Resilient shrinking cities

Authored by: Maxwell Hartt , Austin Zwick , Nick Revington

The Routledge Handbook of Urban Resilience

Print publication date:  December  2019
Online publication date:  November  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138583597
eBook ISBN: 9780429506666
Adobe ISBN:


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Shrinking cities have long been associated with decline and failure. However, recently there has been increasing speculation that shrinking cities are more resilient than once thought. In this chapter, we empirically examine the economic and demographic resilience of US shrinking cities and their surrounding suburbs. We argue that universities and innovation are key to adaptive resilience. Our analysis finds that five US shrinking cities have begun to come back from severe population loss: St Louis, Pittsburgh, Rochester, Syracuse and Binghamton. All five cities are home to large, world-class universities and their proportion of college-educated residents has grown dramatically. Using patent data from the US Patent and Trademark Office, we examine urban–suburban movements of innovation and find that innovation has increasingly concentrated in the urban centre of resilient shrinking city regions. We conclude that there is a “return to the city” of educated workers, which has led to economic resilience. However, the trend is limited to only a handful of Rust Belt cities. The commonality among these cities are that they have large research universities that act as anchor institutions, attracting reinvestment into their urban cores, drawing in talented college graduates, and becoming more innovative in the process.

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