We are living in a historic era. The industrial economy that has made the nation grow
both fiscally and physically is giving way to a global information market that pits
American workers against people from around the world, all looking for those elusive,
well-paying jobs. Ironically, those workers that Americans are now competing with are
simply looking for the "American Dream" (house, car, secure income) that
manufacturers, their advertisers, and the American worker have been selling to
everyone for so many years.
Now, our manufacturing base is dwindling rapidly. The middle class is shrinking, debt is
increasing... and the cities that once relied on industries for a good chunk of their
funding are dying, because their industrial bases are disappearing. What's even worse
is that these cities - like Detroit, Flint, and Cleveland - built their infrastructure around
the manufacturing plants. Whole neighborhoods have become industrial wastelands
because the center of their economic activity - the assembly plant - has been
These are truly the "lost cities" of our era. They are becoming time capsules of what
once was, and reminders to all of what can happen in the blink of a fickle economic eye.
The Red River Valley is purportedly healthy, economically speaking. I read reports all
the time that the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area is holding on well, at least
measured against urban regions of similar size. The industrial base is more diversified,
that's for sure. Property values have dropped, but not nearly as catastrophically as
they have in places like Detroit, where a three bedroom, two-bath, updated, centrally
located, Tudor-style home can be had for less than $30,000.
All is not well, however. Time and again I notice just how easily cities in the Red River
Vally can become "lost" simply through bad planning. Dallas, for example, has plenty of
forgotten, neglected areas within its boundaries. Instead of offering incentives to
developers to refurbish and improve on the old, commissioners allow speculators to
build on "unused" land. The city's square mileage thus becomes huge and
unmanageable. Developers create shiny, new strip malls or subdivisions, and
neglected, abandoned properties rot in between these beacons of prosperity, until the
next building phase moves new development even further out.
And on and on it goes, until residents are left stranded in these lost neighborhoods
without much access to jobs, grocery stores, and decent housing.
What makes cities around here kill themselves this way? Why do commissioners,
administrators, and planners neglect parts of their cities - places that were at one time
commercially viable - and then allow businesses and housing to be erected farther
and farther from the city's center? Why do they not care that their decisions force our
cities to be stretched far beyond a manageable size, and doom older areas to become
Cities that stay compact tend to have better public transportation, more walkable
neighborhoods, more stable housing prices, and offer better lifestyle choices. No one
wants to grow up in a neglected neighborhood, or in a city that is so sprawling one
can't easily travel from one part to the other.
And who wouldn’t want to live in a city that focuses on its people? Maybe cities should
stop pandering to the developers and realize that it’s the residents, NOT those with
deep pockets, who make up a city.
|The street near the original Ford Piquette Plant used
to bustle with workers and their families going home,
to work, or shopping. Because of plant closures (to
the suburbs, other states, or overseas),
neighborhoods like this one in Detroit have become
|Elm Street in Waco used to be an important
commercial section for the city's African American
residents. Sitting just across across the Brazos River
from the Convention Center and the courthouse,
you'd think Elm Street would be an ideal location for
restaurants, hotels, bars, new housing, etc. However,
new construction finds a home around the loop.
Instead of compacting its design and making the city
easier to manage, Waco is becoming stretched-out,
with pockets of blight.