been to the top, it's kind of tough to accept you're—I won't say in a poverty-stricken state, but a lower state than what you're used to.
Campbell: So you don’t think that seeking investors and businesses is the solution for shrinking cities?
Newman: Well, I would say it depends on the severity of your shrinkage to some degree. If you're losing like Dayton, Ohio, which I think has lost 46 percent of its population since 1960 or something, I don't know that businesses are going to be beating down the door to be getting into Dayton, because there's not a lot of people there spending money in the local economy. We did some forecasting, and what we found is that they're going to be gaining about 5 percent more vacant land every five years. That's according to the predictions we made, and we haven't published that stuff yet.
Campbell: Can you describe a bit more about how your research works?
Newman: We've developed a model to basically predict vacant land. There’s the GIS, the Geographic Information System, that spatially displays data. Now, people use one of its tools to predict vacant land, or predict land uses. So we looked and were like, "why aren't people using it to predict vacant land in all these shrinking cities?" So we developed a model. We used indicators of decreasing land value: low land value, proximity to railroad, proximity to major highways, rate of industry, rate of second industry, ethnicity, demographics.