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Design After Decline

How America Rebuilds Shrinking Cities

By Brent D. Ryan

Publication Year: 2012

Almost fifty years ago, America's industrial cities—Detroit, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Baltimore, and others—began shedding people and jobs. Today they are littered with tens of thousands of abandoned houses, shuttered factories, and vacant lots. With population and housing losses continuing since the 2007 financial crisis, the future of neighborhoods in these places is precarious. How we will rebuild shrinking cities and what urban design vision will guide their future remain contentious and unknown.

In Design After Decline, Brent D. Ryan reveals the fraught and intermittently successful efforts of architects, planners, and city officials to rebuild shrinking cities following mid-century urban renewal. With modern architecture in disrepute, federal funds scarce, and architects and planners disengaged, politicians and developers were left to pick up the pieces. In twin narratives, Ryan describes how America's two largest shrinking cities, Detroit and Philadelphia, faced the challenge of design after decline in dramatically different ways. While Detroit allowed developers to carve up the cityscape into suburban enclaves, Philadelphia brought back 1960s-style land condemnation for benevolent social purposes. Both Detroit and Philadelphia "succeeded" in rebuilding but at the cost of innovative urban design and planning.

Ryan proposes that the unprecedented crisis facing these cities today requires a revival of the visionary thinking found in the best modernist urban design, tempered with the lessons gained from post-1960s community planning. Depicting the ideal shrinking city as a shifting patchwork of open and settled areas, Ryan concludes that accepting the inevitable decline and abandonment of some neighborhoods, while rebuilding others as new neighborhoods with innovative design and planning, can reignite modernism's spirit of optimism and shape a brighter future for shrinking cities and their residents.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: The City in the Twenty-First Century


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Dedication Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

In the summer of 1993, on break from architecture school, I paid a visit to friends in the city of Detroit. I knew of Detroit’s fearsome reputation, and the city’s vacant lots, burned-out homes, and bleak, empty skyscrapers confirmed Detroit as the paradigm of urban blight. The sense of emptiness was...

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Chapter 1. ‘‘The Burden Has Passed’’: Urban Design After Urban Renewal

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pp. 1-36

In 1970 (Montgomery 1971, 35) the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, announced a new program to rebuild urban neighborhoods across the United States. Coming at the end of two decades in which American cities had been reconstructed, reshaped, and rethought as never before in their history, many people must have found it...

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Chapter 2. Shrinkage or Renewal? The Fate of Older Cities, 1950–90

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pp. 37-83

In 1950, few of the many passersby on Detroit’s Woodward Avenue could have predicted the ruinous condition of the street fifty years later. The street’s postwar vibrancy made Woodward’s future demise seem both improbable and impossible. How could Woodward’s passersby have known that Detroit’s central shopping street—the nexus of retailing and office...

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Chapter 3. ‘‘People Want These Houses’’: The Suburbanization of Detroit

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pp. 84-127

On Detroit’s far east side, along the shore of the Detroit River, lies a neighborhood called Jefferson-Chalmers. It is much like other Detroit neighborhoods, including the source of its name, prosaically derived from two neighborhood streets (Figure 3.1). Jefferson-Chalmers’s very long city blocks that are located perpendicular to the river are legacies from French eighteenth-century arpent subdivisions, which permitted landowners...

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Chapter 4. ‘‘Another Tradition in Planning’’: The Suburbanization of North Philadelphia

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pp. 128-173

On January 6, 1992, W. Wilson Goode stepped down as mayor of Philadelphia. Few, Goode not excepted, would argue that his term had been successful. In reality, the past two decades had not been good ones for the city. Polarizing mayor Frank Rizzo and Goode, the city’s first African American mayor, had seen Philadelphia suffer a host of related problems: economic...

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Chapter 5. Toward Social Urbanism for Shrinking Cities

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pp. 174-224

Far away from the shrinking cities of the United States, the rapidly growing city of Medellín, Colombia, experienced a revolution between 2003 and 2010. This was a political revolution, but not the kind that one might expect given Latin America’s twentieth-century history. Medellín’s revolution was one of architecture, political economy, and social justice—in short, a revolution of social urbanism. This was the term coined by Alejandro Echevarri...


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pp. 225-226

Works Cited

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pp. 227-244


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pp. 245-262


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pp. 263-263

E-ISBN-13: 9780812206586
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812244076

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: The City in the Twenty-First Century
Series Editor Byline: Eugenie L. Birch and Susan M. Wachter, Series Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 806247787
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Design After Decline

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Urban renewal -- United States.
  • City planning -- United States.
  • Land use, Urban -- United States.
  • Urban policy -- United States.
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