Past Event

Shrinking Cities, Smaller Cities: Modern Crisis or New Path to Prosperity? Is Smaller Really Better?

September 30, 2010 - October 1, 2010
9:00 AM
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Organized by Kenneth Jackson (Columbia), Maurizio Vaudagna (Univ. Piemonte Orientale), Lisa Keller (SUNY Purchase)

The conference is cosponsored by the Herbert H. Lehman Center for American History at Columbia University; the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies at Columbia University; the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, Columbia University; the Seminar on the City, University Seminars, Columbia University; and the Interuniversity Consortium for the Study of European-American Politics and History (CISPEA). Professor Lisa Keller, Chair of the Seminar on the City and Lehman Faculty Fellow, is chair of the conference. 

The central question that the conference will address is the issue of cities in the United States and Europe with declining populations across different time periods, with a focus on the 20th and 21st centuries. We are accustomed to the modern world of the ever-expanding metropolis, in which populations aggregate in an ever-increasing number of mega cities. While there are countless examples of such growth, there are also numerous large urban centers in which the population is declining significantly, with concomitant social, economic and political impact. We are interested in examining what this means for the future of cities. In the midst of deindustrialization, severe economic challenges, and new immigration patterns, do these “shrinking” cities represent a downward spiral for urban settlement? Or does their contraction signify a way to save cities by making them more workable? What are the factors leading to shrinkage? What historical precedents are there for contraction? How have cities coped with such changes? What are the implications for future planning? Is contraction tied into decay, or is it symptomatic of a new urban reality in which smaller cities can be more efficient and effective? This cross-disciplinary conference will look at both historical and contemporary examples of cities with declining populations, and we expect historians, economists, urban planners, and others to participate in formulating a picture of the 21st century urban future.