This morning I read Gary, Indiana wants to shrink itself by 40%. Gary, like so many other industrial cities in the Rust Belt, has been struggling with the economic downturn and the real estate bust. Yet, this idea was unique.
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson has suggested speeding up demolishing dilapidated buildings and leaving the empty plots to nature. Her plan is to hire crews to deconstruct the abandon boarded up buildings and recycle the materials. This process would create jobs and raise the property values of other buildings in the area.
On the surface it sounds like an interesting concept or a last ditch effort, but everyone knows wandering through a city with rows of abandoned blight that vacant properties attract criminal elements. Even though the city would have to pay for cutting the grass in the empty lots and picking up the trash when the empty lots becomes a dumping grounds, the cost may balance out due to less police and fire calls and less stress on an elderly infrastructure.
If, in a dream world, these lots were allowed to become neighborhood gardens or parks maintained by the neighbors everyone would benefit. Even if the plots were allowed to grow naturally they could become animal habitats.
So I looked at a map of my own city and it’s history. Over 100 years after Jamestown, the curve in the river at the falls, the city was incorporated. Years of future annexation from Powhatan’s territory continued as the city expanded. First just along the river then expanding up the hills and across the river. It became the capitol of the commonwealth, was burnt during the revolutionary and civil wars while continuing to grow. First north then west then south the city annexed areas from surrounding counties to feed the growing expenses.
Yet when the fees and taxes do not support the cities’ expenses and state and federal assistances vanishes, what is a city to do? A city is like a family. It has a budget. Some items are crucial and some can be reduced or eliminated. Like any families’ budget items of shelter, safety, food, clothing, transportation, education, employment, and even recreation; a city has to maintain and grow its infrastructure of water and waste, roads and bridges, police and fire organizations, social assistance, and much more.
Every city has its various methods to entice business, promote historic and entertainment sites, welcome families while controlling crime and decay. One method is to acquire additional resources from other counties. Yet the counties need the revenue also and will push back.
Like the gerrymandering that happens to define political districts, every city has its areas of good, bad, and ugly. There are areas that are low on crime and high on revenue and others in reverse. So if these areas could be de-annexed, it would cut the cities responsibility to maintain the infrastructure while keeping its productive tax base.
And what happens to these areas de-annexed from the city? Do they form their own village? Do they create their own unregulated militia? Can they maintain without the support of the city or are forced to migrate like Native Americans when their land was annexed by England?