Searching for the just shrinking city in Flint, Michigan

In Ian A. Smith & Matt Ferkany (eds.), Environmental Ethics in the Midwest: Interdisciplinary Approaches. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press. pp. 43-68 (2023)
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Populations in many Midwest cities are declining.  To maintain infrastructure with a shrinking tax base, city planners have sometimes proposed to right size such cities, sometimes shutting down or removing infrastructure.  Such proposals have been met with fierce resistance among many residents, especially in communities with a history of top-down, racialized city planning.  This raises the question: if population loss is a near certainty, is it possible to shrink justly?  Much work on environmental injustice focuses on removing bad things from an environment, but in shrinking cities, there is a high likelihood that good things will be removed.  Is it at all possible to do this in a manner that promotes justice?  In our view, the answer is perhaps.  Academics and professional city planners ought not determine the fate of cities, but can develop detailed conceptions of a city’s future for residents to consider.  To this end, we build on a theoretical framework—the notion of a “just city”– to sketch a few ideas about what a just shrinking city might look like, identifying both a wider array of hazards, and possible benefits, to reducing city services than is often noticed.



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Levi Tenen
Kettering University

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