Most of this week’s NYT Magazine cover piece on Europe’s fertility decline is old news to me, thanks to my household demographics specialist, but I did find the bits at the end about the efforts to shrink Dessau, Germany pretty fascinating.
The plan, therefore, calls for demolishing underused sections of the city and weaving the nature on the periphery into the center: to create “urban islands set in a landscaped zone,” as Sonja Beeck, a Bauhaus planner, told me. “That will make the remaining urban areas denser and more alive.” The city has lost 25 percent of its population in recent years. “That means it is 25 percent too big,” Gröger said. “So far we have erased 2,500 flats from the map, and we have 8,000 more to go.” Beeck and Gröger walked with me through an area where a whole street had been turned into a grassy sward. Many residents were dubious at first, they told me, but as we walked, a woman recognized the government official and marched up to chat about when promised trees and flowers would be planted in front of her building.
As far as I know, this kind of urban planner’s dream is a property owner’s nightmare. But every time I take the train up the east coast and see the sprawling, delapidated, half-abandoned, outer slums of Baltimore and Philadelphia, I realize that these cities are never going to be as big as they once were, and that good ideas about how to effectively shrink cities are in very short supply. This can be a problem even if the population isn’t shrinking, but is just moving around.